Congratulations to the recipients of the 2017 Conway Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting Awards! A reception honoring the award winners took place Thursday, February 23, at UCA Downtown, and the honorees will also be recognized at Annual Meeting on March 9. Thanks to our awards sponsors, Log Cabin Democrat and Northwestern Mutual, for presenting the awards.
- Guy W. Murphy Distinguished Service Award: Tab Townsell
- Lloyd Westbrook Good Neighbor Award: Shelley Mehl
- Business Executive of the Year: Amy Denton
- Young Business Leader of the Year: Jamille Rogers
- Business of the Year – Outstanding Nonprofit: Deliver Hope
- Business of the Year – Outstanding Hospitality: TGI Friday's
- Business of the Year – Outstanding Retailer: HipSway
- Business of the Year – Outstanding Large Employer: Conway Human Development Center
- Business of the Year – Outstanding Small Business: Preston Palmer Studios
- Business of the Year – Outstanding Small Business: Strain Photography
Annual Meeting is underwritten by Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia and presented by Crafton Tull and the University of Central Arkansas. In addition to the awards ceremony, Annual Meeting features a CEO-level speaker. This year’s featured guest will be J.K. Symancyk, president and CEO of Academy® Sports + Outdoors. Learn more about the event at ConwayChamber.org/Annual-Meeting.
Guy W. Murphy Distinguished Service Award
The Guy W. Murphy Distinguished Service Award is the Chamber’s highest form of recognition. Established in 1957, this award is presented annually to an individual or group who has rendered special service for the benefit of the community. Candidates have demonstrated an active leadership role for the betterment of the community through their involvement in business, civic, and social service organizations.
As mayor of Conway for 18 years, Tab Townsell oversaw much of the unprecedented growth his hometown experienced over the past three decades. Mr. Townsell recognized that smart planning is the key to a growing city’s success. Under his leadership, Conway saw improvements in its traffic infrastructure; bigger roads complete with bike lanes were constructed and, most notably, nearly 20 roundabouts have replaced traffic lights and four-way stops at intersections throughout the city.
With “quality of place” as his guiding vision, former Mayor Townsell led the effort to make Conway a place where people are proud to call home. He advocated for Conway’s first Advertising & Promotions tax to help enhance and expand the city’s parks system. He sustainably increased public investment in downtown Conway, which led to tremendous private investment in the city’s core. Finally, Mr. Townsell enhanced the aesthetics of Conway by installing public art and strengthening city ordinances for signage and buildings.
Because of his contributions to the city of Conway, Mr. Townsell was hired to lead Metroplan, a regional planning entity in Little Rock that aids in long-term transit and planning issues for central Arkansas.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present Tab Townsell with the 2017 Guy W. Murphy Distinguished Service Award. Back to top
Lloyd Westbrook Good Neighbor Award
Established in 1973, the Lloyd Westbrook Good Neighbor Award is presented annually to an individual who has given of his or her time and talents. Candidates are known for going beyond the call of duty to help others. The nominee exemplifies outstanding public service to the Conway area.
Through her roles as a higher-education professional, alderwoman, and board member for several nonprofits, Shelley Mehl has dedicated her life to making Conway a better place to call home.
Ms. Mehl is associate vice president for Outreach and Community Engagement at the University of Central Arkansas. Under her leadership, the division has executed two high-profile initiatives over the past year: UCA Downtown and the Arkansas Coding Academy.
Ms. Mehl has served on the Conway City Council for 10 years in Ward 2, Position 2. As an alderwoman, she works closely with constituents, hosting Ward 2 meetings each year to listen and learn as much as possible to make the best decisions for Conway.
Giving back through service has always been an important part of Shelley Mehl’s life. She was part of the working group to establish Habitat for Humanity of Faulkner County and the Conway Interfaith Clinic. She also served as the first executive director for the Arkansas Community Foundation affiliate in Faulkner County. Ms. Mehl believes that change and progress occurs when citizens show up and use their talents and resources to impact the community in positive ways.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present Shelley Mehl with the 2017 Lloyd Westbrook Distinguished Service Award. Back to top
Business Executive of the Year
The Business Executive of the Year Award recognizes the owner, executive, or president of a business who has displayed outstanding performance in either an individual or collaborative endeavor. The nominee is a driving force behind the company and works to maintain an enriched business climate and an enhanced quality of life in Conway.
