WALLA WALLA — Gesa Credit Union, the 60-year-old financial services institution that’s grown from a part-time office into the state’s fifth largest credit union, was crowned Business of the Year in the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce’s seventh annual Business Awards Showcase on Wednesday.
The Richland-based credit union, which operates two branches in Walla Walla, offers scholarships to community students and free financial seminars; contributes volunteer hours for numerous organizations and causes; and became the title sponsor this year for the Gesa Power House Theatre.
In front of a packed lobby at Baker Boyer Bank for the 175-ticket event, the credit union was honored with the Chamber’s highest award of the night and celebrated with fellow nominees Walla Walla General Hospital and the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center.
The lobby of the downtown Walla Walla bank branch was converted into a virtual Business Showcase Theater for the three-hour event that recognizes businesses, nonprofit organizations and their work in the community.
“There’s nothing else like it for businesses,” Chamber Chief Executive Officer David Woolson said. “It’s a way to say ‘thanks’ and ‘well done.’ It’s really a high honor.”
Nominees in six categories, plus youth entrepreneurs, were celebrated Wednesday in the awards presented by Baker Boyer Bank.
The evening wrapped with a special surprise for the Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Award nominees: a cash prize for all three finalists. The kids originally believed there would be one winner, said Chamber Events Coordinator Casi Smith. The award recognizes young people who organize and manage a small business and demonstrate excellent customer service.
The first-place winner was Cameron Harmon, a 13-year-old who runs a shoe shine business at First Avenue and Main Street.
In second place was Justin Mebes, 14. Mebes creates survival gear from parachute cord braided into key chains, dog collars, lanyards and more.
The third-place winner was 12-year-old Katie Harvey, whose wallets, pencil cases, purses and more made from duct tape are sold through her “Duct Tape Ninjas” business. The cash awards were $500, $300 and $200, respectively.
Other winners and their categories:
• Catalyst Award: Walla Walla Sweets baseball
The award recognizes an individual, business or organization that collaborates and motivates to make big things happen in the Valley. The other nominee was the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival.
• Health & Wellness Award: Key Technology
The award recognizes a business for outstanding commitment to employee wellness and development in the workplace. The YMCA was the other nominee in that category.
• Not-For-Profit of the Year Award: Friends of Children of Walla Walla
The award recognizes best business practices in a nonprofit of any size. Other nominees were Blue Mountain Humane Society, The Health Center, Shakespeare Walla Walla and SonBridge Community Center.
• Sweet Service Award: Sandy’s U-Rent
The award recognizes a business or nonprofit organization with exceptional customer service through all aspects of sales. Other nominees were 1-2-3 Printing, Graphic Apparel and Walla Walla Clothing Co.
• $mart Business Partner Award: Washington State Department of Corrections (large business); and city of Walla Walla wastewater treatment plant/CH2M Hill (small business).
The award recognizes businesses large and small that practice outstanding commitment to environmentally sound business practices. The other nominee in the large category was Providence St. Mary Medical Center. Other small nominees were Ace Hardware, Copier Service Inc. and Jacobi’s Italian Café & Catering.
--This article was modified Sept. 19, 2013, to reflect the following correction/clarification:
Due to a reporter's error, Youth Entrepreneur of the Year first-place winner Cameron Harmon was incorrectly identified in the original piece. The Union-Bulletin regrets the error.