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Local company receives Success Award at annual SBDC ceremony

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Local company receives Success Award at annual SBDC ceremony

By Lori Dugan

Thatcher, AZ—Last month, nearly 400 legislators, host administrators, clients, partners, and other stakeholders joined the Arizona Small Business Development Center Network (AZSBDC) on the House Lawn of the Arizona State Capitol as they applauded the accomplishments of 15 of Arizona’s brightest small businesses at the 2011 Success Awards ceremony. The owners of the 15 winning companies were the stars of the event and included Mark and Ruth Vining of Vining Funeral Home in Safford.

Mark Vining has always had an understanding of what it means to take care of people. As a clean-up boy in a small meat market in rural Indiana, Vining came in before the sun came up and stayed late into the evening. “I wanted to make sure that things were just right for our customers,” he explained. As an adult, Vining went to mortuary school in Dallas and brought his philosophy of hard work and personal service with him to the funeral service industry in the Gila Valley for nearly a dozen years.

In 2006, Vining began working toward his goal of opening his own funeral home. “We thought there was a need in the community and we took a leap of faith,” he said. It was Vining’s first venture as a business owner. Knowing that capital would be crucial to his company’s success, his wife, Ruth, kept her job as a teacher and Vining sought outside expertise to ensure that the business got off to a strong start.

From the initial planning phases, the Vinings worked with then SBDC director Mike Fox at the Eastern Arizona College SBDC, who offered input and suggestions. “Our biggest obstacle was getting the money needed to take the business from paper to reality,” Vining said. The SBDC provided direction and helped identify and explore opportunities for funding. “We would not have received our start-up loan and had the blessing of serving the community without the SBDC,” Vining noted. “Mike Fox was a great resource and a great sounding board. I am very grateful for his assistance in realizing my dream,” he said.

In 2009, the Vinings opened their newly built 8,500 square foot facility – the first of its kind in nearly 50 years in the Gila Valley – and Vining Funeral Home was born. Since opening, Vining Funeral Home has served hundreds of families in Graham and Greenlee counties. Vining credits the quality of his staff (who are referred to as caregivers) for the company’s success.

“My wife and I are honored to be the recipients of this year’s Success Award,” says Vining. “And without the help of the staff at EAC’s SBDC, along with the expertise and dedication of our staff, this dream might not have ever come true for us.”

Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives Kirk Adams was the ceremony’s featured speaker and Arizona Capitol Times publisher Ginger Lamb served as emcee. “It [the ceremony] is a real opportunity to recognize and applaud the achievements of Arizona’s small businesses,” AZSBDC state director Janice Washington said. “The winners come from every part of this state. Their accomplishments are even more impressive, given the tough economy that our nation continues to struggle with.”

The AZSBDC Network is Arizona’s largest and most accessible source of assistance for small business, with 24 locations across Arizona that provide free one-on-one business counseling and other programs. The Network recently debuted its expanded website at

Success Award winners work with an AZSBDC Network Center to achieve their goals and are chosen for their outstanding economic performance during the previous year. “We are a very strong state network,” noted Washington.

During 2010, the Network counseled 3,212 clients and helped create or retain 2,920 jobs. AZSBDC clients started 306 new businesses last year. They created capital investment totaling $73.8 million, including more than $42 million in loans. Together, these companies increased their sales by nearly $94 million.

The AZSBDC Network is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U. S. Small Business Administration and through host agreements with 10 Arizona community colleges and Tucson’s Microbusiness Advancement Center.

“Congratulations to each of the winners, who collectively created more than 300 jobs, generated more than $4 million in new capital, and increased their sales by more than $17.7 million during 2010,” said EAC SBDC coordinator, Kevin Peck.