Accomplished singer, impressionist and humorist Roy Firestone headlined Howard County Chamber of Commerce’s (HCCC) Signature Event, held at Turf Valley Resort, on Oct. 7, 2016. Critically acclaimed for his work in broadcast journalism, Firestone has won seven Emmy Awards and seven Cable ACE Awards and has interviewed more than 5,000 people. At the event, he walked the audience down memory lane through his tunes and relevant stories.
HCCC’s Signature Event is a gala evening of great food and drinks, socializing and entertainment. The event also provides an opportunity to recognize members of the business community with the annual Awards for Chamber Excellence (ACE), presented to recognize leaders the Chamber deems as outstanding for their achievements and to share their stories as examples of innovation, dedication and community service.
Business Person of the Year:
Greg Lowe, Lowe Wealth Advisors
As part of a family-owned financial advising company, Lowe Wealth Advisors, Greg Lowe is grounded in the community where he grew up and now lives. In business, he focuses on proactive communication with his clients and makes sure all financial decisions are clearly understood. In the end, investors have a secure financial plan that lets them enjoy the life they want. Lowe saw first-hand through his dad the difference a trusted adviser could make in the lives of people and wanted to have that same positive impact.
Born and raised in Howard County, Lowe said, “By living and working here, I’m able to help support the community that’s supporting me. I’m happy that my children are able to experience the same great community that I did.”
While contributing to a strong business community, Lowe also gives his time and effort to help those who do not have access to professional financial advisement. For the past seven years, he has led an eight-week class in financial literacy at the Financial Peace University at Grace Community Church in Fulton. More than 300 people have participated. He also serves on the board of trustees for the Howard Hospital Foundation. In addition, Lowe Wealth Advisors supports numerous local nonprofits.
Lowe also has been a member of the HCCC board of directors for nine years, including holding the chair position, and helped organize and lead the Chamber’s involvement in Columbia Town Center’s development. He was on the search committee that brought Leonardo McClarty, the Chamber’s current president, to Howard County.
Lowe believes that, “When you are involved in your community and on committees at nonprofits, you understand your community better and you develop long-term relationships, perspectives and friendships that make you a better businessperson and better-equipped to serve the needs of your community.”
Small Business of the Year:
Howard Tech Advisors
Ananta Hejeebu started Howard Tech Advisors in 2009, focusing specifically on Columbia and guaranteeing that “not only will we call you back when you’ve called us for help, we’ll be in your face in 10 minutes.” He has turned down business in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore because he knew he could not keep that promise.
Rather than offering information technology (IT) support on an hourly basis, as was standard practice, he instituted a support structure that was unique at the time. Howard Tech Advisors would work as a company’s outsourced IT department, with a flat monthly fee per each company employee. He had an incentive to make sure a client’s network and computer were working smoothly, and clients knew that when a server went down, a website got hacked or a virus infected the network, help was just a phone call or email away.
While this business model is no longer novel, what keeps Howard Tech Advisors unique is the extent to which the employees are involved in the community outside of tech support; coaching, volunteering at Chamber events, serving on boards of nonprofits and holding company volunteer days. Employees currently are active in the HCCC board of directors and Executive Committee, Leadership Howard County Board of Directors, Grace Community Church, Junior Achievement and Grassroots.
Howard Tech Advisors now employs 20 people and has expanded beyond Columbia to Howard County and the neighboring areas. It has added some ancillary services, but its core focus still is on being “your outsourced IT department.”
Hejeebu said that Howard County is a great place to do business, and it’s relatively easy to get involved and build relationships. Just “get involved, serve the community, and the business will come,” he said.
GovConnects Government Contractor of the Year:
Headquartered in Columbia, Innoplex provides end-to-end hardware and software systems engineering, information assurance, signals analysis and wireless technology expertise to national and tactical-level end users. In 2016, the company won the XTRAWARRIOR Prime contract at the National Security Agency. It recently has developed and launched a security-oriented product that enables users to query and analyze electronic devices that traverse wireless networks as a way to identify, track and mitigate potentially nefarious users on commercial and government networks.
Phil Green, president and CEO of Innoplex, attributes the company’s success to the quality and caliber of its personnel. “We provide a ‘benefits-rich’ compensation plan for our employees and their families. Those benefits, combined with the company’s investment in their professional development, ensure the retention of a strong, diverse workforce, which is committed to excellence.”
Innoplex was nominated by Baltimore Magazine as the company with the best benefits out of Baltimore’s 100 best businesses in 2014, and was nominated for Best Workplaces by the Baltimore Sun in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Green has developed strategic business partnerships with small and large businesses that operate within the federal government contracting arena. Through mentoring prospective small-business owners, the company shares critical information that new/emergent entrepreneurs need to be successful in government contracting. In 2015, Innoplex became a member of GovConnects’ Advisory Council and has contributed greatly to the direction and success of the program.
Innoplex also participates in numerous philanthropic opportunities, volunteering in local school mentorship activities; hosting an annual charitable golfing tournament whose proceeds are provided to a veteran’s charity called “Heroes on the Water”; and supporting “Herobox,” an organization that provides donated food, personal items, books, etc., to U.S. military service members and government civilians deployed overseas.
Large Business of the Year:
Mobern Lighting Company
Mobern Lighting Company is one of the oldest manufacturers in Howard County, locating there in 1957 because of its strategic location between Baltimore and D.C. Its in-house design and engineering capabilities, flexible manufacturing operations and focus on addressing end-user requirements has allowed it to thrive.
Recently Mobern supplied several large projects for the Maryland Sports Authority (Camden Yards), Naval Observatory Library, Fort Meade and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, causing it to expand its work and sales force. This growth meant that Mobern had to move — but not far. Bob Claire, general manager of Mobern, said, “Howard County has been near and dear to our hearts, because much of our workforce lives in Howard County and the surrounding corridor communities. Our new, 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Jessup was chosen because of our long-term commitment to our workforce and the Howard County organizations we support.”
Mobern is active in government/civic affairs and fosters a business culture based on gratitude and commitment to its community and business partners. It supports community organizations and partners with vendors and service providers that share these values. Claire said, “The Howard County Chamber of Commerce and its membership is one such organization, and that is why we are eager to support its programs and initiatives.” The Howard County Multi-Service Center, Manufacturer’s Extension Program, the Howard County Economic Development Authority, Howard Tech Council, Grassroots, the Office of Housing Stability and Independent Electrical Contractors Association of Chesapeake — of which Mobern is an industry partner — are others the company supports. Its partnership with the Department of Corrections re-entry and work release programs, as well as The Arc Project Search, has earned it the Hire Power Award and special recognition at the local and state level for employing those with social, economic or physical challenges.
Entrepreneur of the Year: The Marriner Family, Victoria Gastro Pub
The Marriner family opened Victoria’s Gastro Pub in 2007, and nine years later, started Manor Hill Brewing, Howard County’s only farmhouse brewery. In November 2016, Manor Hill Tavern opened in historic Ellicott City at the location of the former Diamondback Tavern, and in May 2017, their third restaurant, Food Plenty, will open in Clarksville across from the River Hill shopping center.
The entrepreneurial “gene” runs in the Marriner Family: Randy, Mary, and daughters Rachael Mull and Tori Buscher. After 15 years at his father’s company, Randy Marriner started Marriner Marketing Communications, which is still going strong 11 years after his “retirement.” Mary’s family owned Blob’s Park, the German beer hall in Jessup, where Mary created all the desserts. Rachel and Tori were part of the inaugural kids’ polka group, but currently are chief financial officer and chief experience officer, respectively, of Victoria’s Restaurant Group, the entity that owns and runs the restaurants.
