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Business Stars Shine at Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber

From health care to rental equipment to publishing to bass fishing to pizza delivery and finally to President Bush's war with Iraq, the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce covered it all Monday night.

It was the night to honor the winners of their Business Star Awards for 2002 in the categories of Large Business, Small Business, New Business, Home-Based Business, and the Chamber Citizen of 2002. Preceeding the awards ceremony, members had an opportunity to visit various business displays assembled in the Knights of Columbus Hall on Richmond Highway.

Topping off the evening was U.S. Representative Thomas M. Davis III, (R-11), who told this business organization, "The economy is the chief problem we now have, particularly because of the Iraqi overhang. Even we on Capitol Hill aren't sure how the Iraq situation will turn out. We are a little nervous about this."

Newly installed Chamber president Joan C. Gros, Long & Foster Realtors, initiated the awards ceremony by noting, "This year we decided to have separate ceremonies for our valor awards and for our businesses." The winners in the business categories were:

. Large Business - Inova Mount Vernon Hospital

. Small Business - The Rent All Center

. New Business - The Mount Vernon Voice

. Home-Based Business - National Bass Guide Service

. Chamber Citizen of 2002 - Frank Meeks, franchise owner and founder of Domino's Pizza, Team Washington

INOVA MOUNT VERNON HOSPITAL was recognized for its campaign "Service Excellence - Straight From The Heart" which has established an inpatient satisfaction rate of 85 percent and maintained outpatient satisfaction at 98 percent. The Chamber noted, "Inova Mount Vernon Hospital is truly a good neighbor in every way, and an outstanding business in our community."

Rita M. Wakefield, account manager, Marketing and Communication for the hospital said, "We made a conscious decision to increase our customer service. We started the program in March of 2002 and we are still working on it. Our goal is to be better in 2003."

From its humble origin as a local tool rental shop, the Rental All Center, 8412 Richmond Highway, has grown into a full service rental company that caters to the entire metro Washington area, according to the Chamber recognition. "On any given day, three generations of family members can be found working at the Center."

For its new business success of 2002, they chose The Mount Vernon Voice which marked its one year anniversary in January. It is a weekly newspaper established, managed, a run by its co-publishers, Marlene Miller and Steven Hunt. As noted during the ceremony, both are long time residents of the Mount Vernon community.

The Home-Based Business award went to the National Bass Guide Service, "a fishing charter on the Potomac River specializing in largemouth bass." Its founder and owner, Steve Chaconas, teaches the art and pleasure of fishing, according to the Chamber.

Chaconas left a successful career in radio to begin his enterprise two years ago. Since then he has tripled his business. The award also stated, "In addition, the business has expanded into outdoor writing for four publications..."

In addition, "Chaconas has been chairman and emcee of the St. Jude Children's Hospital annual Bass Fishing Tournament. Over the years, he has helped the hospital raise nearly $100,000," the Chamber revealed.

FRANK MEEKS WAS NAMED Chamber Citizen of 2002. He began as a delivery boy for Domino's Pizza in 1979. Today, he owns 59 Domino's Pizza stores in the Washington area and is the founder of "Domino's Team Washington."

A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, with degrees in political science and English, Meeks has based his success on one formula, according to the Chamber presentation. "Start at the bottom and do every basic job that there is to do. Work hard. Be honest. Be motivated. And, work your way to the top."

Meeks opened his first store in Alexandria is 1983. His Domino's Team Washington is one of the top Domino's franchises in the entire chain.

After the awards came the harsh reality of today's political/economic circumstances as delivered by Davis.

"At this point, the [Bush] administration is so far out something has to happen," he emphasized in referring to the situation with Iraq.

But, he also conceded, "The situation in North Korea is even more dangerous. You have a nut case in charge and South korea has told us to keep hands off."

Davis noted, "We thought that after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall the world would be a safer place. But, it's more dangerous."

AS FOR THE STAGGERING economy, Davis noted that most people today base their economic well-being on two factors, their homes and their stock portfolio. "Nobody is going to be optimistic about the economy until the Iraqi situation is settled. We can't let France and Germany drive what we do," Davis insisted. Currently, those two countries are opposing any new UN resolution in favor of going to war with Iraq.

Davis observed that for four years during the Clinton administration, "We paid down the debt. Now we are facing a growth in the debt." But, he defended President Bush's proposed tax cuts by explaining they represented "less than one percent" of the nation's 10 and a half trillion dollar economy.

Davis conceded, "The administration could do a better P.R. job. I think there are skeptics who want to avoid war at any cost." He then insisted, "We know enough to be sure that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction do exist."

IN ANSWER TO A lighter question, Davis predicted, "Washington and or Northern Virginia will get a major league baseball team. The marketing factors are there." But, "The real issue is how do you finance a stadium and where to you put it?"

He conceded, "Most people don't want it in their backyard. Unless it was my backyard. I would love it there so I could go to the games every night."

In closing, he took a swipe at Alexandria's opposition to having the Redskins build their stadium in the area of Potomac Yards. "Alexandria wouldn't let the Redskins come in and look at that site now. It's much worse than if they had the Redskins stadium," Davis scoffed.

In other activities of the evening, the Chamber installed its new officers and Board of Directors, recognized retiring board members, and paid special recognition to outgoing chairman Laurie Blackburn.

New officers for 2003 are: Richard F. Neel, chairman; Joan Gros, president; Daniel F. Rinzel, vice president; Diana Margonie, secretary; and Kathy Wheeler, treasurer.

New board members installed were: James Dunn, Sherry Hsu, John Johnston, Paul Kaeppel, Cecilia Kuhn, Marlene Miller, Mary Stock, and Barbara Sullivan.