FAIRMONT — For the first time in 60 years of awards, a West Virginia business owner was presented the national Small Business Person of the Year Award.
Every year, the U.S. Small Business Administration hosts a series of awards across the country to honor the work and dedication of small business owners to celebrate Small Business Week.
This year, the West Virginia awards ceremony was in the Robert H. Mollohan Center in the I-79 High Tech Park. Friday, business owners from around the state, region and country gathered to congratulate the state winners, one of whom went on to achieve a national recognition.
In attendance were a series of high-profile guests in the SBA, including Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator John Flemming.
“Today is a celebration of small businesses, and this is just one of over 100 other similar events going on this week across the country,” Flemming said. “It’s important to recognize those businesses who survived the pandemic; it’s amazing how they did it. Many of them not only survived, they thrived.”
The SBA is a government organization that specializes in assisting small businesses and offering support when they need it. During the pandemic, the SBA has had its hands full doling out relief dollars and sorting through over 14 million applications for those dollars.
But among the West Virginia businesses that survived the pandemic was Jill Scarbro, owner of Bright Futures Learning Services in Winfield, W.Va. Her business is a private school for children with developmental disabilities, specifically autism, that helps them prepare for public school and social interactions.
Scarbro won the Small Business Person of the Year at the state, regional and national level, becoming the first West Virginian in the 60 years of SBA awards to receive the honor.
“To me, winning the award is validation that a girl who has dyslexia and wasn’t raised in a business environment can still do good business,” Scarbro said. “It’s not just me, it’s my wonderful staff and the SBA and all these people coming together to say, ‘Taking care of people is always good business.'”
At Friday’s event, some 60 guests welcomed Scarbro with a standing ovation as she stood to accept her three awards.
Bright Futures Learning Services has been in the eyes of the SBA for several years. Karen Friel, SBA’s West Virginia district director, said that as soon as she left Scarbro’s facility the first time, she knew this woman would go on to do great things.
“We knew she was going to make great changes, and at the time, she didn’t really grasp how big those changes would be,” Friel said. “She was coming to terms with the fact that she was not only an all-star ADA therapist but would become something bigger by becoming an entrepreneur.”
Growing up as a child with dyslexia, Scarbro recounted her experience in school as she struggled to learn to read during some of the most critical, formative years.
If not for early intervention and the care of a specialist, she would have fallen behind her peers quickly. Because of the special care she received, she’s devoted her life to giving that gift to other families.
“I was incredibly fortunate that my family was able to make that happen for me from an early age,” Scarbro said. “Because of that I knew I wanted to make that kind of impact for kids like me who just needed to be taught a little differently.”
Four other West Virginia businesses were honored Friday for their work over the past year.
Kim Mack, owner of Cyclops Industries in South Charleston, won the state award for Family-Owned Small Business of the Year. Her father and grandfather started the business of making pressure-resistant windows.
Julie Zuercher, owner of Sparkle Janitorial Products, of Morgantown, was named Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year. Zuercher shared the struggles she and her business faced financially at the onset of the Covid-19 shutdown.
“My mantra is, ‘just keep turning.’ When things get challenging, find another solution and find a way to just keep pivoting,” Zuercher said. “If you can find a way to do that as a small business owner, you will be successful.”
Elizabeth Riffle, owner of Riffle Farms LLC in Terra Alta, was named Veteran-Owned Small Business of the Year. Riffle Farms raises, breeds and butchers American Buffalo in Preston County.
“I’m so proud to represent other veteran farmers who have decided to take their service-related commitment to feed our nation,” Riffle said. “This is also just a wonderful opportunity to showcase what other women veterans can do outside the military.”
The last awardee was Ken Thompson, owner of Mustang Sampling/Valtronics Solutions from Ravenswood. He was named the West Virginia and Regional Exporter of the Year.
For more information about small business assistance, visit www.sba.gov.