Intently listening, approximately 350 people heard officials from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development portray a positive outlook for Pittsburgh and the region. They also heard C. Randy Grossman, financial advisor for Wealth Management Strategies Inc. identify small business owners as the driving force of the economy.

“Over the past 30 years the area has been reborn and reinvigorated with an investment in the quality of life, jobs and housing,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Conference during the Small Business Awards Luncheon and Trade Show.

SBA AWARD RECIPIENTS—State Legislator Jake Wheatley and Richard Somiari congratulate one another for being winners. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)

Classifying “brain gain” as an asset within the ten county region, Bill Flanagan, executive vice president, corporate relations for the Allegheny Conference and master of ceremonies for the luncheon pointed out that the area gained 286 economic development deals in 2011. Those deals he said calculates into investment and development projects totaling nearly $1.5 billion in capital investment. “People are recognizing what we are doing,” he said.

Grossman, keynote speaker, cited entertainment and his old profession of sports as the wrong industries to be focused on and celebrated. “We have become a celebratory focused society, but it’s not the entertainer or athlete that gets things done. It is the small business owner,” he indicated. Grossman is a former Pittsburgh Steelers tightend.

For 36 years the Western Pennsylvania Small Business Network, a conglomeration of local Small Business Development Centers, Chambers of Commerce and other local resource partners that promote small business interests, have organized the awards luncheon which salutes local small business owners and advocates. The event is held in conjunction with the 49th annual celebration of National Small Business Week. Ten local small business owners and advocates received accolades for their business acumen and accomplishments during the regional luncheon.

Awardees were the Jake Wheatley, Minority Small Business Champion; Richard Somiari, president and chief science officer of Integrated Technologies and Services International, Small Business Exporter of the Year; Rebecca U. Harris, director of Chatham University’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, Women in Business Champion; David D. Miller, Enterprise Bank senior vice president, Financial Services Champion; James Smithmyer, proprietor of Smithmyer’s Superette, Small Business Person of the Year; Renee Staines, owner and artistic director of Altoona Dance Theatre, Young Entrepreneur of the Year; Elizabeth A. Bowers, Western Region representative, Pennsylvania Department of General Services, Veteran Small Business Champion; and Stephen Cohen, Pittsburgh SCORE Chapter number seven, SCORE Volunteer of the Year. Jeffrey Butland, Patrick and Stephen Kahie and Christina Kahie-Rhoades, owners of Zacheri Motor Truck Sales won Family-Owned Business of the Year. Elizabeth M. Gregg, president and CEO of Environmental Services Laboratories won the Chairman’s Award for Pittsburgh Impact Companies, a first time category. Ron Morris, founder and host of the American Entrepreneur, who passed away last week, won the Ray Becki Award which was also a first time recognition.

Always envisioning himself assisting elected officials, Wheatley for the past eight years has been advocating for business and contracting opportunities for minority, women and disadvantage-owned business enterprises. For the past four years he has strived to create a selection committee that would review the state contracting practices and build an environment that creates opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses. He has also created a MWDBE lobby day where business owners come to the state capital to address their concerns to the general assembly.

Wheatley is a decorated former combat Marine, a graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and has a graduate degree in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh. He has worked for former councilman Sala Udin and with CORO, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching leadership skills to young adults. He says he is both surprised and excited to be nominated and selected for the SBA award.

A Nigerian native, Somiari knew at a young age that he wanted to be involved in medical research. In 2000 he was recruited as a breast cancer researcher by the Windber Research Institute in Somerset County while participating in a fellowship at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He earned his doctorate in biochemistry from Technical University of Lodz, Poland and studied in Scotland.

ITSI, based in Johnstown is considered a leading developer of ready-to-use kits for biomedical research with the mission to provide state-of-the-art bio analytical solutions to the global scientific community. With his 11-member research team, Somiari believes that the daily research and analysis they conduct will meet tomorrow’s medical needs. Currently they are analyzing blood for biomarkers data to help develop breast cancer screening tests. He says their research may help to create a blood test that will lead to early detection of breast cancer as it sometimes can take up to 15 years for a lump to appear. “The test will be of great service to women in rural areas as well as men—who can also contract breast cancer,” he said.

As Small Business Exporter of the Year, Somiari encourages entrepreneurs to consider exporting. “Products that come out of the United States are considered to be of the highest quality. There may be more demand for your product overseas than you realize,” he said.

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