The eight firms that collected “Business of the Year” awards at Wednesday’s Columbia County Economic Development Corporation banquet represent every corner of the county.
More than 100 people gathered at Club 60 near Columbus for the annual celebration of business success, for which 25 enterprises were nominated for honors.
The winners were chosen by a three-judge panel: Bruce Kepner, who is retired from Alliant Energy; Jerry Thiltgen of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Mary Gage of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
Howard Teeter, chairman of the CCEDC’s Retention and Expansion Committee, shared the following observations about the winners in each category:
Business of the Year: Bell Ford of Arlington. In 1918, William Bell founded the company when he and his partners saw the need for a service center for what was, at that time, an industry in its infancy — automobiles. Bell Ford has been a Ford dealership since 1931, and was remained under the Bell family’s ownership until three years ago, when an employee, Nolan Campbell of Arlington, bought it. The company built a new facility in 2014, and as a result added five full-time and two part-time employees. The company also donates to various youth programs in the Arlington, Poynette, Rio, Lodi and DeForest areas, and compensates all employees who are First Responder volunteers when they have to leave work to attend to emergencies.
Small Business of the Year: Belco Vehicle Solutions of Lodi. Belco was founded in May 2010 while both founders, Anthony Belay and Ben Colrud, were still working as law enforcement officers. They saw a need for a company that would cater specifically to the needs of police departments — needs like lighting, sirens and speakers for squad cars. They operated out of a garage in Poynette before moving to their current facility in the town of Lodi in 2012. And, they’re planning another move soon, to a former Poynette auto body facility whose purchase they are currently negotiating. The company now has three full-time and two part-time employees, in addition to the owners. They also support programs for various Columbia County police agencies, such as K-9 officers and recognition awards.
Large Manufacturer of the Year: Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics of Portage. This company’s roots are 3.5 centuries old; the company started in 1665 as Royal Glass Works in France. In Portage, the company employs about 400 employees in five shifts, working around the clock, in a business that provides a variety of solutions for the automotive industry. In 2014 and 2015, the company underwent an $11 million expansion of nearly 50,000 square feet, including two new clean rooms and additional warehouse space. As a result, 130 new jobs will be created, of which 60 have been filled, with the remaining 70 to be filled before the year is over. Saint-Gobain offers its employees tuition reimbursement so that they can continue their education, and the Saint-Gobain Foundation provides financial support to a variety of Portage area community organizations through direct grants, community gifts and matching gifts.
Small Manufacturer of the Year: Hughes Equipment of Columbus. The company designs, manufactures and distributes internationally a variety of food processing equipment. Founded in 1961, the firm now makes and sells equipment for vegetable processing — for cleaning, cooking, conveying, husking, metering, peeling and snipping. Ross Lund and a group of investors bought the company two years ago, and it now has a sales team working all over the world. Its new products for fresh and organic vegetables are being introduced to meet consumers’ desires for more fresh foods in their diet.
Entrepreneur of the Year: Badger Motor Car Company of Columbus. Located in a former casket factory, the company is part museum, part bar and part working automobile restoration facility. Owner Darvin Frey started the business to get more space to work on and display his vintage cars. When the business opened last fall, curious people — who spread the word by social media, word of mouth and sandwich-board signs — came in to view the restored vehicles and other vintage car memorabilia — and to sip a beer or cocktail. Frey plans to expand the business to include canoe rentals.
Start-Up of the Year: Continual, LLC of Portage. This consulting firm, which targets mid- to large-size organizations, offers expertise in areas such as utilities, telecom, waste and recycling, insurance, office and janitorial supplies, printed materials, shipping, merchant card service and software licensing. The firm’s focus is Columbia County, where it makes its services available not only to for-profit companies, but also non-profit and government entities, to help them identify cost-saving measures. In January, Justin O’Rourke left his job at a large Chicago law firm to come back to his hometown and start Continual. He also serves as Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 70, where he earned his Eagle Scout award more than 15 years ago. He is also on the Portage Community School District’s Curriculum and Co-Curricular Committee.
Recreation and Stewardship Award: Indian Trails Campground of Pardeeville. In the last 15 years, this family-oriented campground has added a new bathhouse, an 18-hole miniature golf course, new playground equipment, outdoor movies and a host of other recreational facilities and attractions. In 2009, the campground started Fox Trail Outfitters, offering canoe and kayak tours of the north-flowing river; for every boat that goes into the river, they donate $1 to the River Alliance of Wisconsin. This year, Indian Trails also began renting bicycles, due to requests from customers who want to ride the routes mapped by the Columbia County Silent Sports Trails Committee. Also this year, owners Myrna and Dave Schneider added six new RV/cabin rentals. Every year in May, they raise money for Wisconsin Operation Military Kids, and hold an annual fundraiser for the Pardeeville Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.
Community Achievement Award: Columbus Community Hospital of Columbus. The hospital, founded in 1907, employs more than 300 people, offers more than 100 active consulting and courtesy medical staff members and utilizes the services of more than 100 volunteers. The hospital has completed expansions totaling $20 million in the last five years, including a two-story, 35,000-square-foot surgical service center, completed last year. CCH also is involved in school and business wellness programs, and its employees are active in community service groups.
Other businesses that were nominated for CCEDC honors this year include: American Family Insurance Agency of Poynette; Artisan Foods of Portage; Components Plus of Columbus; Grasse Funeral Services of Rio; Hometown Pharmacy Partnerships Inc. of Rio; Julie’s Java House of Columbus; Koltes Lumber of Lodi; Main Street Market Piggly Wiggly of Lodi; National Exchange Bank of Pardeeville; Pierce’s Marketplace of Portage; Rayovac of Portage; Rhyme of Portage; Rock N. Wool Winery of near Poynette; Ship-Rec Logistics Inc. of Portage; Two Rivers Café of Portage; United Community Bank of Poynette; and United Wisconsin Grain Producers LLC of Friesland.