Wedgewood Cove wins Large Business of Year

Published 6:46 am Friday, October 27, 2023

Robert Hoffman Realty wins Small Business of Year; Bleachers wins Medium Business of Year

Wedgewood Cove Golf Club took home top honors as Large Business of the Year Thursday in the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet.

Winning Small Business of the Year was Robert Hoffman Realty, and winning Medium Business of the Year was Bleachers.

The awards are typically the highlight of the event, which was held at Wedgewood Cove.

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Chamber Board Chairman Allen Hendrik said Robert Hoffman Realty has been an active member of the community and at community events. He said Bleachers is known for its customer service and all it does to give back to the community, noting it gives back thousands.

Other nominees for Small Business of the Year were the American Legion of Albert Lea, Hubbard Agency, Northbridge Auto, the Shell Rock River Watershed District and United Employees Credit Union. Other nominees for Medium Business of the Year were Albert Lea Moose Lodge 1703 and Arcadian Bank, and other nominees for Large Business of the Year were Albert Lea Select Foods, Cargill and Mayo Clinic Health System.

Recognized as Ambassador of the Year was Karla Klingenberg, who Chamber Executive Director Shari Sprague said attended more chamber events than any of the other Ambassadors.    

Winning Volunteer of the Year was Corinne Anderson. Sprague said Anderson started out by supporting the chamber through activities out of the goodness of her heart and has since started the Memory Cafe and volunteers at Jack Frost’s Closet. Memory Cafe is an event for people with memory loss and their spouses, and Jack Frost’s Closet is a winter coat and gear drive.

Sprague said it has been a busy year for the chamber and discussed some of the highlights from that period.

She said the chamber has been a part of kicking off the Community Promise Scholarship for students graduating from Freeborn County high schools who will be attending Riverland Community College. It has also been a part of the redevelopment challenge for the former Hobby Shop, organized the annual Third of July Parade, brought back the Leadership program and organized multiple drives, including blood drives, a toy drive, a food drive, a coat drive and a school supply drive.

Business After Hours has resumed and will be the third Tuesday of every month.

She said the chamber has seven committees, including an active Agriculture Committee that oversees the Farm Family of the Year and farm tours for over 400 third graders.

The Governmental Affairs Committee organized candidate forums and visits to the Capitol, and three businesses received Blue Zones designation through the Worksite Wellness Committee.

The chamber also helped secure the Age Friendly Freeborn County designation, launched the Pay it Forward Facebook page and has been a part of the Memory Cafes and Tech Tuesdays for seniors.

It is also assisting with the launch of The Hatch, a makerspace in the former Litho Printing building, and she said she’s looking at that area becoming an art hub and being a place that can help get many businesses off the ground.

The Chamber Foundation has over 20 accounts, and Sprague said she is happy to be a part of getting those various initiatives off the ground.

Instead of a traditional speaker, this year there was a State of the County address with interim Freeborn County Administrator Ryan Rasmusson, Albert Lea Mayor Rich Murray and Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Executive Director Phillip Johnson.

The men said Albert Lea and the county have seen a lot of growth in recent years with many opportunities still coming.

Johnson said they are beginning to look at expanding the South Industrial Park and are focusing on housing to grow workforce, which he described as the No.1 thing on his mind all the time.

In addition to bringing in new housing, Murray talked about programs the city is working on to help people who own existing homes that need repairs as well.

Johnson also talked about the importance of the Community Promise Scholarship in helping to create a pipeline of workers for area businesses from local graduates, who will be able to go directly to Riverland and into the local workforce. He said the community has to continue to be at the same level as surrounding communities and further ahead if possible when it comes to recruiting residents and businesses.

Johnson said there are currently seven projects in the works downtown, and he is looking forward to having the new businesses there. In addition to more shops, he is also focusing on more housing downtown.

He said everything ties into economic development and it takes everyone working together as a team to move the community forward.

Murray said he and others are trying to bring in more retail opportunities but noted the only way these businesses are going to stay in business is if people support them.

He said he moved to Albert Lea in the 1980s and is more excited about the city than he has ever been.

“It’s exciting all the different things that are happening,” Murray said.

Murray said he wants to know how businesses in the community are doing and if there’s anything the city can do to help them grow.