5 thriving, surviving businesses honored

by Betty Beard - Sept. 24, 2009 04:59 PM
The Arizona Republic

When the economy is sour, small-business owners have to count more on their own fortitude and perseverance than government aid to get through.

Five small businesses that have survived and thrived during the recession were honored Thursday with Spirit of Enterprise Awards from Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business at an Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa luncheon.

Robert Mittelstaedt, dean of the school, said small businesses have received the least help over the past year while some larger companies snared bailouts.


"I can't think of a better time to honor outstanding entrepreneurs," he said.

About 250 companies were nominated for the annual awards, which recognize entrepreneurial companies that excel in ethics, energy and excellence. Many of the firms were started by one or two individuals with an idea for a niche business or who decided they could do something better than the companies they worked for.

The winners are:

Special achievement in entrepreneurship: Express Digital Solutions. John Longobardo and John Principale founded the document-management company aiming to make a difference in the community. They operate a paper-document-scanning service with Gompers Habilitation Center, employing more than 30 disabled adults.

Innovation in entrepreneurship: Answer 1 Communications. Owner and founder Mary Jones kept the telephone-answering service going for 25 years despite technological changes, such as voice mail and e-mail, that threatened to make the company obsolete. She focused on fast and friendly customer service.

Overcoming adversity: Caliente Construction Inc. Lorraine Bergman, president and chief executive officer, took over the company in 2005 after her husband, Tom, died of cancer. She kept the business going through a construction downturn in 2007 and 2008 and projects a 20 percent revenue increase this year.

Minority enterprise: D.P. Electric Inc. President Daniel Puente learned the electrical trade on the job and started his own business in 1999 with one employee and a pickup and used a utility closet as an office. Today, the firm has 165 employees, a 13,000-square-foot office and is diversifying into green projects and work in other states.

Emerging entrepreneur: Terralever. Chris Johnson, an ASU industrial-engineering graduate, started the company in 2002 after the dot-com explosion with a belief that there was still a need for Internet-based services. The interactive-marketing and technology-services firm's has included clients such as Red Bull, Ping, BMW and Apple. They are working on projects with Facebook and Microsoft.

The other five finalists were: Elontec, Green Ideas, JSL Management, Orchard Medical Consulting and Scott Business Group