CenterState CEO’s Business of the Year awards to be announced next week

CenterState CEO's Business of the Year awards to be announced next week

The 14 finalists are in five categories: non-profits, minority owned businesses, community involvement businesses, and businesses above and below 50 employees.
Published: April 20, 2021
Business of the Year graphic
This year’s finalists for the Business of the Year awards were announced by CenterState CEO on March 19. The winners will be announced next week on April 29.

CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity will announce the winners of this year’s Business of the Year awards on April 29, a task which has been harder than in year’s past as the business community has adapted to the pandemic.

Most businesses, along with the whole community, went through an unusual year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them, however, demonstrated a great sense of leadership in the community during this time, according to Beth Savicki, the advertising and sponsorship manager at CenterState CEO.

“Pivoting” is one of the keywords for many corporations, which consequently led to their nomination for this year’s finalists.

“It’s really been unbelievable (to see) the growth in the (business) community that many local businesses have not only grown but also pivoted in change the work they do so that they could be a resource to the community during this time of crisis,” Savicki said.

The Business of the Year awards is a tradition that CenterState CEO has been working on for several years to award outstanding businesses in the community. In the past, the award was divided into four separate categories — small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, large businesses with more than 50 employees, community involvement businesses, and minority-owned businesses. The minority-owned businesses category was announced in partnership with the Upstate Minority Economic Alliance.

CenterState CEO, with a recognition of the contribution made by nonprofit organizations over the past year, added one more category for nonprofits, awarding several regional healthcare institutions for their support during the pandemic, Savicki said.

The Central New York Community Foundation is one of the nonprofit nominees for this year’s awards. The community foundation is a public charitable organization that collects contributions from private donors, manages them to grow over time, and then distributes grant funding to local nonprofits to help them thrive and move forward, Peter Dunn, president and CEO of the CNYCF, said.

“The past year has been a challenge on so many levels for those of us in the philanthropic funding community, and the question was how we should pivot to meet the moment in our case,” Dunn said.

Over the past year, the foundation shifted gears and has been working on two major projects: setting up the COVID-19 Community Support Fund Grants and reckoning on the long-overdue issue of racial inequity in central New York, Dunn said.

The COVID-19 fund — founded jointly by the CNYCF, along with four other foundations, the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County — supports communities that are disproportionately impacted by the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

Business of the Year award graphic 2
The CenterState CEO is now in the consulting stage and will announce its Business of the Year awards virtually this year on April 29.

To better accommodate community needs, the fund identified three key needs during the pandemic and prioritized them in this order — ensuring food, hygiene, and safety for all people at the front line; creating virtual working services to support a smoother home-working experience; and providing youth mental support as the suicide rate has been increasing.

Pivoting to ensure community hygiene is also the major work that Dreissig Apparel Inc. has been doing. As a corporation founded and led by an African American, Dreissig is one of the finalists in the category of minority-owned business.

Before the pandemic, around 60% of Dreissig’s business concentrated on the private division for schools and hotels, and the other 40% was on the government and hospital division. After many businesses and schools started to shut down, the business faced a 60% decrease since last March because most of its original businesses no longer existed, according to Marc Jones, founder and CEO of Dreissig Apparel Inc.

This huge deficit brought tremendous challenges to the corporation but did not shut down all business. The unexpected health crisis also inspired Jones to think about what he could do amid this tough period.

“When the pandemic first started, (I realized that) it isn’t going to only last three to five months but to be here to stay, so my mindset as a CEO of a company and as a businessman was that I had to create a new model for this timeframe,” Jones said. He ended up creating a whole separate division for personal protective equipment supplies.

Although Jones and his team had part of their business focus on PPE supplies — including masks, gloves, and cleaning/sanitizing machines — before the pandemic, it was never a major component. As one of the most essential supplies during the pandemic, PPE was quickly running out at the very beginning, which consequently forced Jones to find more suppliers. Dreissig also prioritized all of these supplies to hospitals and local government sectors first, which is one of its original divisions.

To better accommodate the corporation in a survival mode, Jones also further adjusted his apparel business correspondingly from producing uniforms for local schools to creating reusable masks with these schools’ designs. These pivots and accommodations brought Dreissig’s 60% decrease in profits up to just a 20% decrease.

This may sound like an acceptable condition for many businesses, but Jones said he still hoped to fully recover from the loss eventually. Nonetheless, the need for recovery does not simply mean a pause in community contribution. Like many other finalists, Thompson & Johnson Equipment Co., Inc. expressed that it will continuously support the community.

Thompson & Johnson Equipment Co., Inc. is now working with Onondaga Community College to launch a scholarship for the Automotive Technology Department. They believe it’s “worth the investment to help students be able to afford to get through a technical school,” which also consequently fulfills the need of technicians in the industry, said David Schneckenburger, the president of the corporation.

Having won 2nd place for the Business of the Year awards in previous years, Schneckenburger said they are excited to be renominated based upon its love of the region and the ability to support people that need help.

Savicki said the award is a great opportunity to celebrate the businesses in the community. This year’s celebration — now scheduled to take place virtually on April 29 — is also going to be special because all corporations had faced tremendous challenges because of the pandemic, she said.

“We’re looking forward to highlighting these wonderful stories out there,” Savicki said.

Avatar for Kaizhao Zero Lin

is the lead data producer at The NewsHouse and an international relations and news/digital journalism senior at Syracuse University.