EOY Winners Are Driving Forces

June 13, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Eight West Michigan entrepreneurs were honored Thursday night for their companies' extraordinary track records and for demonstrating excellence in such areas as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities.

About 350 attended the second annual Ernst & Young West Michigan Entrepreneur of the Year award ceremony at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel last week.

And the winners are:

Distribution Entrepreneur of the Year: Michael Snodgrass, CEO, president and publisher, Brilliance Audio Inc., Grand Haven.

Brillance Audio is the country's leading independent audio publisher of fiction and non-fiction books on cassettes, CDs and the MP3-CDs.

Snodgrass credited his wife for being instrumental in getting his company off the ground 19 years ago.

"But the real credit goes to a superior management team that really makes it all happen," he said.

Consumer & Business Services Entrepreneur of the Year: John Loeks Jr., owner of Celebration! Cinema, Grand Rapids.

Celebration! Cinema is one of eight indoor theaters in the Jack Loeks Theatres family of theaters in western and central Michigan. The company also operates one drive-in theater. Collectively, they offer moviegoers 103 screens, including the only IMAX screen in West Michigan.

"I came here this evening not expecting to win an award, being among such a wonderful group of nominees who I appreciate personally for their fine contributions to the community," Loeks said. "This has been a wonderful ride. But we have more to do — we have a new IMAX theater under construction in Lansing as we speak."

Real Estate Construction Entrepreneur of the Year: Scott Sanderson, president, and Greg DeHaan, senior vice president, Allen Edwin Co., Portage.

Allen Edwin Co. is the largest homebuilder in the Kalamazoo/Portage market, and has grown 49 percent since 2000.

"We have had a lot of fun in what we've done and we've had a great deal of success in our business," Sanderson said. "We attribute it to the people that work with us. We certainly couldn't have done it without them."

Real Estate Development Entrepreneur of the Year: Stanley Wisinski III, chairman and CEO, S.J. Wisinski & Co., Grand Rapids.

S.J. Wisinski is the largest commercial, industrial and investment real estate brokerage in West Michigan, according to a recent survey by Market Mapping Plus.

Wisinski credited "the professionals I work along side with everyday" for his win.

"I have no doubt that individuals dedicated to a mission are what make a company great," Wisinski said. "That has certainly been the case with my company and has been from the beginning. I share this award with each and every one of you.

"Being an industry leader doesn't just happen. You have to be willing to put your resources on the line time and again to build the best an organization. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to know that 18 years of hard work and doing the right thing can lead to this."

Information Technology Entrepreneur of the Year: Lisa Wehr, president, OneUpWeb, Suttons Bay.

OneUpWeb specializes in search engine optimization and marketing services consultation. It has been deemed the top search engine marketing firm in the world, according to Ernst & Young.

Wehr said she hadn't expected to walk away with an award that evening, and lauded her staff for being among her best friends and biggest supporters.

"I appreciate them and I treat them well and they, in turn, helped me grow my company."

Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year: Richard Davis, president, Second Chance Body Armor Inc., Central Lake.

Second Chance is the nation's largest manufacturer of wearable concealable body armor for the law enforcement and corrections market. Davis received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Law Enforcement Trainers in California earlier this year.

Davis could have easily carried away another award Thursday evening — that of best comedian. But he did have some serious comments on top of his jesting.

He said his company continually strives to make concealable body armor better and more protective to save the lives of "very brave men and women at the exact instant that they are willing to face a violent, painful death to protect the lives of Americans in a free society."

Master Entrepreneur of the Year: Donald Nugent, CEO and president, Graceland Fruit Inc., Frankfort.

Graceland Fruit manufactures infused dried and infused frozen fruits and is a market leader in food ingredients. The company also is the largest full-time employer in Benzie County.

"This is awesome, folks," Nugent said. "I really want to thank a lot of people because you don't accomplish anything like this without great support. The support of our board and employees is what made it all possible. I had no idea that when the applications were filled out that we would even have a chance with the competition there in all over West Michigan. It's truly a great place to do business."

The seven award recipients are now eligible to compete for several national award categories, including the 2003 National Entrepreneur of the Year award.

National winners will be announced at a black-tie event in Palm Springs, Calif., on Nov. 22. Comedian and talk show host Jay Leno will be master of ceremonies for the event. More than 1,500 are expected to attend.

Local sponsors of the West Michigan EOY awards are National City Bank, MARSH, Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey PLC, Grand Valley State University's Seidman School of Business, Discovery Resources Inc., Grand Rapids Business Journal and news radio WOOD 1300.

National sponsors are USA Today, CNN, Nasdaq Stock Market and the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Established by Ernst & Young in 1986, the EOY program is held in 44 regions nationwide and 20 countries worldwide.           

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