June 11, 2004

Everybody likes to be recognized.  The businesses in Prescott-Russell are no exception.
Since 1991, the Prescott-Russell Business Merit Awards have been doing just that.  With financial, technical, and management assistance from the Prescott-Russell CFDC, the Merit Awards Gala has become a bi-annual event, celebrating local business achievements and bringing together the bilingual community.
The idea for the Merit Awards originated from a 1988 economic summit involving local businesses and financial institutions, and the CFDC in the area.  One of the conclusions was to develop a way to recognize the work local businesses do for the community, such as creating jobs and improving economic development.  Three years later, the first Merit Awards were presented in a gala to businesses and industries from the Hawkesbury area.  Only six years later, the awards expanded to cover the whole of Prescott County and, in 2001, all of Prescott-Russell was invited to nominate local businesses.
Excellence is recognized in 11 categories:  manufacturing; industrial; retail; service based; tourism; new business; young entrepreneur; community action; exports; technology; and home based businesses.  In addition, the Emeritus Award is presented to an entrepreneur who has professionally and personally contributed to their community.
Businesses are nominated by outside sources, such as suppliers, financial institutions, government institutions and customers.  They are judged by an independent jury panel that is familiar with the Prescott-Russell area, and winners are announced at an October gala.  The number of applicants has steadily increased over the years.  Since 1991, more than 500 businesses have taken part in this activity and, of these, 90 have received Excellence Awards.
The quality of applicants isn’t only noticed locally, but provincially.  There were three winners of the Ontario Francophone Economic Chamber Business Awards from the Prescott-Russell area.  Daniel Gigault, Chair of the Organizing Committee, says Pauline Rochefort, Vice President of Business Development at the Bank of Canada, has been impressed with the quality and number of applicants from Prescott-Russell to provincial business awards – a trend which she relates to the success of the Prescott-Russell Business Merit Awards.  “The bar is getting higher and higher all the time,” says Gigault.
This is something with which Barney Bangs, President of Tulmar Safety Systems, would agree.  After previous nominations, the company won two Excellence Awards in 2001 and enjoyed the prestige garnered by the success.  “In 2001, we won those two awards which was great for us, great for our business,” says Bangs.  “We use it on our website; we use it in our entrance, on our bulletin board; we had a banner that was put up at the front of the building, and there was some nice local press coverage.”
In addition to the publicity and esteem garnered by winning a Merit Award, a sense of pride and community is instilled in the successful businesses.  “It’s something we shared with our employees,” Bangs adds.
The sense of community created by these awards is not limited to just the businesses.  The Award Gala is an event that is broadcast by the local television channel and has been attended by over 1,750 individuals since its inception.  There is an emphasis on making the gala bilingual, in order to include the whole community.  Previous winners are invited to take part in the planning of the gala, thus helping to celebrate other local businesses in their achievements, as well as sharing in the emotion with new winners.
“Every year, every gala we make somebody cry,” says Gigault.  “One year,we had a winner who had been in business for 50 years; he owned a furniture store, and he got choked up on the podium; he couldn’t talk, he was crying, and he said, ‘I’ve never won anything before.’”  Thanks to the Prescott-Russell Business Merit Awards, now he has.