A Look at Area Chamber Awards for Business of the Year

Taking a cue from our annual Business Person of the Year award, we thought we’d look around southern Minnesota to see what other businesses are being recognized in their communities for exemplary success and community involvement. All the awards were presented in 2015, though some are classified as “2014” awards depending on how chambers of commerce title their award.

New Ulm: River Creek Nursery

The New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce has chosen an industry or business of the year since 1974, judging three categories: economic impact in New Ulm, years of business in New Ulm and community involvement in New Ulm. The winner for 2015 was River Creek Nursery, run by owners Tony Guggisberg and Kevin Schweiss. The partners started the business in 1995, offering residential and commercial landscaping, from planting trees to constructing retaining walls. Guggisberg also has represented the business on the New Ulm Business and Retail Association for more than 15 years, as well as leading the city’s Home & Health Show event every spring.

“Every society, culture and community picks an ideal that represents or embodies the best of what they are,” said Audra Shaneman, executive director of the New Ulm Area Chamber. “Tony and Kevin are some of the ‘good guys.’ Tony has led the New Ulm Home & Health Show for years, consistently comes early to set up, brings his kids to help out and stays late to clean up. The two of them are busy as all get out!”

Blue Earth: Winnebago Manufacturing Company

The Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce has honored businesses with the annual “Business of the Year” award since 1981. In 2015, the winner was Winnebago Manufacturing Company.

Fred Hicks started Winnebago Manufacturing in 1950, calling it Hicks Repair. At the time, it was located in Winnebago and provided farm repair and blacksmith services. In 1957, the business was purchased by Cecil Jones, Ray Stifmer and Al Thisius, who changed the name to Winnebago Manufacturing Company. Winnebago Manufacturing moved to Blue Earth in 1987, and it changed ownership to Bob Preston and Daryle Pomranke in 1999. In 2012, Pomranke purchased Preston’s shares, becoming sole owner of the company. Winnebago Manufacturing has earned a stellar reputation and continues to grow, with sales of more than $9 million a year.

“The Pomrankes have put their heart and soul into their business,” said Cindy Lyon, executive director of the Chamber. “In addition, they put their profits back into their business to make a better workplace for their qualified employees. They’re truly a giant in our eyes!”

Waseca: Cinch Connectivity Solutions

When it comes to the Waseca Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year award, the chamber takes several factors into account: the longevity of the business in the community, the business’s impact on its employees, the business’s success and the business’s impact on the community, among others. The winner for 2015 was Cinch Connectivity Solutions.

Cinch Connectivity Solutions was part of the original E.F. Johnson business, which began manufacturing radio components in 1923. In 1996, Jordan Industries purchased the Johnson Components division of E.F. Johnson, selling it to Emerson Electric in 2000. Finally, Bel Fuse, Inc., Cinch Connectivity Solutions’ parent company, acquired it in 2014. Cinch Connectivity Solutions manufactures connectors and cable assemblies. These products are used in microwaves, radios, military applications, data networking and more.

“Cinch Connectivity Solutions has long been a part of our community, with its roots dating back over 75 years as part of the original E.F. Johnson business,” said Chamber Director Kim Foels. “Throughout their growth and evolution over the years, the business never wavered on their commitment to the Waseca community through the support of youth, education, arts and sciences, health, safety and emergency relief efforts globally.”

Mankato: Community Bank and Tailwind Group

Greater Mankato Growth has been giving awards to deserving businesses for decades. Awards are broken into different categories, such as inclusion into the Business Hall of Fame (for private sector businesses that have been in the Greater Mankato region for more than ten years).

The Tailwind Group is a property development, management and leasing firm started by Kyle Smith, Landon Smith, Michael Sather and Reggie Reed. The four partners made headlines in 2013 when they started construction on the $15 million, seven-story Profinium Place building in downtown Mankato. (That’s in addition to a 60-unit student housing apartment complex in Rochester, retail projects in Owatonna, 65-house RentMSU, 114-bed College Town, two Waseca group homes and other projects.) Now, the company has between $50 million and $100 million in owned/managed real estate assets.

Community Bank has been in the Mankato community since owner Quentin Beadell (who was also inducted into the Hall of Fame) started it in 1974, growing to four branches and 60 employees. The $250 million bank is one of the last family-owned banks in the state and was the first in the community to offer free checking.

“We’re very lucky to have two Hall of Fame inductees this year,” said Amy Linde, director of marketing and communications at GMG. “They both have been a staple in the community for a long time.”

Fairmont: Kahler Automation (Large Business of the Year) and Sweet Financial Services (Small Business of the Year)

The Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce began its Business of the Year awards in 2015. Last year’s winners were Kahler Automation (in the 15+ employee category) and Sweet Financial Services (in the 15 and under employee category).

Kahler Automation has been a staple in the Fairmont community since 1949, when Roy and Elvera Kahler founded Kahler Electric. Out of that company, Kahler Automation formed in 1989. Kahler Automation has become a regional leader in industrial control systems, designing systems for fertilizer, chemical and seed measuring. It’s been named on the INC 5000 list three years in a row as one of the 5,000 fastest growing companies, and Wayne Kahler was named Connect Business Magazine’s 2013 Business Person of the Year. In June 2015, a new generation took over operations when son Logan Kahler and daughter Chantill Kahler Royer assumed CEO and CFO duties, respectively.

Sweet Financial Services was started in 1987 and works with clients on retirement planning, financial analysis and investment management, among other services. With more than 1,000 clients across the country and even worldwide, it has made a name for itself in the financial planning industry. It was founded by Bryan Sweet, who was named a runner- up for Connect Business Magazine’s BPOY award in 2010. He and his team have ranked in the Top 20 Minnesota and Top 1,000 U.S. wealth advisor rankings.

Grace Webb

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine