Southwest Valley Chamber honors key businesses, community members

Joy Bauer of the Arts Academy at Estrella Mountain, center, receives the Spirit of the Chamber Award from Laura Meehan, West Valley View associate group publisher, and John Safin, Southwest Valley Chamber President and CEO.

The Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce recognized key businesses and community members in the cities of Avondale, Goodyear, Litchfield Park and Tolleson at its 2019 awards gala.

The Southwest Valley Awards Gala, dubbed “The Swaggies,” was once again held at The Wigwam June 14, and featured three-time host and nine-time Emmy Award-winning CBS 5 anchor Sean McLaughlin.

The second-highest attended gala in Southwest Valley Chamber history, 410 people attended, including the mayors of all four represented cities and various other elected state and local officials.

Recognitions were bestowed in the categories of: Emerging Business of the Year, Excellence in Business, Spirit of the Chamber, Community Impact and Icon. Nominees are submitted by chamber members, and winners are determined by a volunteer group, McLaughlin said.

But first, Southwest Valley Chamber President and CEO John Safin surprised longtime Estrella Mountain Community College President Dr. Ernest “Ernie” Lara with the new President’s Choice Award. Lara, who recently announced his retirement, will be succeeded by Dr. Rey Rivera.

“When a dream becomes reality it’s called success. When a dream has a lasting and positive effect on future generations, it’s called the legacy,” Safin said.

“For over 30 years in higher education, 12 years as a president for Estrella Mountain Community College, Dr. Ernie Lara had the vision, dedication and passion to help turn what was a very small community college into the powerhouse education center it is today.”

Moving into the main portion of the evening, Board and Brush Avondale emerged victorious in the category of Emerging Business of the Year. The DIY, BYOB wood sign art studio bested Angel’s Diner, MomDoc Midwives and Urban Air Goodyear.

“An experience, quote unquote, is the best way to describe the unique service and products,” said presenter Jill Lopez, a local Massage Envy owner, who also cited “excellence in customer service.”

“Their customers enjoy the experience, they learn something new and they have a personalized memento when they go away. Their business has been growing and will continue to grow in the future.”

Saddle Mountain Brewing Company topped the list for the Excellence in Business Award. Runners up to the microbrewery included ISM Raceway, Puff & Fluff Grooming and Pet Sitting, The Giordano Team/Realty ONE Group, River Crossing Avondale Storage & RV, Thompson’s Flower Shop and Whispering Dragons.

“They’ve won several awards for their products, expanded their distribution line to 30 locations around the Valley, and support several local charities including Fighter Country Partnership and the West Valley Mavericks Foundation,” said presenter Christopher Amos, business advisor for DexYP.

“They have a cult-like following of their customers because of their amazing staff and high-quality products. Their businesses have grown much in only a few years.”

It was decided that Joy Bauer of Arts Academy at Estrella Mountain best showcases the Spirit of the Chamber. She surpassed nominees Lona Hardy of Legal Shield, Carol Keyes of River Crossing Avondale Storage & RV, Joey Lucidi of Haymaker Restaurant Company and Robert and Raylene Sanchez of A Better Surety & Insurance Services.

Bauer attends “every ribbon cutting, every mixer, every event, every activity and (is) always one of the first people to arrive and the last to leave, no matter what time of day,” according to presenter Laura Meehan, associate group publisher for West Valley View.

Meehan added that Bauer always thinks “about the members, (is) aware of the influence the chamber generates, and looks to improve organization for the betterment of the membership and the community.”

The nominee with the most significant Community Impact was determined to be Agua Fria Food & Clothing Bank. Arts Academy at Estrella Mountain, Homeless Youth Connection, MLR Professional Tax & Accounting Services, River Crossing Avondale Storage & RV, Southwest Valley Family YMCA, West Valley Mavericks Foundation and West Valley View were also nominated.

“A sad fact is that over 50,000 people a year have food because of them,” said presenter J. Green, resort vice president of sales and marketing for The Wigwam.

“They have a pantry program for our seniors, give baby care items and school supplies for children and struggling families, and support the people that are facing crises. This means they help more than just the homeless. A crisis can be a job loss, an illness or an unexpected death of a working family member. Without our award winner, thousands of people with would be without food, without clothing and, most importantly, without hope.”

The final award of the evening was the Icon Award. It was bestowed upon Faith, Ledyard & Faith PLC. of Gold Estate Liquidations, Cancer Treatment Centers of America and Osborne Jewelers were runners up.

The law firm has a “heart in the Southwest Valley and an exceptional reputation throughout the state of Arizona,” said presenter Naomi Prieto, project manager consultant for APS. Prieto also cited community involvement.