Bend Chamber’s 2023 Business Excellence Awards


(Katy Brooks, CEO of the Bend Chamber kicks of the 2023 Business Excellence Awards | Photo by Thompson Creative)

The 2023 Business Excellence awards was hosted by the Bend Chamber on March 7 at the Riverhouse Convention Center. The purpose of the ceremony is to recognize and celebrate a diverse range of organizations large and small for their contributions to the Bend business community.

Nine recipients were selected to win in a total of four different categories, most of which were separated by large businesses (more than forty employees) and small businesses (under 40 employees). The event was MCd by Emily Kirk, anchor/reporter from Central Oregon Daily News.

As guests from across Bend’s business community filled the space, they treated themselves to free appetizers and a free cocktail from the bar while admiring the red carpet that had been rolled down the center of the room.

The night kicked off with an introduction from Bend Chamber of Commerce CEO Katy Brooks and board chair Jay Lyons. In the introduction, the two spoke about the struggles the Bend community has faced in the last few years, citing covid, industry shifts and the ongoing employment retention issue. However, the two also emphasized that there comes a time to celebrate the bright parts of life; the times where individuals and teams stood strong and found success.

The duo was followed by Wendy McGrane, team manager and VP at US Bank. McGrane shared a thoughtful anecdote about the connectivity of Bend. “Living in Bend requires us all to pass the Safeway test,” she said. “We’re all part of the community here, and anything we do in our business lives, from our words with clients to our relationships with coworkers–we need to be prepared to see those people at Safeway. We’re a very connected community, and that’s why we come together on nights like this to celebrate one another.”

The awards categories were presented in the following order: the emerging leader award, given to an individual under 40 who has shown great strides in their personal and professional development while supporting their community; Excellence in Innovation, awarded to organizations who have demonstrated unique and innovative strategies; Excellence in Workplace Engagement, awarded to organizations that create uniquely welcoming, inspiring and healthy workplace cultures; Excellence in Community Stewardship, awarded to nonprofit organizations that have had a significant impact on our community and neighboring ones; Excellence in Organizational Growth, awarded to organizations that successfully navigated the challenges of rapid growth; and the Lifetime Achievement Award, given to an individual who has displayed a profound amount of passion and effort in shaping our community over the years.

The award winners are as follows: Sally Compton, Think Wild; Farewell Media, Innovation; Oregon Media and Beaver Coach Sales & Services, Workplace Engagement; The High Desert Food & Farm Alliance and Mid Oregon Credit Union, Community Stewardship, The Caldera High School Pack Shack and Compass Commercial Real Estate Services, Organizational Growth; and the late Bill Smith for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Each of the recipients had their time at the podium to talk about their award and what they did to achieve it, sharing valuable insight for all the other organizations in attendance. The award show took an emotional turn as Mike Hollern, longtime friend of Bill Smith, who died in 2022, took to the stand to speak about his friend’s life and legacy. In the background, a memorial slideshow of Bill’s life played.

Hollern told stories going back to the late 60’s when he was first meeting Bill, and spoke about his character, work ethic, love for his family and his passion for Bend. After Hollern stepped down, the Smith family took to the stage. Bill’s daughter shared a wholesome memory of her father, saying that he could never walk past a piece of litter without picking it up, and that he would sometimes go around Bend when the town was still in its early development stages and toss sunflower seeds into random dirt lots and street corners.

The night ended with MC Emily Kirk commenting on how our unofficial town motto, “be nice, you’re in Bend,” could easily be replaced to the new saying of the night, “be like Bill,” referencing how Bill Smith’s legacy of stewardship and love for this Bend lives on through those who do as he did.


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