Chattanooga businessman Mike Collins recalled Wednesday the day nearly three years ago when his wife learned she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
About a week later, they packed up and traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, leaving their information technology business for 10 months while his wife underwent treatment.
"The company not only survived, but prospered and actually grew," Collins said. "That's the kind of group of people I have there. I could pretty much walk away."
Mike Collins & Associates Inc. on Wednesday was tapped as one of three firms winning small business of the year honors from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
Headlight Renew Doctor and Hullco Exteriors also picked up the award. McKamey Animal Center was chosen as the nonprofit winner of the year.
Collins, the firm's president, said the 64-employee company has done so well the company is undertaking a $2 million, 8,000-square-foot expansion that will add a warehouse and data center which he hopes to have done by year's end.
Company revenues, helped by a recent acquisition, are expected to climb up to 35 percent over the next year or so, he said, declining to give a dollar figure.
"There's pent-up demand for IT and IT services," said Collins, who with his wife, Karen, started the business in Chattanooga 26 years ago. Collins said he always had a desire to run his own company and be his own boss, and he and his wife decided to try it.
Growth has been slow and steady, he said, trying to not let it interrupt his family life.
"We've been very, very blessed," Collins said to more than 1,000 people who turned out at the Convention Center for the Chamber meeting.
He said the company is "feeling the pinch" as many small businesses with Obamacare and health care costs.
"It's an ongoing struggle," Collins said.
He also cited his customer base, which numbers about 1,600 coast to coast.
"Our customers are what make MCA what it is," Collins said. "One of our main goals ... is we let them direct our paths."
Collins said his wife is doing well, and that a foundation has been started to raise money for ovarian cancer research, which he said is extremely underfunded.
Ron Harr, the Chamber's chief executive, that more than 90 percent of the Chamber's members are small businesses.
"It really is the life blood" of the Chamber, he said.
But, being small doesn't mean the companies don't have a major economic impact, Harr said.
"It's great to see small businesses drawing a big audience," he said.
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