It was a big secret until today.
Six local business standouts — ranging from a Fortune 500 company to a 25-employee furniture installer — left a Monday luncheon as the latest batch of Big O! Excellence Awards winners.
The honorees were revealed during a Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce luncheon that drew about 650 people. They earlier were whittled from a larger list of nominees and then selected from three finalists in six categories. Any chamber member was eligible; a volunteer chamber committee judged the contest.
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Winners were announced by David Brown, chamber president, and Terry Kroeger, the chamber's chairman and publisher of The World-Herald.
>> Business woman of the year: Beverly Kracher, executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance.
Described by one nominator as the Omaha area's “ethics champion,” Kracher established the alliance in 2006 in partnership with several entities. It involves businesses of all sizes as well as education institutions and serves as a national model for uniting a community in a dialogue about ethics.
Kracher teaches graduate courses at Creighton University, was the first female named a Creighton College of Business endowed chair and has had research published in academic journals including Business & Society Review.
>> Corporate citizen: ConAgra Foods.
A Fortune 500 company, the Omaha-based ConAgra gives back to the community through programs such as winter ice skating, youth internships and an ongoing drive to childhood hunger. For nearly 20 years, its foundation has invested millions of dollars into nonprofit partnerships.
The firm's platform, “Good for you, good for the community, and good for the planet,” reflects a solid commitment to corporate citizenship, said comments from the selection committee.
>> Innovator: MindMixer.
The technology startup was recognized as a forward-thinking firm making a difference. With chief executive Nick Bowden, MindMixer was noted for shifting the old-fashioned community meeting into a more convenient and more accessible online venue.
This is a company, the chamber committee said, that believes in harnessing the power of online engagement to build stronger, connected communities.
>> Minority-owned business: AmeriSphere.
The mortgage banking company provides financing for apartment buildings, senior living properties and hospitals throughout the United States. It also helps increase the availability of affordable multifamily housing by financing properties that qualify for federal housing tax credits.
Headquartered in Omaha and run by president and CEO Rodrigo Lopez, AmeriSphere also has offices in Colorado, Texas and Maryland.
>> Nonprofit: Goodwill Industries Inc.
The Nebraska Goodwill was founded in 1933 on these words: “Not a charity, but a chance.” Eight decades later, the chamber committee said, Goodwill annually helps thousands of people through job-training and other programs.
Two years ago, the non-profit entity completed a $10 million capital campaign for a new corporate headquarters and training facility and opened a 90,000-square-foot retail operations center to support its mission.
>> Small business: Office Furniture Installers Inc.
Open since 1993, the company was acquired by CEO Jay Bolding in 2007 in what he described as a professional leap of faith after spending 25 years in corporate America.
The company of 25 professionals grew during the downturn and has expanded into moving and relocation, furniture warehousing, plant management support and design and space planning.
Also recognized during the ceremony at the Embassy Suites in La Vista were about 50 area businesses and organizations celebrating milestone anniversaries.
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Award finalists discuss their impact on the community