Flathead Valley business owners, community leaders and government officials gathered at Flathead Valley Community College’s new Wachholz College Center on Nov. 9 for the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce’s 118th annual “Grand Event.” The event honored local businesses and community members with awards and included the launch of the Kalispell Chamber’s VentureBOLDLY Podcast and Flathead Valley Economic Dashboard.
The chamber presented the 51st annual Flathead Legacy Award – the chamber’s oldest and most prestigious award – to Flathead Valley Community College President Dr. Jane Karas. As FVCC’s leader, Karas oversaw expansions to campus buildings, dormitories, and the Wachholz Center and Performing Arts building. In addition to standing at the helm of the college, Karas chairs hospital boards and is involved in numerous community activities. In a press release, the chamber said, “The Flathead is a better, stronger, and more future- prepared community because of Dr. Jane Karas.”
The Businessperson of the Year award went to Western Building Center’s Doug Shanks. In his 47 years with WBC, Shanks helped the company expand from one to 12 locations, now with over 400 employees. In addition to expanding the business, Shanks has created high-paying jobs in the Flathead Valley, worked with high school students in training and mentorship programs and created scholarships for employees’ children. Shanks has also served on various boards throughout the valley, including Habitat for Humanity, North Valley Hospital, Student Build, Sapa-Johnsrud Baseball field and FVCC.
Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill was awarded the new Educator of the Year award, which the chamber said seeks to “honor educational programming or professionals that are innovative, forward-thinking, creative and impactful.” The chamber described Hill as a courageous leader who kept Kalispell’s schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic, equipped students with technology for virtual instruction and protected 750 jobs in the school district while many businesses were shutting down and laying off workers. Hill is “admired by his peers and his community and always puts our families and children first,” the chamber said.
The chamber’s two Business of the Year awards went to Mann Mortgage for large businesses and Bias Brewing for small to medium businesses. Founded in 1989 in Kalispell, Mann Mortgage provides home loans to families in 21 states, across 44 offices. A family owned business with 140 employees in the Flathead Valley, Mann Mortgage has won accolades for both the services they provide to families and the work environment they have cultivated. The company supports civic life in and around Kalispell, donating time and money to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, ImagineIF Libraries, Montana Children’s at Logan Health, Kalispell Parks and Recreation and the Columbia Falls Community Market.
Bias Brewing, opened in 2018 by Gabe Mariman and Adam and Amanda Robertson, has become a favorite gathering space and craft brewery in downtown Kalispell. The chamber applauded Bias Brewing for a successful remodel and relocation into the former Kalispell Brewing Company space, and recognized Gabe for his roles on the Kalispell Downtown Association and Kalispell Business Improvement District boards, and his leadership of the Kalispell Chamber’s Child Care Initiative.
Non-Profit of the Year was awarded to senior living facility Immanuel Lutheran Communities, which offers “purposeful living” to the Flathead Valley’s senior citizens. In addition to providing senior care, Jason Cronk and his team at Immanuel Lutheran engage with various community organizations like Leadership Flathead, the Montana Health Care and Hospital Associations, and Glacier Symphony and Chorale. The organization recently opened a childcare center for its employees to help address the childcare shortage that has impacted the valley in recent years.
Rising Star of the Year, an honor given to a passionate community leader under the age of 30, was awarded to Adam Cebulla of J2 Business Products. The chamber commended Cebulla’s “team spirit,” “sales skills” and “innovative ideas.” Cebulla supports local events, serves on the board of the Kalispell Education Foundation and was a Kalispell Chamber of Commerce ambassador.
The Community Spirit of the Year Award, given to a community member who volunteers their time and acts a local role model, went to Tony Brockman of Vault Media. Of Brockman, the chamber said, “It is simply impossible to cover all of the involvement, service, and community engagement activities that Tony Brockman has been involved in throughout Kalispell, Evergreen, and the Flathead as young and growing young professional.” Brockman has volunteered his time with the Flathead County Economic Development Authority board, Gateway Community Center, Evergreen Rural Fire District, and other organizations. Brockman will head off to Helena in 2023 to serve in the state legislature.
The chamber also introduced its new VentureBOLDLY Podcast, which will feature information about initiatives, programs, people, news and businesses in Kalispell and the Flathead Valley. The podcast can be listened to on Google, Apple, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music and other streaming services. More information on VentureBOLDLY can be found at kalispellchamber.com/podcast.