2020 Chamber Awards presented at virtual ceremony

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The Cortland County Chamber of Commerce held a virtual ceremony last night to announce the organization’s annual award-winners for 2020.

Chamber president Bob Haight, picture right, led the ceremony by giving a detailed introduction about each winner.

The information below was taken directly from his speech.

Additionally, the night was a themed event: An Evening with Dan McNeil.

He sat down for a conversation with Haight last night about Cortland, business, family and more.

Video of last night’s livestream can be seen on YouTube at this link.


Small Business of the Year – Jax Service Center in Cortland (Owner: Sean Smith)

Home grown businesses. We love them. We’re the Chamber of Commerce, of course we love home grown businesses, that’s what we live for. This small business has the experience we need, the attitude for customer service, and a willingness to give back to their community.

The owner gained valuable experience in a large national chain but knew he could do better for his local customers.  While the chains have a place, and can be valuable, he recognized where they were lacking and set out to change that. In 2014 he ventured out on his own in a small shop, faced multiple challenges, hit them head on, and kept going.

He has now moved his business to 3 different locations, continued to grow and hire employees, and has a home in a highly recognized, high traffic location. While they have grown they have not lost sight of the reasons they began the business, they still take care of their customers and the owner still actively participates in the day to day operations working the shop floor.

Their nominator said, “He wants customers, visitors, and the community to feel like family. He wants you to feel taken care of, not taken advantage of.” In addition to caring for customers, his philosophy of the community feeling like family isn’t just a saying on the wall, or a statement on a business card, it’s a philosophy backed up by action.

That’s why the owner volunteers his time to youth programs and it’s the driving force behind his starting the Thanksgiving Turkey giveaway for our area. Last year with the help of supporting individuals and businesses they organized the giveaway of over 200 turkeys and hope for an even bigger response this year.

When receiving the award he was quick to remind me there’s still time to participate. You’ll hear more about that in a minute. I hope now when you hear the winner you’ll recognize the great accomplishments that have already been done but he won’t stop, with the help of his wife and family, his team at the shop, and hopefully you too, his efforts will continue to grow.

Please join me in celebrating with our 2020 Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year – Jax Service Center. Owner Sean Smith will accept the award.



Large Business of the Year – Square Deal Machining in Marathon (CEO/owner: Joe Morgan)

We’re the Chamber of Commerce and you know we love home grown businesses, and when they grow to the point of being honored as our large business of the year, it makes us even more proud to recognize them.

This business started as a one room machine shop in the south end of the county. When the current owner purchased the company in 1998 they had 5 employees and through his vision they now occupy 300,000 square feet and have employed up to 170 people.

When you tour the facility they are quick to introduce employees and talk about the work they’re doing. Their investment in our community is tremendous, spending millions of dollars on equipment to make their workforce more efficient and keep them on the cutting edge. They could have expanded anywhere, invested anywhere, but they chose to do so in Cortland County and it benefits all of us.

They are proud to be a full service machining company offering their customers; machining, welding, fabrication, assembly, and everything in between. They strive to have their employees not only have a safe work environment but to have a position they enjoy coming to every day.

When you talk to the owners and managers it’s not just the growth of the company they’re proud of but you can see it’s the growth of the employees that they take the most pride in. They employ engineers, managers, technicians, and set up personnel, who all started as entry level employees and grew within the company, their willingness to invest in employees makes them a desired location to work and grow.

As stated by their CEO, “one of the most important things to me is the development of our employees”. A quote from their Facebook page, “We pride ourselves on precision, and that’s why we combine the hard working people we employ with the best technology available”.

I recall a conversation there when we were setting up our Manufacturing Day program for high school students a few year ago and telling the owner I had just spoken to a high school Superintendent who told me he personally knew of a student who was a good welder and was looking for an opportunity after high school.

The owner, Joe, looked at me and said, “Bob, hook me up… hook me up now” I got him in touch with the school and I know they maintain the connection today along with multiple other schools and even sponsor a scholarship at their local high school.

They’re quick to think local and act local. Take care of your employees, take care of your customers, the rest takes care of itself. That’s me talking, not them but it’s the feeling I get every time I visit.

I’m happy to announce the winner of our Large Business of the Year is Square Deal Machining of Marathon and here is the CEO and owner Joe Morgan.



Heritage Award – Community Restaurant

This award is intended for a business or organization with a long standing history in our community, often multiple generations have participated, and in a minute you’ll see why multiple generations stand out here. This year’s winner is exceptionally qualified.

When I think about them this is what comes to mind; family, children, high quality, integrity, caring for the community, and producing so many quality traits in what they put out. Now I hope you’re curious.