Amy Denton and her husband, Todd, have owned Pediatrics Plus for 15 years. Pediatrics Plus offers occupational, physical, and speech therapy to children with special needs as well as a developmental preschool. The company has grown from a home-based therapy business to an industry leader employing more than 400 and serving over 2,700 children and families across central Arkansas.
In addition to her role as CEO of Pediatrics Plus, Ms. Denton serves in a leadership capacity for several organizations that provide early childhood education, early intervention, and other services for children with special needs. She is president and founder of Community Connections, a nonprofit that partners with local organizations to offer integrated extracurricular activities to children with special needs. She is also president of CHMS Providers’ Association of Arkansas, an early intervention health care program for children birth to 21 years with special health care needs.
Ms. Denton’s other community involvement includes serving as a board member for Reach Out & Read, a UCA Foundation board member, a commissioner for the Arkansas Early Childhood Commission, and a member of the Arkansas Physical Therapy Association.
Whitney Cummings of Pediatrics Plus accepts the 2017 Business Executive of the Year Award on behalf of Amy Denton. Ms. Cummings is pictured with Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia, Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods, and Chamber president and CEO Brad Lacy. Back to top
Young Business Leader of the Year
The Young Business Leader Award recognizes a community business leader, age 40 or younger, who has helped create a more vibrant business and social environment for all of Conway’s residents.
Sandstone Real Estate Group | Conway Public Schools
Dually as a real-estate professional and educator, Jamille Rogers is committed to transforming lives through homeownership and lifelong learning. As director of marketing and community affairs for Sandstone Real Estate Group, Ms. Rogers oversees the company’s philanthropic efforts that support first-time homebuyers, education initiatives at local schools and area nonprofits, and civic organizations serving minority populations.
Ms. Rogers is also a media specialist for Conway Public Schools. She recently received a national public service award at Carnegie Corporation of New York for two programs she implemented at Marguerite Vann Elementary School – the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club and the Foster Grandparent Program. The Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club is an intervention and empowerment program for male students that builds their leadership skills, resulting in improved attitudes toward school and community. Ms. Rogers also organizes a special community day each year that invites local business and community leaders to visit the school to share about the importance of literacy.
Jamille Rogers is an active member of the Black Alumni Chapter of the University of Central Arkansas Alumni Association. She also serves on the board of directors for Conway Public Schools Foundation and Teen Promise Inc.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present Jamille Rogers with the 2017 Young Business Leader of the Year Award. Back to top
Business of the Year
The Business of the Year Award recognizes businesses for their continued growth, innovation, and community involvement. It is the premier honor to the best overall business in Conway and is presented in the following categories: Outstanding Nonprofit, Outstanding Hospitality, Outstanding Retailer, Outstanding Large Employer (100 employees or more), and Outstanding Small Business (99 employees or fewer).
As evident by its name, the mission of Deliver Hope is to deliver hope to at-risk and underserved young people, no matter their circumstance. Deliver Hope provides life-skills training and relational ministry to juvenile offenders, teen parents, and others through support groups, housing, mentorship, and a partnership with the juvenile justice system. This innovative relationship allows the organization to take part in almost every aspect of the teens’ lives – from visiting youth in the detention center and attending court dates to allowing Deliver Hope’s programs to serve as community service opportunities for those on probation.
Deliver Hope is the official mentor resource for Conway’s Alternative Learning Education program, which provides an opportunity for youth who have been removed from the regular classrooms to continue their classes through online learning. Additionally, Deliver Hope recently launched their first Hope House, a nontraditional housing program that gives transitional-aged youth opportunities to learn life skills, receive job training, and reside in a safe and independent environment.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present Daniel Tyler, founder and CEO of Deliver Hope, with the 2017 Business of the Year Award in the Nonprofit category. Back to top
Business of the Year
Owners Jeremy and Ashley Gardner opened Conway TGI Friday’s in June 2009. Since then, the casual chain restaurant has ranked around 60th in sales for the entire TGI Friday’s franchise. Approximately 90 employees work at the Oak Street location, and many have been with the company for five years or longer.
Mr. Gardner says having a talented and loyal management staff is the key to operating a successful restaurant. General manager Dale Filson, assistant general manager Wade Holbrook, and office manager Danielle Meek have been with Conway TGI Friday’s since it opened its doors nearly eight years ago.
