ALBANY -- In a gala launching National Small Business Week, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its 2013 Celebrate Small Business event at the Education Center at Chehaw Park.
The annual gathering had been a morning event, said Chamber President and CEO Chris Hardy.
"In years past the celebration came at one of our Rise N Shine Breakfast meetings," Hardy said. "This time, it was decided we should have something more laid-back and relaxed.
"But the main reason for the change is that most small business owners find it difficult to break away and attend the morning meetings. A lot of the businesses have only two to five employees. An evening venue allows more of the owners and their staff to participate."
This year's member get-together featured heavy hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar and live music by the J Blues Band. In addition, a proclamation declaring May 20-24 Small Business Week in Albany was read by Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard.
Dr. Doug Patten, representing Phoebe Community Vision, spoke of the value of small businesses in a community environment.
"Small businesses are responsible for the economic recovery," Patten said. "They are the source of most new jobs in any economic downturn, but they need support from the community."
The highlight of the evening was the naming of the chamber's Small Business of the Year. The winner for 2013 was A-West Enterprise LLC, located at 705 Canal St.
An electrical contractor in Albany since 2009, the business was begun by Angie and Eddie West, Garrison Jones, Lavon Davis, Jeremy Meads and Chris Joiner. Today, the company employs about 40 people.
"The secret to our success is to put God first and give him credit for everything," said Eddie West, who accepted the honor for his wife, Angie, owner A-West Enterprise.
Hardy said the race for the top spot was a real squeaker between top dog A-West and runner up Stewbo's Enterprises, a restaurant group that includes Harvest Moon, The Catch Seafood and Henry Campbells Steakhouse.
The four remaining finalists for Small Business of the year were BJ's Buffet and Bakery, BreakAway Cycles, CTSI - ComNet Technical Solutions, Our Daily Bread and Verge -- Elite New & Used Consignment Boutique.
Hardy said member businesses are judged according a number of criteria, including demonstrated commitment to technology and interface with industry; the business's support -- either civic or non-profit -- of the community as a whole, and a demonstrated ability to overcome obstacles to success, including those originating from economic hard times.