90 years, sounds like a great case for the Heritage Award to me. This business could have been honored with the Heritage Award, a Business Award, or the owner could have been nominated for a Community Award. In short, they stand out in multiple categories. The owner is synonymous with the business, which of course happens with many of our small businesses, but in this case you see his personality, drive, and eagerness to serve our community, when you visit the business.

Covid had a huge impact on their revenue but instead of lying in wait for things to get better they decided to take it upon themselves to improve the business while shut down. Let’s look at our space, decide where we could improve, and go for it. When we open back up let’s ensure we’re doing so in a safe manner. Not just the cleaning in between customers or after we close for the evening but let’s let the customer see it when they walk in the door. Let’s be sure we’re serving in such a way that they not only are safe but they feel safe and secure when they choose to visit us.

The business has been a staple in Cortland since 1930, 1930! That means if your family is from Cortland your Great Grandparents probably knew of it and visited it. The current family took ownership in 1963 and it passed from father to son in 2000. To see it now is a joy, the owner has worked hard to maintain the rich history while updating and keeping up with the times.

The restaurant’s customer base is often a who’s who of our region with business owners, heads of nonprofits, community leaders, students with families, you, and me. I’ve often joked that I could hold office hours there because of all our members I see when I visit. Each enjoying breakfast, lunch or dinner and excellent service and company.

Let me tell you a little more about their community service. They were planning a huge 90 th celebration this year and then Covid. How to celebrate, involve the community, and make an impact. Here’s what they came up with.

What if we serve take-out meals and donate 100% of the proceeds to a local non-profit who can use the help? Many nonprofits are in need how do we choose? Well they choose a local neighbor who also serves food to our community in Loaves and Fishes.

The initial plan was to serve 500 meals but the day I picked up my tickets they were numbers over 1,000. When I asked about the high number they simply said, it sold out so fast we couldn’t stop, by last count they served over 1,200 and remember I said they donate 100% of the proceeds, not profit, not income above food costs, but all of it! What a statement.

By now, because many of you had the dinner that day you recognize the winner of our 2020 Heritage Award is the Community Restaurant and owner Evan Souzas is with us to accept the award.



Nonprofit of the Year – Cortland County Restaurant & Tavern Association

When Covid hit, it hit all of us. Business shut down by Executive Order, people asked to sta home, only go out if necessary, unless of course you were deemed essential. Then you could perform your services but of course follow all of the new rules and regulations, and by the way we don’t have all of them written yet, but were working on it.  That’s what we often heard from the state when we advocated on behalf of our members and other local businesses.

Now take it a step further. I’m a restaurant, they say I’m essential but, I can’t be open for dining and there are new rules for my customers, my employees, my supply vendors, my delivery drivers, how do I navigate these rules? Oh yeah, don’t forget when we shut down not all of them were written, but of course you have to follow them. Sound confusing? Imagine how confusing that can be when you’re also expected to answer questions from employees, their families, your customers, vendors, etc. WOW!

Our Chamber took questions like these from every business category we have and while we worked to get answers, the answers were different for many different categories, Offices, manufacturing, restaurants, salons, retail, all had different answers. One piece of mind came from our Cortland County Restaurant and Tavern Association. Their Director Tammy Timmerman stepped up in a big way. She was ultra-focused on the restaurants, what they could and couldn’t do and how to go about their business.

I guarantee there are people in Albany who know her name and probably her voice as she continued to advocate for our restaurants to be sure we could serve in a safe manner and follow all regulations whether they were written yet or the spirit of them if they were still about to come to us.

Why is this so important? First, we wanted to keep our economy moving in any way we could safely do so and the state was allowing us to continue with take-out and delivery. We wanted to keep revenue flowing to restaurants so they could employ staff and keep their businesses running to the extent possible. Second, many of us were at home living a very different life, some of us hom- schooling our children while still working full time.

Our message to those individuals was, give yourself a break and order take-out from your favorite restaurant or if you’re an essential worker now not only still doing your job but with the added stress of Covid as we continued to learn what risks there were, give yourself a break and order in from your favorite restaurant. And we could make that recommendation knowing our restaurants with the guidance of the Restaurant and Tavern Association were doing all they could to serve us safely.

When the Chamber wanted to create a Facebook Group to promote the take-out and delivery options who partnered with us, yup, the Restaurant and Tavern Association. Tammy did her part and so much more. She could have easily simply forwarded guidance from the state as she received it to her members but that’s not the way she operates.

She was on the phone to Albany, the County Office Building, her state Association, and anyone else who could expedite answers for our local restaurants. Did she help her members? You bet she did but she also worked to get information out to any food establishment who needed her help, and many did.

