BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce announced their annual spate of business awards during a special live event on Oct. 21.
The chamber was unable to host their annual award banquet, so they arranged an all-day live stream, where they presented awards and had an elimination event. Many of the awards reflected the impact of the pandemic, with health officials, first responders and agencies that assisted small business among the winners.
The Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department was recognized as the 2020 Organization of the Year.
“Undeniably, the past 580 days have been the toughest, most uncertain of our lives,” mayor Robbie Skinner said in announcing the first award of the afternoon. “We’ve experienced a complete shift of our traditional social and professional paradigms. We’ve feared for our neighbors friends, families, communities, nation and world. Businesses ceased to operate, vacations were canceled, sporting events were void of spectators. Symptomatic people had to confine to their homes for weeks, leaving their livelihoods hanging in the balance.
“We’ve seen footage of sick patients flooding emergency rooms, some passing away before they could even be treated. War camp style hospitals were set up in large cities, long lines of unemployed Americans awaiting food from food banks, then later, even longer lines of vehicles awaiting testing and then again for vaccines. And we are still not back to normal. We still have a long way to go not only as a community, but as a state, nation and world before COVID-19 is no longer a life-threatening reality.”
Skinner thanked the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department for undertaking the monumental task of guiding the local community through the pandemic, in addition to their regular responsibilities.
“Current board members include city representatives Larry Carpenter and Suzie Combs Talbott; county representatives Teresa Kee, Amy Rohr-Queen and Kessa Thorpe; and long-serving Medical Director Dr. Reed, under the leadership of the Board of Health and head nurse Susie McKisic,” Skinner said. “The health department’s staff have been tasked with managing the COVID-19 pandemic response in our community. This has included testing, contact tracing, vaccinating and heightened communication with our public, in addition to their regular duties.”
The mayor and the chamber thanked the health department employees for their many sacrifices during the pandemic.
“These seemingly endless responsibilities are frequently met with little appreciation, but the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce is making an effort to change that today,” Skinner said. “The staff has worked consistently seven days per week since the beginning of the pandemic, placing the safety of our community ahead of time with their families and friends, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
The Upshur County Development Authority was named the 2020 Business of the Year.
“The Upshur County Development Authority overseas the Upshur County Industrial Park, which provides tremendous opportunities for business development within our region,” Skinner said of the Business of the Year recipient. “Located just off of Corridor H, east of Buckhannon, the industrial park is a 140-acre development with availability for additional growth. The site features water and sewer services from the City of Buckhannon, electricity from First Energy/Mon Power, natural gas from Mountaineer Gas and rail services via A&O.”
The development authority also built and operates the Innovation Center on Main Street that opened in 2019.
“It was designed to match the historic brick facade of other Main Street buildings, houses walk in retail and office space on first floor and a mix of short-term and long-term office space on the second and third floors,” Skinner said.
“The Innovation Center is a state-of-the-art resource and is the first of its kind in central West Virginia. Whether someone needs to collaborate with other entrepreneurs, build a prototype, learn to write code, find an office in their flex office space or consult with a business coach, the Innovation Center is a one-stop-shop for small business needs.”
Skinner also recognized the development authority for bringing the marijuana industry to Upshur County.
“These businesses were granted growing and processing licenses by the State of West Virginia will bring a significant number of jobs to the area, and there will be much more to come from both of these enterprises in the coming months,” Skinner said.
Teresa Lipps was named the 2020 Businesswoman of the Year.
“Growing up just south of Upshur County in the beautiful mountain community in Webster Springs, West Virginia, she always had a love for cooking, even though there was a time she didn’t even know how to boil water,” Skinner said of the Businesswoman of the Year. “She started her career in 1979 as a dishwasher, and through sheer tenacity — a trait that will come to define her long career — she began learning, and eventually mastering, the art of baking. Focusing on the traditional foods of our southern Appalachian region, she became known as the go-to specialist for yeast rolls, sourdough breads and her pepperoni rolls.”
Lipps eventually took over the restaurant at the Bicentennial Inn, where she became known for some of her favorite dishes, such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes and chicken and dumplings.
“It was there that she butted heads with — and eventually befriended — her now longtime business partner, Dale Hawkins,” Skinner said. “The two joined forces and went on to spend the next 30 years perfecting recipes and collecting fans at Deer Park Country Inn and Stonewall Resort, the New Appalachian Farm and Research Center, and now their own catering business, always working side-by-side, always food-focused.”
Skinner said the pair opened Fish Hawk Acres in 2015, realizing their vision of a gourmet farm-to-table restaurant and market.
“Six years later, Fish Hawk has been featured in countless magazines, received a plethora of awards and has stayed true to its core belief that food may bring you to the table, but really good food will keep you coming back for more,” Skinner said.
Lipps will be greatly missed at Fish Hawk Acres, as she plans to retire soon.
“While the last year-and-a half has been hard for so many, it was especially difficult for her, as she was dealt the devastating blow of an unexpected loss of her husband,” Skinner said. “After working hard all their lives, they planned on retiring in the next couple of years, spending all the time that they possibly could together with their children and grandchildren. Although Dwaine is no longer with her, she made the decision to go ahead with her retirement and enjoy the time she has with her family.”
Shane Whitehair was named the 2020 Businessman of the Year.
“Professionally, he is a silent but integral leader in our community,” Skinner said of the Businessman of the Year. “He serves as the executive director of the organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the residents of central West Virginia by promoting the social, economic, educational, environmental and general welfare of the region. He oversees development of infrastructure, including the completion of Corridor H, broadband deployment, improvement of employment opportunities, industry housing, healthcare, education and recreation and extensions of water and sewer services in the seven-county region known as Region 7.”
Skinner said Whitehair’s work typically goes unnoticed by most community members, but he has orchestrated a number of important projects.
“He and the Region 7 Planning and Development Council work hand-in-hand with the Upshur County Development Authority, where he was instrumental in securing the brand new $4 million Innovation Center located at the corner of Spring Street and Main Street in downtown Buckhannon,” Skinner said. “He is truly an unsung hero in our community, because so much of what he does to improve our region is not easily seen by the general public. But those who work with him have the utmost respect for his hard work and dedication to making this and many communities better places to live.”
Local healthcare and emergency services workers were recognized as the Citizens of the Year.
“We cannot say thank you enough for all you have done over the last 585 days of the pandemic,” Skinner said in recognizing the Citizens of the Year. “But not only that, all you do for our community outside the pandemic.”
Skinner referenced the recent three-alarm fire that damaged a building on the corner of Main and Spring streets.
“Our community recently suffered the loss of a significant structure in our downtown,” he said. “What we saw was a community coming together to support our emergency personnel … It was a sight to behold. In the midst of tragedy we saw the best this community had to offer.”
He also thanked St. Joseph’s Hospital, Community Care and all other local healthcare workers for their tireless efforts to keep the community safe during the pandemic, saying they “put everything they had on the table to make sure our community says safe … We can’t thank you enough.”