(Photo: Hannah Baldwin/News Star)
Flying Tiger Brewery, Bank of Ruston, Neighbors, LLC, Hixson Automotive of Monroe and Dr. Gary Jones were honored with Thomas H. Scott Awards of Excellence during a reception held Thursday evening at the University of Louisiana at Monroe Conference Center. In addition, four businesses received special judge’s awards.
The selections came from 44 nominations for the prestigious awards, which honor companies making significant contributions to the Ouachita Parish economy through capital improvements, expansion, job creation, and community involvement during 2016 and 2017. This year’s nominees collectively employ 4,967 people in Ouachita Parish and made capital investments of more than $105 million.
Flying Tiger Brewery won the award in the category for small businesses (less than 10 employees). James Simpson, Robert Brewer, David Johnson and Brooks Hamaker and a group of investors envisioned and opened Flying Tiger Brewery, a craft beer tap room, complete with a beer garden and brew house. The brewery’s design is the work of Brewer and his wife Sara. They envisioned a first class facility that was welcoming and encouraged customers to relax and enjoy tasting beer.
Simpson’s passion for beer making was shared by Johnson and Brewer, who was brought on board for his business and marketing expertise. Later, the group recruited Brooks Hamaker to serve as their brewmaster. Also assisting the four partners is Simpson’s sister Delia who is a Level One cicerone.
The name Flying Tiger Brewery is a tribute to the legendary Flying Tigers American Volunteer Group and General Claire Chennault, a Louisiana native. The Brewery supports the Chennault Museum and downtown Monroe revitalization efforts.
The winner of the medium business category (11-50 employees) was Bank of Ruston, which was first established in 1905 in Ruston. In 2016, Bank President and CEO Bill Hogan and his board opened a new location in Monroe. They located temporarily in Premier Plaza until the new $2.8 million facility was built on Tower Drive. The bank employs fifty people overall, with nine located in Monroe. Jeremy Harrell serves as Ouachita Market President. The bank actively supports and gets involved in a wide array of organizations to make a difference in the communities they serve. Among them are ULM, Louisiana Tech, The Monroe, West Monroe and Ruston/Lincoln Chambers of Commerce.
Recognized as the large business winner (51 to 100 employees) was Neighbors, LLC. The company is a strategic group of investors, led by Meryl Kennedy Farr. They purchased the assets of Pine Valley Foods, Inc. in 2016 for $750,000. Pine Valley was a leader in the fundraising industry selling quality locally produced products throughout the nation. Farr and her team liked the straight forward business plan that helped organizations achieve their financial goals. The Neighbors team is already planning an expansion to increase co-manufacturing, food service and retail business opportunities to ensure stable employment year-round. Being involved and contributing to the community is important to Farr. She supports organizations like United Way, the area chambers and area educational institutions.
The corporate business of the year award (Over 100 employees) was presented to Dallas Hixson, General Manager, COO and SEC of Hixson Automotive Group of Monroe, LLC. The business was established in 1983 on Louisville Avenue by the Hixson family. In 2017, the business built a new state of the art facility on the Frontage Road in Monroe. The new Hixson Ford is in a 75,000 square foot facility that is double the size of the previous building. The company employs one hundred people at the Hixson Ford facility and another twenty-five at the BMW facility on Louisville. Hixson’s goal is not to just sell cars, but to develop life-long customers. The company sponsors the Golden Apple Award to recognize talented educators and Above and Beyond Award, that recognizes first responders that have gone over and above the call of duty.
For his vision, investment and job creation, the Thomas H. Scott Award was presented to Dr. Gary Jones, president and chief medical officer and one of the founders, of Vantage Health Plan, Inc. and Affinity Health Group. Over the past few years, these two companies have spent over $100 million in investments to restore and build new facilities, including the Vantage State Building and the Affinity Specialty Clinic. Vantage, founded in 1994, is a Louisiana-based Health Maintenance Organization headquartered in Monroe with a satellite office in Shreveport. Affinity Health Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vantage Health Plan, is a physician group medical practice with clinics and staff who provide care from a pediatric level to home health, and everything in between. Over the past 23 years, these two businesses have become leading employers in the region with over 1200 employees.
Dr. Jones and his wife Sissie have been committed and dedicated to the restoration of Downtown Monroe. Through their inspiration, Vantage has purchased and renovated the Ouachita Bank Building, the Central Bank Building and the Virginia Hotel among others. All of these facilities in the downtown area have inspired other investors to buy and renovate these historic buildings.
The Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award was presented to ChefTaxi a restaurant delivery service that delivers food throughout Ouachita Parish. Established in 2015 by Tommy and Amanda Neck with only a few employees, the business now employs forty people. The team keeps deliveries rolling from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Chef Taxi has thirty-five restaurant Partners. The service began in a small office on North 7th Street. Today the business is located in a $500,000 state of the art office located on White’s Ferry Road in West Monroe. The company believes in giving back. Each month they host a fundraiser for a different non-profit. In addition, they support youth sports teams, First West and the Ouachita Parish Animal Shelter.
The Spirit of Resiliency Award was presented to Warehouse 1.The restaurant was established in 1980 by Frances Mason, who found an old tin warehouse located at One Olive Street on the Ouachita River. Serving as her own contractor, she restored the building for use as a restaurant. With hard work, she developed a profitable business until the great flood of 1991. The business was underwater for seven weeks. With no flood or business interruption insurance, the days ahead were tough.
Once back on their feet, the business grew and continued to thrive until 1996 when Ms. Francis died. Her daughter Jan and Duane Humphries became partners and took over the business. 2016 turned out to be another eventful year for the business. In late July a fire broke out and caused significant smoke damage. After an investment of $100,000 and a three month complete renovation project, the business reopened with a fresh new look.
The Cooperative Spirit and Perseverance Award was presented to BancorpSouth and Ouachita Independent Bank. The announced merger between Ouachita Independent Bank and BancorpSouth, Inc, has been delayed for several years while BancorpSouth, Inc. works through the merger process with regulators. In the meantime, it has been challenging for each bank to retain and attract new talent not knowing when the merger will be complete. In spite of the challenges, L.J. Holland and his staff and Kevin Koh and his staff have worked together in outstanding cooperation. While the wait must be frustrating, neither Holland nor Koh show any sign of impatience or fatigue. They attend each other’s ribbon cuttings and support so many of the same organizations. The gracious and considerate demeanor displayed by both Kevin and L.J. is refreshing.
The twenty-four finalists in the small business (less than 10 employees) category are: Bestz Donuts, Curtis Tax Service, LLC, Corner Vet of Sterlington, Downs Law Firm APC, Dusty and Company, Eden Mediterranean Indian Bar and Grill, LLC, Flying Tiger Brewery, Holton Flooring and Interiors, Infit Gym, InterMountain Renovation Consultants, LLC, J and M Properties, LAC Range and The Woodshed Grill, Mel’s Cajun Fried Chicken and Catfish, Monroe Auto Tag and Title, LLC, Patrick L. McGee, DDS, Noble Promise, North Louisiana Land and Title, LLC, Pelican State Credit Union, Phirst Impression Menswear, Pleasant’s Compounding Pharmacy, Poise and Purpose Boutique, Relee Properties, LLC, Sprig Designs, and Terri’s Tax Service, LLC.
The seven finalists in the medium business (between 11-50 employees) category are: Ascend Hospice Care, LLC, BancorpSouth Bank, Bank of Ruston, ChefTaxi, Kilpatrick Funeral Home, MOEbiz, and Southern Escape Room.
In the large business (51-100 employees) category, the four nominees are: Copelands of New Orleans, Neighbors, LLC, Bayou Media Group dba SQ’s on the Ouachita, and Warehouse 1 Restaurant.
The nine nominees for the Corporate category (over 100 employees) are: Affinity Health Group, Coast Professional, Inc., Glenwood Regional Medical Center, Hixson Automotive of Monroe, Inc., North Louisiana orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Clinic, Ouachita Independent Bank, Paramount Healthcare Consultants, St. Francis Medical Center, and Vantage Health Plan.
The Thomas H. Scott Awards of Excellence Reception is hosted by the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s College of Business and The News-Star. Presenting sponsor for the event is Scott Powerline and Utility Equipment, LLC. Additional sponsors for the reception are: Allen Green and Williamson, ANGUS Chemical, Car Town, Cross Keys Bank, Heard, McElroy & Vestal, LLC, IberiaBank, KTVE/KARD, Lagniappe Media, Patty Stewart Photography, Progressive Bank, P & S Surgical Hospital, Strauss Interests, The News-Star, The ULM College of Business, the City of Monroe and the Radio People.