Mr. Gardner has been involved in the hospitality industry his entire life. His parents, Jerry and Vonda, owned and operated the Western Sizzlin’ Steak Houses in the Fort Smith area for nearly 40 years. They opened their first TGI Friday’s franchise in 1995. The love of the Friday’s brand attracted Jeremy and Ashley Gardner to the restaurant industry, making them second-generation restaurant owners. The couple plans to grow their restaurant business in the future, either with TGI Friday’s or another concept.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present Jeremy and Ashley Gardner, owners of TGI Friday's in Conway, with the 2017 Business of the Year Award in the Hospitality category. Back to top
Business of the Year
The staff at HipSway aims to create a welcoming and unique customer experience through their store design and merchandising. Always looking for the next big thing, HipSway was on the forefront of establishing a loyalty program through both sales and social media sharing. Owner Abby King views HipSway as not only a clothing store but also a place to empower women and encourage them to feel confident and beautiful with who they are. HipSway also supports many local charities and organizations.
Employing mostly college students, Ms. King works to be a mentor, boss, and friend to her associates. Her goal is to see employees grow and succeed in life by teaching them customer service and business skills.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present HipSway with the 2017 Business of the Year Award in the Retailer category. Back to top
Business of the Year
OUTSTANDING LARGE EMPLOYER
Conway Human Development Center
The Conway Human Development Center (CHDC) welcomed its first resident in 1959 and has served Conway and central Arkansas ever since. CHDC provides 24-hour care and supervision to approximately 500 individuals with intellectual disabilities from around the state. The facility provides comprehensive programs and services ranging from medical care and therapy services to special education, skills development, and work programs.
With 1,200 staff members, CHDC is one of Conway’s largest employers. The facility also enjoys working with and serving the Conway community as a whole. CHDC – along with UCA’s Occupational Therapy department – dedicated its Therapeutic Park this past summer. The integrated, inclusive park provides a sight, sound, and sensory play experience for all. In addition, CHDC has transformed its 1950s Century Flyer train into the Polar Express for the past two years. The organization invites other human development centers, nursing homes, school groups, and the community to enjoy the Christmas festivities at no cost.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present Sarah Murphy, superintendent of Conway Human Development Center, with the 2017 Business of the Year Award in the Large Employer category. Back to top
Business of the Year
OUTSTANDING SMALL BUSINESS
Preston Palmer Studios
Preston Palmer Studios seeks to train new musicians and foster their love of music by mentoring them every step of the way. The studio teaches nearly every instrument imaginable to musicians of all ages and skill levels. Preston Palmer Studios provides entertainment for various business and nonprofit events. Owner Preston Palmer’s ability to bring life to an event and give his young students opportunities to play in real-world settings is something unique to his business.
In addition, Mr. Palmer recently acquired Jack’s Music to bring a retail aspect to his business, giving customers the best deals and service for all their musical needs. Jack’s Music is the only Gold-level warranty center for Taylor Guitars in the Midwest, and people ship instruments from all over the world to be repaired.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present Preston Palmer, owner of Preston Palmer Studios, with the 2017 Business of the Year Award in the Small Business category. Back to top
Business of the Year
OUTSTANDING SMALL BUSINESS
At Strain Photography, image is everything. Celebrating its 50th year in business, Strain Photography is the most awarded photography studio in Arkansas. From portraits of newborns, seniors, and families to professional business images, Strain Photography ensures its clients receive great customer service and cutting-edge photography. In addition, owners Brandy Strain-Dayer and Jackie Strain-Mahar believe it is important to build and nurture relationships with their customers and the community.
Ms. Strain-Dayer and Ms. Strain-Mahar serve on numerous photography boards working to advance the profession in the region. They also serve the community through work with nonprofits. The past four years, the sisters and business partners have organized a photo contest. The contest allows the community to vote for their favorite image by donating nonperishable food items. The studio has collected more than 75,000 items to donate to multiple nonprofits in the community. In addition, as the official school portrait studio, Strain Photography gives 40 percent of school picture sales back to the schools.
Jay Myers, general manager of Annual Meeting underwriter Crain Buick GMC and Crain Kia – together with Chamber board chairwoman Andrea Woods and president and CEO Brad Lacy – present Jackie Strain-Mahar and Brandy Strain-Dayer, owners of Strain Photography, with the 2017 Business of the Year Award in the Small Business category. Back to top