Protesters turn out for the SBDC Business Excellence Awards

Congressman Brad Wenstrup, filling in for Senator Rob Portman, gives the keynote address on Feb. 10, 2017.

By Brett Milam

Congressman Brad Wenstrup, filling in for Senator Rob Portman, gives the keynote address on Feb. 10, 2017.

A few hundred members of the business community in the county, along with city and state leaders, turned out for the Clermont County Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Small Business Development Center Excellence Awards on Feb. 10.

Those leaders in the community were also joined by protesters in and outside the Holiday Inn & and Suites in Eastgate.

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio was slated to be the keynote speaker, but had to go to Washington D.C. at the last minute instead, officials said. Congressman Brad Wenstrup of Ohio’s 2nd congressional district filled in for the senator. Both are Republicans.

More than a dozen protesters were stationed outside the hotel anticipating Portman, but greeting those entering the luncheon with signs like, “Rob Portman sold his vote for $51,000,” and “Portman has my no vote,” and chanting, “He should’ve said no!” according to an NBC reported video from the event.

“He’s a coward,” one protester said in the video, “He knows that Cincinnatians are mad. He knows that we are angry and he doesn’t want to face us.”

Wenstrup in his address, said divisions “appear to be large” in the country right now.

“To me, the goal of service and especially service in Washington and representing the good people of Clermont County and seven other counties, is the desire to leave things better than you find them,” Wenstrup said. “I’m optimistic about America and America spirit.”

Trust is sometimes hard to do and develop, Wenstrup said.

“As a soldier, when I’m out and about in my uniform and I’m talking to people I can tell they trust me. When I’m a doctor and I’m in my shrubs and white coat, taking care of patients, I can tell that they trust me,” he said. “You put that congressional pin on and all bets are off.”

A woman, who is a resident in the county and who wanted to stay anonymous, given some of the reaction to her protest, abruptly stood up during Wenstrup’s speech, when he began talking about Obamacare and shouted, “Obamacare saved my life!” before being escorted out of the room by security.

“My only official comment on the whole thing is that I think it’s ridiculous that I had to pay $75 dollars in order to even yell four words at my congressman,” she told The Clermont Sun. “I had been calling Portman and Wenstrup almost daily since inauguration regarding policies and have never once been graced with a response. I felt my protest was the only recourse I had to make myself heard, and even then, I only had time for four words before an armed guard made it to me, so I had to make it count.”

Wenstrup had started to say what his problem with the Affordable Care Act was before the protest. He drew on an analogy by saying, “the law said you need to buy flood insurance, even if you live in the desert.”

“What part of freedom that exists within that, I don’t know, but we can do better,” he said.

The awards recognize local, small businesses who are emerging in the community and for customer focus, innovative best practices and impact on the community.

“It was a little scary last year, but I feel like I’m a little more prepared this year,” Tracy Hawkins, the director of the SBDC, said at the event. “I’m excited to be here today to celebrate small business excellence.”

Hawkins said the SBDC offers low-to-no-cost, in-depth one-on-one counseling to small businesses in the county and surrounding areas from marketing to management and company growth, as well as finding access to state and federal programs.

Before the business awards were handed out by 2015’s winners, Matt Van Sant, president and CEO of the chamber, was given the Chairman’s Award in recognition of “significant contributions to the Clermont business community,” that went far beyond chairman duties.

“A successful chamber needs a strong and dedicated leader and we are indeed grateful and fortunate to have Matt as our CEO,” Greg Sojka, University of Cincinnati Clermont College Chairman of the Board, said at the event. “I believe he’s probably the only person in this room that has a private reserved seat in the Holiday Inn restaurant and if you don’t believe it on your way out, you can see his name plaque. Sometimes kindly referred to as the Godfather of Eastgate, he’s a lifelong resident of the Greater Cincinnati area.”

“Alright, so we’re gonna be late today because of these guys,” Van Sant said.

Maximum Fire Protection won the Emerging Small Business Award, as a company with one to 50 employees.

The Customer Focus Award went for one to 50 employee companies went to L & L Plastics, with the 51-250 employee companies side of it going to the Glenny Glass Company.

For the Innovative Best Practices Award for one to 50 employees, the Clermont County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. won, while for 51-250 employees, Deimling-Jeliho Plastics, Inc. won.

Finally, for the Impact Award, which was a new award to recognize women or minority-owned businesses in the county, Premiere Concrete Supply, LLC, won.

In his address, Wenstrup added that businesses have laws coming at them they never voted on and “therefore you never had a voice in.”

“We’ve got work to do. Anybody who owns a business – which I assume you all do – you understand the regulatory burdens that have been put upon you,” he said. “It’s awfully difficult to run a business when the rules are changing every day.”

With this administration, Wenstrup said to expect the unexpected, but expect a “very active Congress.”

“Many bills have been written, but we gotta see them through,” he said. “If we unburden business and individuals, if we allow energy growth in America, if we get patients to their doctors – and let doctors treat their patients – if we feel safe, secure and unafraid; we come out on our front porches and live as a community, we can be an America that’s at work and an America that’s open for business.”