Award ‘worth the effort’

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Highground Services employees Ricky Payne, from left, Tony Dunn, Randy Petrasek and Don Shanks at Newport News Shipbuilding. The Franklin company in 2011 was one of five winners in a statewide competition that highlights the most resilient businesses in economically challenged parts of Virginia. -- FILE

CHARLOTTESVILLE—An executive with Highground Services, one of five winners in a statewide business competition last year, recommends that others in Western Tidewater get into this year’s Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards competition

“The benefits of the award are well worth the effort,” said Jimmy Strozier, chief operating officer of the consulting and engineering firm in Franklin. “We’ve seen phenomenal growth since our selection as a winner last year, which is a dramatic turnaround from just a few years ago after losing our region’s largest employer. It helped us attract and recruit a talented workforce, and we highly encourage others in our area to apply.”

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business is launching its third annual Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards competition. Darden is accepting applications and recommendations from Virginia businesses at through 2 July.

The award supports Virginia entrepreneurial businesses that demonstrate vitality in areas characterized by high unemployment and poverty, and low entrepreneurial activity. Businesses in Franklin and Southampton County qualify.

Through ongoing media coverage, opportunities to engage key business and government leaders and enrollment in a week-long course at Darden’s Executive Education program — valued at $8,000 to $12,000 — five Resilience Award winners each year receive the recognition and resources to help their company and community continue to grow.

When Highground’s top customer and the largest employer in Franklin — International Paper — announced it was closing and laying off 1,100 workers in 2009, it was a blow to the rather new company. When the closure was announced, the mill represented 50 percent of Highground’s business.

Highground hired 24 IP employees, which helped form relationships with new customers. The firm bolstered its ability to seek government contracts by locating in an area underutilized by businesses.

To assist businesses and communities nationwide, this year’s competition emphasizes how Virginia’s most resilient businesses adapted to — and are helping their communities recover from — the impact of the economic collapse of 2008.

“We are at a critical point in the economic recovery for Virginia and the nation as a whole,” said Darden Professor Greg Fairchild, a nationally known expert on entrepreneurship.

Highground Services and the other 2011 Resilience Award winners from Melfa, Wise, Woodbridge and South Boston have grown profits an average of 42 percent and employment by 20 percent annually over the past five years.

These businesses have survived natural disasters, big-box competition and the recession. Their innovations include lighter-than-air cell technology and award-winning wines coaxed from coal-mined soil.

To learn more, contact Chris Allerton at 434-979-2678 or e-mail