John Fentress started Greener Owensboro Recycling almost two years ago as a part-time venture.
He now operates GO Recycling as a full-time business with 620 residential and 65 business and civic customers. And he just hired his first employee.
Fentress' leap of faith in starting the business and its subsequent growth have earned him the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber also handed out two other awards Thursday morning before a crowd of about 500 people at The Hines Center in Philpot during the Rooster Booster Breakfast.
Ray Middleton's On Time Fab Inc. and Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline picked up the 2012 Small Businesses of the Year Awards.
The meeting also featured the Owensboro Has It! Expo. The business crowd had access to 44 sponsors' booths before and after the meeting.
The three category award winners were chosen from 13 nominees.
Fentress said Thursday that he learned recycling from his dad, Dennis Fentress, who "always hauled things to the recycling center." His wife, Kristi, and his father have helped him grow the business, he said.
He decided to respond to the market after seeing several letters to the local newspaper from residents who wanted a curbside recycling option. His goal now is "to see a blue recycling bin at the end of everyone's driveway."
Fentress also offers regular trash pickup service.
Other nominees in the category were: Cherri Lolley, CherriCare and Beautiful You; Craig O'Bryan, Craig O'Bryan Graphics; and Jason Tanner, Owensboro Parent Magazine.
Middleton's Small Business of the Year win in the 1-10 employees category caps more than four years of steady growth. He started the steel and metal fabrication business in January 2008 — right after the official start of the recession (December 2007).
"I'm fortunate that sales have almost doubled every year, which is what I was looking for. I didn't want to be a flash in the pan," Middleton said after the meeting. "There wasn't a worse time in my lifetime to start a business. But it's about one job at a time, plugging away and building a customer base."
Middleton said building a skilled work force also is important. "Fortunately we have a very skilled group." He has nine employees.
On Time Fab is located at 3021 Medley Road. The owner expects to purchase the building, add 3,500 square feet as well as more employees within the next six months.
Other nominees were: Digital Doc, LLC, Matt Payne and Matt Lucas; Studio Slant, Katherine Taylor, curator; Christy and Travis Chaney, owners; Upright Communications, Mike Edge; and Westerfield Electric, Byron Westerfield, owner.
Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline, a natural gas transmission system with headquarters in Owensboro, was tapped for the Small Business of the Year Award in the larger category for companies with 11 or more employees.
The company's dedication to Owensboro and its customers, and its employees' records of community service made it stand out for the honor, officials said. Its local leaders fought to keep the headquarters in Owensboro after former owner Williams Companies sold it in 2003, and recently the company announced expansion plans.
"Basically, we have a nucleus of experience and talent in Owensboro, and we didn't want to lose that," said President and CEO Jerry Morris. "We said that if we couldn't support our customers from Owensboro, then we would leave. But our customer surveys bear out that we are able to serve them well."
Southern Star is able to transact a lot business with its customers electronically, he said.
The pipeline system includes more than 6,000 miles and facilities in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska and Kentucky. Its major markets include St. Louis, Wichita and Kansas City.
"Kansas City is the nucleus location of our business, and it sounds like that's on the other side of the planet, but it's not," Morris said. "It's a short hop using Cape Air, or we can drive it in seven hours."
Southern Star employs about 165 employees. A secondbuilding is under construction on Kentucky 54 across from Lake Forest subdivision. The new location will be a training facility and provide services and space unavailable at the headquarters on Kentucky 81 that have been needed for some time, Morris said. That includes conferencing, records storage, computer lab and other features. The $5.4 million expansion will bring up to 20 more jobs to the community over several years.
The company also encourages its employees to volunteer and to contribute to local charities with its dollar for dollar contributions match.
Other nominees in the category were: Home Instead Senior Care, Stephen Bryson, owner; The Livingston Group, Rick and Jill Jones, owners; Owensboro Winnelson Company, Leo Payne, owner.
The chamber's new president, Amy Jackson, also made her Rooster Booster debut. She started work Monday. Jackson told the crowd she is looking forward to applying her customer focus from 13 years of experience to the nearly 1,000 members. She wants to get to know Owensboro and work to make economic development and the business environment better through listening and learning.
"Find me, call me, seek me out," she said.
Joy Campbell, 691-7299, firstname.lastname@example.org