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Sun., Oct. 4
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Five companies take home 2012 Business of the Year awards


Several businesses and organizations that took a huge step forward in 2012 were honored for their success Wednesday at the Black River Valley Club.

During its annual meeting, the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce announced 2012 Business of the Year awards for the following nominees in five categories: USO Fort Drum (nonprofit, 50 or fewer employees); Transitional Living Services of Northern New York (nonprofit, over 50 employees); Westelcom (for profit, 50 or fewer); and Watertown Savings Bank (for profit, over 50). Announced by the chamber for the first time, the Entrepreneur of the Year Award went to American Real Estate NNY.

Leading the pack as the largest for-profit business, Watertown Savings Bank dominated in 2012 by tallying the most annual earnings in its 120-year history. CEO Mark R. Lavarnway said that receiving the award is a testament to the bank’s focus on community service and business strategy. It added approximately 1,700 new bank accounts that accounted for more than $50,000 in assets in 2012.

“From a community perspective, we’ve been able to find a business model that allows us to continue to support the community and do our job better. We’ve kept the same name and same mission since the beginning, and that matters to us. It’s a simple mission some might describe as vanilla, but our customers will tell you they like vanilla.”

Also taking a charge forward in 2012 was Transitional Living Services of Northern New York, a nonprofit agency with more than 150 employees that establishes residential services for people who need psychiatric and rehabilitative support in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The agency received a $397,801 federal grant in 2012 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide shelter for eligible homeless people in dwelling units across Lewis County.

“Shelter is especially needed in Lewis County, and our expansion has been a great way to meet people’s needs,” Executive Director Stevie Smith said. “And we just expanded in St. Lawrence County, adding (a combined) 88 beds to our locations in Ogdensburg, Canton, Heuvelton and Waddington.”

Westelcom in Watertown, which has a staff of 45 employees, was busy expanding its fiber-optic line in 2012 across six counties in Northern New York. Thanks to a project to consolidate its Internet servers, customers are enjoying faster Internet and telephone speeds, a trend that’s set to continue.

“We developed our fiber network throughout Watertown and are looking at ways to improve services for customers,” President Paul F. Barton said. “We brought on about 20 health care facilities in the region and are now working with over 50.”

USO Fort Drum, a nonprofit fueled by donations from the community, has the mission to lift of the spirits of troops and their families. The nonprofit was honored for its volunteerism with numerous awards this year, including four at the 2012 Fort Drum Volunteer Awards ceremony in April. It expanded its level of outreach to serve more than 100,000 people in 2012, up from about 65,000 in 2011. Because of the strong number of volunteers, “we were able to increase our level of outreach throughout the year,” Director Karen M. Clark said. “We wouldn’t be here without the community and people who volunteer their time, talent and treasures.”

The Chamber’s Ambassador of the Year was Jenny Danielsen, and its Board Member of the Year was Mark Gaines.

Businesses that received honorable mention were Converse Laboratories (for profit, 50 or fewer); Watertown Audiology (for profit, 50 or fewer); and Barrett Paving Materials (for profit, over 50). Event sponsors were M&T Bank, Davidson Auto Group, Timeless Frames and GYMO Architecture, Engineering & Land Surveying.

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