Abajian rides off with top Chamber award

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WALLA WALLA — A local auto dealership whose commitment to the community is as driven as its focus on customers was feted Wednesday as the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year.

Abajian Toyota-Scion was honored as the top business during the Chamber’s sixth annual Business Awards Showcase Presented by Baker Boyer Bank.

The award was one of nearly a dozen presented in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Baker Boyer Bank’s downtown branch Wednesday evening.

The awards are a way to “celebrate the success of our many great companies and organizations that are accomplishing great things,” said Chamber Chief Executive Officer David Woolson in a special publication honoring the winners and nominees.

Businesses and organizations are nominated via committee and peer submission. Each award is sponsored by a business or organization. Those recognized Wednesday were:

Business of the Year, sponsored by Port of Walla Walla: Abajian Toyota-Scion.

The award recognizes a business for its contribution to the community. The 28-year-old dealership has donated to more than 70 groups and organizations since the start of 2011. It also ran a special campaign on Facebook allowing users to nominate and vote for three organizations in the community to receive $5,000 donations from Abajian and Toyota Motor Sales. MOre than 2,500 Facebook users participated. The dealership is also a major sponsor of the Ducky Derby, along with the Exchange Club. The business donates a car as a prize for the fundraising event.

Catalyst Award, sponsored by Alaska Airlines: Power House Theatre.

The award recognizes an individual, business or organization that collaborates and motivates to make big things happen in the Walla Walla Valley. The theater, converted with local funds and skills from a historic power house, has become a destination for new events and entertainment.

Health & Wellness Award, sponsored by Walla Walla General Hospital: Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

The award recognizes a business for outstanding commitment to employee wellness and development in the workplace. St. Mary encourages healthy lifestyles among staff through annual health screenings, which have helped to identify potentially serious and previously undetected conditions in several employees. The hospital campus is tobacco-free, and free tobacco cessation classes are offered. Weight Watchers classes are offered onsite weekly. Half the cost of the classes is reimbursed to employees by Providence. Healthy Heart entrees are offered at the cafeteria and numerous health and wellness initiatives have been offered.

Not-For-Profit of the Year Award, sponsored by Hayden Homes: Blue Mountain Community Foundation.

The award recognizes best business practices for 501c(3), 501c(4) or 501c(6) operations of any size. The foundation is a philanthropic institution that manages long-term charitable funds designed to carry out the interests of donors and meet the needs of local residents. The foundation has distributed more than $17 million in grants and scholarships since its inception in 1984. It has an aggressive strategic plan to grow into a more sustainable connected network of philanthropists making $2.5 million in grants and scholarships per year by 2015.

Sweet Service Awards, sponsored by Sykes: Oil Can Henry’s.

The award recognizes a business or nonprofit organization with exceptional customer service through all aspects of sales. There are no waiting rooms at Oil Can Henry’s. As part of its business model, operators tend to customers in the comfort of their own vehicles with a free newspaper while technicians service vehicles with oil changes and other preventive maintenance. The College Place center, a franchise of the business formed in 1978, installed special air filling equipment so technicians can fill any spare tire to which they have access while servicing vehicles. This feature was added after technicians noticed customers’ spares were routinely low or flat. The service has since been adopted by other service centers.

$mart Business Partner Award, large, sponsored by Sustainable Living Center: Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

The award recognizes businesses that practice outstanding commitment to environmentally sound business practices. Providence has an environmental policy, energy conservation policy, a buy-sustainable policy, has established recycling goals and more. Among its numerous accomplishments and savings, the company has reduced almost 3 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year by adding variable fan speeds to the HVAC handling system and other measures; cut more than 400 gallons of fuel through boiler upgrades; and reduced 20,000 therms of natural gas by insulating an outside wall, upgrading a fan wall in the operating rooms and reducing the heating temperature by 6 degrees.

$mart Business Partner Award, small, sponsored by Sustainable Living Center: Jacobi’s Cafe.

Jacobi’s set and achieved sustainability goals in 2012 and so far has reduced 54,000 kilowatt hours of electricity by turning off air conditioning between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. and replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescents. The business also buys recycled-content paper, has reduced 3,000 therms of natural gas and reduced the purchase of 4,000 pounds of cooking oil by filtering and re-using, among many other measures.

Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Award, sponsored by CenturyLink: First place — Lance Hatch. The award recognizes youths who organize and manage their own small businesses and demonstrate excellent customer service. Hatch maintains an online shop selling woven paracord bracelets. He also sold them at a booth at the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days.

Second place — William Waliser, who started developing a worm retail business that began at the 2011 Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market and has continued to grow this year.

Third place — Heather, Holly and Rose Waliser, 12-year-old triplets who have followed in their brother’s farmers market footsteps by developing and selling their own hair bows.

Fourth place — Dylan Danning, who modified her enjoyment of playing coffee shop into a roadside ice cream business with her brother, Walker.

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