Family Businesses Honored at Chamber Recognition Dinner

POLAND, Ohio – When families get together to celebrate birthdays, they sing “Happy Birthday” and share a cake. And when family businesses get together to celebrate their longevity, they too sing and share cake.

That was the occasion Friday evening at the first Family-Owned Business Recognition Dinner held at the Lake Club by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Over the last couple of years, conversations began at the chamber about how to honor local family-owned businesses who have stood the test of times in the Mahoning Valley, said Guy Coviello, CEO of the chamber.

Family-owned businesses contribute 64% of the gross domestic product, generating 62% of the country’s employment, said Shea MacMillan, director of economic development projects for the chamber. When a family business is acquired by out-of-state entities or it closes because there isn’t a succession plan, that economic gap isn’t always closed.

“We’ve been fortunate to have such phenomenal businesses” in the Mahoning Valley, MacMillan said, and the chamber developing dialogue and working with them will help to continue their legacy.

Twenty locally owned family businesses were nominated for awards in five categories that recognized milestones of success. Recipients took home a trophy and a cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes.

In accepting the Huntington Social Impact Award, James Sutman of Iron & String Life Enhancement said Friday was the birthday of one of the special needs individuals he works with. This person always talks about his favorite day of the year – his birthday – and Sutman shared the type of cake and ice cream the man celebrated with earlier in the day.

That led to the event’s emcee, Ryan McNaughton, vice president of government affairs for the chamber, encouraging the room of 275 people to sing “Happy Birthday.”

The Cafaro Company received the Scaleco Success in Succession Award, which highlighted a well-executed and unique succession plan.

“Our success in succession stems from our family values, our family ties, our culture and our upbringing,” said Anthony Cafaro Sr., the son of the late William M. Cafaro, who founded the retail development company in 1949 with his brother John.

“We grew up with our company,” he said, which is now run by his sons, William and Anthony Jr.

Noting that his sons also grew up working “every detail” of the family business, Cafaro said the key to success for family-owned businesses is to “immerse” younger generation family members with work ethics, knowledge and experience – and then stepping back.

“Things will work out,” as they have with the Cafaros, he said.

Noting that his sons and other family members have “stepped up” to run the company, Cafaro said, “I’m so very, very blessed.”

Quality Switch Inc., also in its third generation of family ownership, was received the HBK Growth Story award.

Larry Dix, president of the Newton Falls-based company, talked about the electrifying Mahoning Valley, also coming to be known as Voltage Valley. His company designs and manufactures custom electrical switches used in electrical transformers.

“We routinely play with 700,000 volts,” Dix said, which Quality has done for 25 years, sending its products around the globe. Each company nominated for the chamber awards has achieved longevity because of the vision its founder’s founders and succeeding generations have maintained, he noted.

“The one thing all these families have is a trait: They treat their business for the future,” Dix said.

Valley Economic Development Partners, a private nonprofit agency, was named Family-Owned Business Advocate of the Year. “It’s very fitting as we are a crazy, small, tight-knit family in our office,” said Teresa Miller, executive director.

In 2021, Valley Partners helped to fund nearly $35 million in small-business loans through the PPP program, $15 million through traditional loan programs, and partnered with the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners to channel $1 million to small businesses through grants, and another $2 million through its revolving loan fund.

“We’ve helped to create or retain over 500 jobs for the year,” Miller said.

Miller said family is the foundation for success for many of the businesses Valley Partners has assisted.. “The right atmosphere and the right values will always bring something together and make it wonderful,” she said.

Tom Fleming, president of Aim Transportation Solutions, accepted the Local to National Presence award. Aim, was founded in 1962 as an affiliate of McNicholas Transportation, a family business that was then the steel hauler east of the Mississippi River.

The Girard company has grown to become the largest privately owned truck leasing company in North America. It operates 11,000 vehicles from more than 100 separate operations and employs 1,200 across the country.

“Family business to me is the backbone of our Valley,” said Tom Fleming, Aim chairman and CEO. “It’s helped us grow and help our Valley grow.”

Fleming’s sons, Scott and Geoff, are co-presidents of the company.

Sutman, who founded Iron & String Life Enhancement in 1998 with his cousin, said family businesses include many nonprofit organizations. In the Mahoning Valley, he noted, a full range of services and programs serve mentally disabled and special needs people.

“We’re blessed. As far as family goes… Family is vital to what we do,” Sutman said.

“That whole swirl in Youngstown, we feel that,” he continued. “You guys don’t get to see it as detailed as I do because I’m so involved with adults with disabilities. But in Youngstown, we take care of our own.”

The following are nominees in each category:

  • Scaleco Success in Succession:  Cafaro Company, Livi Steel Inc., MS Consultants Inc., Power Tool and Supply Co.
  • Huntington Social Impact Award: Iron & String Life Enhancement, Cafaro Company, Thompson Insurance Group, Austin Square Dental.
  • HBK Growth Story: Quality Switch Inc., Dinesol Plastics, REM Electronics Supply Co., Buckeye Dealership Consulting LLC.
  • Family-Owned Business Advocate of the Year: Valley Economic Development Partners, Chuck George, Hill, Barth & King, Dr. Rajiv Taneja.
  • Local to National Presence: Aim Transportation Solutions, American Business Center, Thompson Insurance Group, Humtown Products

Pictured at top: Anthony Cafaro Sr. accepts the Scaleco Success in Succession Award.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.