West Virginia small businesses know a thing or two about “Building a Better America through Entrepreneurship”, as nearly 99 percent of businesses in the Mountain State are considered small and they employ nearly half of the private sector workforce. Therefore it was fitting the U.S. Small Business Administration to choose that as their 2022 National Small Business Week theme of the year as a Mountain State small business owner won the most prestigious award offered by the agency.
Among our district level award winners, Jill Scarbro founder of Bright Futures Learning Services out of Winfield, WV was selected as the 2022 SBA National Small Business Person of the Year. Friday, May 6, 2022, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s West Virginia District Office and the West Virginia Small Business Development Center celebrated their 2022 Small Business Week winners at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont. The keynote speaker for the event was White House appointee SBA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator John Fleming.
Allow me to introduce you to the winners:
Small Business Week Small Business Person of the Year
Jill Scarbro, Chief Executive Officer
Bright Futures Learning Services
Jill Scarbro is the Chief Executive Officer of Bright Futures Learning Services (BFLS), a provider of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy services for children with autism.
BFLS began in 2007, helping one child in Scarbro’s grandmother’s kitchen. Scarbro saw a dire need for ABA services in WV and expanded her practice to help more children throughout the state.
In 2016, with the help of SBA’s 504 program, BFLS moved to their 7,300 square foot home in Winfield, WV. In 2021, BFLS opened a second location in Hurricane and now have 36 employees educating and advocating for children with special needs.
Scarbro has benefited by an array of SBA programs and services including SCORE and SBDC Counseling, the 504 Loan, Emerging Leaders Program, SBA District Office training and counseling, COVID-19 EIDL, PPP, and Debt Relief funding.
The Emerging Leaders Program, which included strategic planning, put Scarbro in a stronger position to navigate the pandemic. With the help of PPP, EIDL, and Debt Relief funding, BFLS was able to retain all employees and pay all creditors throughout the pandemic.
Small Business Week Small Business Exporter of the Year
Kenneth Thompson, President/Chief Executive Officer
Valtronics ® Solutions, Inc
Kenneth Thompson is the President and CEO, of Valtronics® Solutions, Inc., a manufacturer of measurement, monitoring, and control systems for the oil and gas industry and has exported to more than ten countries worldwide.
Valtronics® was established in 1985 and has grown to include the Mustang Sampling® brand, which drives the company’s businesses throughout the world, from stable countries like Canada to more challenging markets.
When Valtronics® was looking to expand their exporting, they reached out to the West Virginia International Trade Department of Economics. With their help they were able to utilize the WV STEP Program, which is a grant program funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
With funds from the STEP grant, Thompson and his team have pursued export expansion by participating in a trade show and advertising in a global industry publication. The company reports $500,000 in sales because of their STEP sponsored activities.
Thompson knows a lot about hard work, as he started working when he was 11 years old on a tugboat. Now Thompson, who has bought multiple businesses with a simple handshake, expects the same hard work from his employees. “I can be hard to work for,” he noted. But he takes care of his employees with great healthcare, a salary they can build a life with, ample time off, and his secret to relationships, “treating people like people.” This secret has paid off for Thompson as he has third generation employees working for him.
SBA helped Thompson take care of his employees when he utilized the Paycheck Protection Program. PPP assisted him in keeping every employee paid during the pandemic. 100 percent of the forgiven loan went to payroll.
Small Business Week Family-Owned Small Business of the Year
Kim Mack, Sharon Lansdale, Shelia Holman, Owners
Cyclops Industries, Inc.
South Charleston, WV
Cyclops Industries, Inc., a leading-edge designer and manufacturer for safety sight glasses, is located in South Charleston, WV. Cyclops Industries is the epidemy of a
family run business being passed down three generations so far. The business was started by Gene LeRoy in 1959 when he created a patent for the sight glass that is still used today.
The business was then passed to son Gene B. LeRoy who brought his daughter Kim Mack on board in 1999. When LeRoy passed in 2001 Kim Mack took over as President and has served in that role since then. She now owns the business with her two sisters Sharon and Shelia.
After her father passed, Mack needed assistance in how to run the business. She turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the West Virginia Small Business Development Center. This relationship has proven crucial during Mack’s career.