The Marriners are as dedicated to the community as they are to their businesses, raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for the past 40 years. Randy was president of the Maryland chapter, and recently held the 14th Annual Howard County Wine Masters Event for Cystic Fibrosis in his backyard. In addition, he may be the longest serving commissioner on the Lottery Game & Control Commission, and also served on the board of directors for the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.
Awards were also named earlier in the year at the annual meeting. Those honorees were recognized at the Signature Event as well.
Business Advocate of the Year:
Cheryl Brown, Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny LLC
Cheryl Brown, an attorney with Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny, represents employers and management in labor- and employment-related matters, including the defense of state and federal discrimination claims, workplace and sexual harassment charges, wrongful discharge, ADA and ADEA claims, wage and hour issues, FMLA disputes, employment contracts, restrictive covenant agreements, general contract claims and other business tort claims.
She represents clients from a broad range of business industries including nonprofits, municipalities and educational institutions throughout the federal, state and local court system and administrative agencies. She also represents government contractors in employment matters.
For the past two years, Brown has served as the Health, Healthcare & Labor Sub-committee chair. In this capacity she has diligently aided the Chamber in its analysis of labor-related legislation and the legal implications on business. She also has assisted staff in the drafting of position statements and testimony and has served as a link to the Maryland Chapter of the Society of Human Resource Managers.
GovConnects Advocate of the Year:
Mike Muscatello, Aronson LLC
As a founding member of the GovConnects Advisory Council, Mike Muscatello has dedicated four years of support to growing GovConnects into a highly respected program that is recognized for its contribution to the growth of the federal contracting community in Howard County.
He has attended and briefed many board meetings, leadership committee meetings and events, all the while networking to assist in growing membership and the Advisory Council.
For the past two years, Muscatello has co-chaired GovConnects and now will serve as a past chair. He has been the GovConnects representative to the Howard County Chamber Board of Directors for two years and has been a member of the Chamber Executive Committee for one year.
Ambassador of the Year:
Randy Gartner, Integrated Marketing Services
Randy Gartner has served as a Chamber Ambassador since 2004 and has displayed the characteristics needed to be a successful volunteer of this Chamber program; he is a messenger, an envoy and a diplomat. He was present at many of the Chamber’s 29 ribbon cuttings, 10 Ambassador meetings, six member orientations and various other events.
Gartner understands the value of this volunteer role and demonstrates his enthusiasm to assist the Chamber. He cultivates relationships with chamber members, active and new, by maintaining contact through outreach programs, providing feedback and making recommendations to the Chamber regarding the member needs.
Integrated Marketing Services has been a member of the Chamber since 2003, and this is the second time that Gartner has been recognized as Ambassador of the Year for his contributions.
YPN of the Year:
Kyle Robson, Apple Ford Lincoln
Kyle Robson has been a member of the Young Professionals Network Board of Directors for five years. He has served on the YPN Executive Committee for two years and is currently the treasurer.
Prior to that, Robson served as the events chair for YPN and handled the planning of mixers, the YPN Orioles Trip, the Symphony of Lights walk-through, YPN wine tours and other programs. His company, Apple Ford Lincoln, is currently a corporate sponsor of the YPN program.
Robson consistently attends all YPN and many Chamber events, and serves as an Ambassador to YPN by bringing new members and guests to events.
Chairman’s Award for
Volunteer of the Year:
Anita Sheckells has been a member of the Howard County Chamber Board of Directors since 2010 and has served as treasurer since 2011. Sheckells has been invaluable in her role as treasurer to ensure that all financial matters of the organization have been addressed with care, integrity and in the best interest of the Chamber, from performing regular in-depth reviews of the organization’s financial activity to overseeing the annual budget, including regular reporting to the executive committee and board.
She helped steer the Chamber through some very difficult times, restored a surplus within the organization, and provided guidance to the chair, executive committee, board and staff during the time when the Chamber was without a CEO. Sheckells pored over the numbers each month with all the responsibility of a CFO, but none of the compensation.