For all these reasons our Molina Non-Profit 2020 Chamber Award goes to the Cortland County Restaurant and Tavern Association. Here is Tammy Timmerman to accept the award.



Up and Coming Millennial Award – Rosalie Hopko

We’re in the 7th year of this award and it’s designed to recognize a person of the millennial generation for the great work they’re doing and of course to let them know we have extremely high expectations for them for years to come. This award may become part of our Young Professionals group moving forward.

Our winner is a Cortland High graduate and began her local volunteering while still in grade school. She worked with the 1890 House helping with events, tours, cleaning, and anything else that needed doing. Her volunteering continued when she went off to college but now occupied her time when she was home on breaks.

After getting her Master’s Degree she once again continued home and now worked with AmeriCorps and Seven Valley Health Coalition to improve local food resources for low income families in our area. She wrote and received a grant to provide cooking classes to showcase using local healthy foods to low income individuals.

She is also responsible for the revitalization for the Cortland County Hunger Coalition, aiming to address local and sustainable solutions to fight hunger locally. She volunteered to create a blog to fight hunger, participated in the Emotionally Disturbed Persons Response Team, the military Innovative Readiness Training, educated our elementary students through Mighty Molar, oh and never stopped volunteering for the 1890 House.

As her time with AmeriCorps ended she was hired by the 1890 House but continued to give many more hours than they could ever pay her for. Her passion stands out when you have a conversation with her about any of the causes she advocates for and she has represented several at Chamber events making herself known to many local business leaders.

Her nominator wrote, “Her tenacity, capacity for learning, and willingness to take on any task exemplify the qualities of an up and coming successful young professional. Her leadership skills have helped the 1890 House Museum grow and be further recognized in the community as the historic landmark that it is.”

And finally from her nominator, “She goes above and beyond to advance and improve her workplace and community with hard work, dedication, enthusiasm, and always with kindness, compassion, and a smile. She has recently left the museum but only because she is going back overseas to pursue her doctorate degree.

I’ve already instructed her that not only do we expect great things from her but we want her back in Cortland! Go into the world, gain wonderful experiences, then we’ll have a place for you right here.

The Up and Coming Millennial/Young Professional is our very own Rosalie Hopko.



Community Service Award – Christella Yonta

Kathy Cotterill was the definition of Community Service. While we miss her, we continue to honor her by presenting this award in her name each year. The winner’s name will join Kathy and each winner since 2005 on our plaque which hangs in our Board room at 37 Church St. and will be moving with us to our new office space on Main Street soon.

Most of you have been here before and know I love researching the information about our winners and including a quote or two about them in my description. I have the pleasure of working closely with this year’s winner on multiple projects and have known our winner for years but I was even pleasantly surprised by the volume of involvement she has in our community.

Instead of listing the dozen or so agencies she has assisted in her personal time let me read from what our nominator wrote, I can’t say it better myself, and while our winner is in the business of helping our community it’s easy to see she has gone well well above and beyond what was ever expected of her.

Here is how she handled local need during our pandemic. In between state and local briefings, she persuaded everyone to come together in a coordinated response. It is her generosity of spirit and compassion for her fellow human beings that inspires others to join together for the common good.

Her calm demeanor, humble leadership, and unique ability to empathize with those in need means when she asks you to lend a helping hand, it is impossible to say no.

She not only supported area food pantries, but showed up twice a week to unpack trucks of food and then prepare and deliver food boxes. She was there, rain, snow, and shine at multiple food, dairy, and baby supply distributions. She even ensured area children had access to free toys, crafts, and recreational equipment when their families came for food boxes.

She was able to fundraise, provide twice weekly radio updates to the community, and stay in touch with over a dozen nonprofits to make sure they what they needed to operate. In all, over 35 Chamber members either collaborated with or benefited from, an initiative she was fundamental in organizing.

When the Cortland Community Foundation and the United Way partnered for the Cortland cares Fund, the Foundation provided a matching gift up to $25,000. Our winner’s fundraising efforts not only raised $25,000, triggering the match, but went on to raise an additional $25,000 for a grand total of over $75,000. She acknowledged each gift personally and coordinated 10 rounds of grants to 17 local non-profit agencies.

She is responsible for enriching the lives of countless individuals, children, and families, particularly those who are vulnerable or less able to help themselves. She truly understands that we are all part of the larger community and are just one turn away from everything changing.

Her leadership and dedication to the Cortland Community is both inspirational and incomparable, she is most deserving of the Kathy Cotterill Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award! Our nominator nicely stated, 1 woman at the center of it all!

Ladies and Gentleman, the 2020 Kathy Cotterill Community Service Award is presented to Christella Yonta.


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