The SBDC introduced Mack to SBA’s Office of International Trade in 2013 and the business has now received considerable counseling on numerous occasions. With the assistance of SBDC, SBA and US Commercial Services, Cyclops now exports to more than 30 countries.
Cyclops Industries, Inc. has received almost 50 hours of contact and preparation from the SBDC that has led to an award of $100,000 in a line of credit.
Cyclops and the WVSBDC were in constant contact throughout the pandemic concerning the PPP, EIDL and other pandemic grant funding programs. This funding was a lifeline during the pandemic and kept the business open and employees paid.
Small Business Week Veteran-Owned Small Business of the Year
Liz Riffle, Owner
Riffle Farms LLC
Terra Alta, WV
U.S. Navy Nurse Corp veteran Liz Riffle raises grass-fed and finished bison in West Virginia. Riffle Farms was the first commercial bison operation to locate in the state, and the first to field harvest animals for state certified commercial sale. Liz is passionate about meat transparency and humane practices.
“Riffle Farms is committed to providing our customers with an authentically raised, healthier meat option,” said Riffle. “We will grow our business within the community and become active stewards of the land who promote resilient farm practices and support the global Holistic Management movement.”
Riffle started with a herd of seven animals in the summer of 2017, and now has over 30 bison roaming 64 acres of hills and hollers. Riffle Farms primarily sells direct to the consumer, but they have expanded their market by fostering accounts with select grocers and restaurants throughout WV and VA. When starting her business, she connected with the West Virginia Small Business Development Center and was assigned to small business coach Sharon Stratton.
Like most small businesses, COVID-19 took a toll on them. “Things came to almost a halt during the second quarter of 2020,” noted Riffle. Stratton helped guide Riffle through the pandemic with the help of SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. Because of the EIDL program, Riffle was able to pivot her business to offer a place where customers could schedule a time to shop, pre-order, schedule pick-up, or delivery. The funds also allowed her to keep her employees paid and assisted with delivery personnel and travel.
Riffle is honored to represent the state of West Virginia as a Veteran and Woman Entrepreneur in the farming industry. However, her priority will never waver, noting “Our work is more than just becoming a better business, it’s about becoming better managers of our land, resources, and communities.”
Small Business Week Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year
Julie Zuercher, Owner
Sparkle Janitorial Products
Julie Zuercher is the owner of Sparkle Janitorial Products LLC, located in Morgantown, WV. The 100 percent woman-owned business started in 2017. However, Zuercher never set out to be an entrepreneur, it just sort of happened out of necessity.
Zuercher, who has a degree in social work from Shepherd University, bought into a fuel supply business that owned a small cleaning products distribution business. Zuercher quickly saw that she could make a living pursuing the manufacturing of cleaning supplies.
Like with most entrepreneurs, the first year of business was tough and Zuercher held a part-time job with the Morgantown Area Partnership, and then the world changed when COVID-19 hit.
While the pandemic slowed down business for many, Zuercher found herself busier than ever shipping hand sanitizer and other cleaning products locally and across the country. In a months’ time Zuercher went from 10 accounts and one school district to over 500 accounts. She went from doing everything herself to having 12 employees and from working out of her garage to having her own storefront and warehouse in Morgantown and a distribution and bottling center in Grafton, WV.
In the meantime, she also started doing residential and commercial cleaning and still holds her part-time job with Morgantown Area Partnership.
Zuercher started with a SBA Resource Partner, the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, in the beginning with business coaching. In 2022, coaches Stratton and Goldsborough coached Zuercher on COVID-19 funding opportunities. Sparkle Janitorial Products received two Paycheck Protection Program loans, both forgiven, and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. The funding was used to pay their employees and keep their business on track during the pandemic.
Also recognized during the event were the top lenders for fiscal year 2021. They included:
- WV Lender of the Year
Huntington National Bank
- WV Community Lender of the Year
Clear Mountain Bank
- WV Microlender of the Year
First Microloan of West Virginia
Karen Friel is the district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s West Virginia District Office and has been employed by the agency for the past ten years. During her tenure with SBA she has held multiple positions including administrative officer, business development specialist, lead business development specialist, deputy district director and acting district director. Karen is responsible for the delivery and leadership of SBA’s financial and business development programs throughout the state of West Virginia.