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Each May, Small Business Owners Take Center Stage in Their Communities

This year, millions of Americans voted to honor their favorite popular culture personalities at the 39th annual People’s Choice Awards.

Many of the awardees started out small, transferred their skills to television and movie screens and eventually catapulted themselves to superstardom.

The same holds true for businesses owners.

Every year, thousands of entrepreneurs strive to transition their ideas to small business ownership.

Some, like Apple, become industry icons. Others live the American dream of being their own boss, sharing their ideas and energy with their communities, creating jobs and civic pride.

Their efforts don’t go unnoticed.

For 51 years, the Small Business Administration [SBA] has been honoring entrepreneurial excellence via an award program held each May. Yes, our program, while not as glamorous, is older than the People’s Choice Awards and just as prestigious.

And for the past eight years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting tri-county small business owners who started with an idea and utilized a support network to turn that idea from blueprint to fruition, eventually capturing a Small Business Week award. I can tell you these award winners are humble, thankful and devoted to bettering their communities.

Four years ago, Brian Shrift of Precision Business Solutions was our Western Pennsylvania Young Entrepreneur of the Year; his firm specializes in offering technical solutions to small companies that do not employ an internal specialist. Today, Shrift is looking to expand his operations from Ebensburg and Johnstown to Pittsburgh. What’s more impressive is his community commitment. He’s the former president of the Ebensburg Mainstreet Partnership, a nonprofit designed to foster business growth and he’s also helped Holy Name Catholic School raise more than $250,000 to offset student tuition.

Since being lauded two years ago as the Western Pennsylvania and Region III SBA Exporter of the Year, Dr. Richard Somiari, president of Integrated Technologies & Services International [ITSI], has witnessed his export revenue increase by 120 percent. Somiari and ITSI continue to support the Girl and Boy Scouts of America while the doctor lends his business acumen to the Greater Johnstown Cambria County Chamber of Commerce Board, US Commerce Secretary’s District Export Council representing Western PA, and the PA International Business Advisory Board.

Guy Berkebile, our 2013 Western Pennsylvania Exporter of the Year, saw sales at Guy Chemical Company increase more than 18 percent and added 15 full-time employees to his workforce. To accommodate the growing need for his epoxies, he’s expanding his site and adding more equipment. Berkebile also is glued to community betterment striving to honor charitable requests from area high schools to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

While they might not walk the red carpet or pose for paparazzi, small business owners truly take center stage in their communities.

We’re looking for storytellers to recognize small business excellence in their community. Make a big deal out of a small business owner in your neighborhood. Contact the Western Pennsylvania SBA district office at 412-395-6560 and we’ll get you started.


Carl Knoblock is the Western Pennsylvania SBA district director.  You can email him at carl.knoblock@sba.gov