Whitney Waara: Small business is a big deal in northwest Michigan

Whitney Waara

Some things can’t be said or emphasized often enough. One of them is the importance of small business to Northwest Michigan’s economy.

The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce 15 years ago launched the annual Small Business Celebration to recognize, underscore and thank our small business sector for its role in powering our region’s economic engine. The events and resulting awards allow us to put our local entrepreneurs front and center as we celebrate their creativity, grit, dedication, and the enormous impact that thousands of small businesses play in growing business and building community.

Businesses like Superior Physical Therapy owned by Dr. Andrew Gorecki. Like many entrepreneurs, he forged the business based on his own life experiences, learning what did — and didn’t — work for him to heal from a back injury. His business is dedicated to meet a growing demand for natural solutions to pain without medications, injections or surgeries. The business was strong and had a great team. Then, in 2018, Superior Physical Therapy was honored with the Chamber’s Hagerty Small Business of the Year Award.

Dr. Gorecki cites the award as the driver to boosting his business by more than 30 percent in less than a year. It has opened new doors and opportunities for his company. “I think the biggest impact it’s had on our business is that it’s really boosted the culture and morale of our staff,” Gorecki said. “Everyone is really proud of it.”

Why does the Chamber invest so much time and effort in highlighting small business? The numbers tell the story. According to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 9 in 10 businesses in Michigan are classified as small businesses, and they employ about half the state’s workforce, totaling some 1.8 million workers. In Grand Traverse County, almost 70 percent of the county’s workforce is employed by small business, and that number is even higher in Leelanau, Antrim and Kalkaska.

Over the years, the Chamber has honored a wide range of businesses with its Hagerty Small Business of the Year award — service providers, medical professionals, small manufacturers — even a member-owned cooperative. Last year we added two new categories to highlight a wider spectrum of participants, including an Emerging Business Award to recognize micro businesses and start-ups, and a Summit Award focused on stable, high-impact local companies of up to 75 employees. The original Hagerty Small Business of the Year Award is centered on businesses with strong revenue an employee growth and demonstrated community involvement.

The Small Business Celebration continues to gain momentum thanks to the strong support from our program and media sponsors. The three primary sponsors — Priority Health, Northwestern Michigan College and Hagerty — are too large to even qualify for these awards. But they all understand the importance of small businesses to our region’s economic health and quality of life, and they are eager to support the up-and-coming entrepreneurs who will help grow and build our region.

The SBC media sponsors at the Record-Eagle, NewsTalk 580 and 9&10 News also have strengthened the competition by contributing invaluable media access and advertising/marketing services to help these companies tell their story and continue to grow.

We encourage everyone to be part of this year’s Small Business Celebration. Anyone can nominate a business, and members of the public are welcome to join in the events that showcase these businesses in the coming months.

Nominations can be made on the Chamber website at www.tccchamber.org through Thursday, Jan. 31. Companies that are nominated will be invited to apply for the 2019 SBC by Feb. 28, followed by the Candidates Showcase on March 19 at NMC’s Hagerty Center. Through the SBC, businesses have the chance to connect with the business community, refine their messaging and marketing, interact with the public and energize their staff.

This year is the 15th anniversary of our Small Business Celebration and we can’t wait to get started. Our entrepreneurs deserve huge appreciation for all they do. Our community is thriving on the backs of small businesses, and it’s our time to give them the spotlight. Please join us!

Whitney Waara is Executive Director at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at whitney@tcchamber.org.