More than 100 small business owners gathered at the Hilton Midland Plaza on Thursday for the Midland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 26th annual meeting and business awards banquet.
This year also marked the 10th year of the organization's Incubator Small Business Program, which counsels and works with entrepreneurs as they launch their small businesses. Thirteen business owners have graduated from the program, said Rachel Stone, the chamber's CEO and president, and another 10 are working their way toward graduation.
Noticeably absent from Thursday's activities was Jeffery Crain, the organizational management professor at Midland College who passed away this summer. Crain was an active member of the chamber and served on the economic development committee and incubator oversight committee. Those who worked with him through the incubator program said he was a "tough guy" who encouraged entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.
"He helped us so much with that program," Stone said. "He just never stopped believing in them. In all honesty, I do not believe our program would be as successful if it weren't for him."
The award for businessman of the year was given to George Lara, owner of Lara's Automotive. Lara's business has provided auto repair services in the Midland area for the past 41 years. He is former president of the Midland Independent School District's board and has served more than six years on the Midland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board.
Dr. Sally Reyes, who became the first doctor of audiology in the Midland/Odessa area in 2000, was named the organization's businesswoman of the year. She began doing business in Midland at All About Hearing in July 2007 and opened a new location in Odessa in September 2009.
"Four and a half years ago, when I took this leap of faith ... (the chamber) gave me the confidence I needed to do this," Reyes said. "I'm very honored to be among the women who have received this award."
Other award recipients included State Farm for corporation of the year, ICA Radio for media partner of the year and Severo Enriquez as volunteer of the year.
"This past year, Severo has diligently volunteered for every event that the chamber has participated in, and he always does it with a smile," said the chamber's chairman, Diana Cano.
Cano gave the chairman's award to Renee Rivera, who serves as vice chairman of finance for the board.
"This is an area that many entrepreneurs feel intimidated by, but with Renee's down-to-earth attitude, she calms their nerves," Cano said.
Keynote speaker Calvin Davis said his objective was to inspire and encourage the small business owners in attendance. Davis has been U.S. Small Business Administration's district director of the West Texas District Office in Lubbock since February.
Though the SBA is known for lending, Davis pointed out that the organization has many other special outreach efforts and initiatives to help small businesses, such as disaster assistance for businesses affected by the current drought. He said the SBA is the largest venture capital organization in the world, and pointed out that it made investments toward companies like Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Home Depot.
Only 20 percent of the SBA district office's lending is focused in the Midland/Odessa area, Davis said. He suspected it could be because of the flourishing oil industry, and encouraged small businesses in West Texas to tap into government contracts of which they currently aren't taking advantage.
"In order to be successful in a business or any other endeavor, you have to have a plan, and you have to execute the plan," he said. "But first, you have to believe in the plan."
Sara Higgins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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