They came from all corners of the county . . . From Oswestry, Whitchurch and Market Drayton in the north; Ludlow, Bridgnorth and Bishop’s Castle in the south; and, of course, in huge numbers from Shropshire’s two biggest towns, Telford and Shrewsbury.
The 14th Shropshire Business Awards – the annual ‘Oscars’ of the local economy – proved to be another glittering celebration, reminding us that the county remains a beacon of excellence, supplying quality products, services and expertise all around the world.
The Hawk Group, a global force in the construction industry, was the biggest winner, as it was crowned 2014 Shropshire Company of the Year.
It was a double success for the family-owned business, based at Prees Green, because it had earlier also taken the International Trade title.
The rest of the awards were spread around the county. Best New Business was GWR Fasteners of Oswestry, which has an established factory making fasteners and precision components in a range of trademark colours.
The Best Small Business prize went to Jesmonite Limited of Bishop’s Castle, whose unique non-toxic material is used for decorative architectural projects and mould-making.
Telford-based Rockford IT won the Managing Change award, having grown turnover by more than 20 per cent and evolved from a small owner-managed business to a structured firm with 22 staff.
The Technology, Enterprise and Innovation prize also went to Telford, with victory for Aura Light UK. It has produced the world’s longest lasting fluorescent tube – capable of lasting up to 80,000 hours.
Shrewsbury-based Aubrey Kirkham Funeral Directors lifted the Customer Service award, always one of the most hotly contested. And Stadco Automotive, which has bases in both Shrewsbury and Telford, was named Manufacturing Excellence champion.
Bridgnorth-based Grainger & Worrall, another manufacturing company which makes top-end castings for motor companies including Formula One cars, won the Apprenticeships award, and Marches Care in Shrewsbury took the Business In The Community prize, for firms which put something back into their local surroundings.
Rounding off the prizes, the Buckatree Hall Hotel at the foot of the Wrekin won the category for companies bringing jobs and visitors to the region in the Travel, Tourism and Hospitality industry.
The awards, organised by Shropshire Chamber of Commerce and produced by award-winning Shrewsbury event management company Yarrington, were staged at Telford’s International Centre.
They were supported and sponsored by a host of local companies – including Shropshire Business Today, whose new editor Carl Jones was the master of ceremonies.
Escorted to the stage by a troupe of Brazilian-style samba dancers, he told the 600-plus audience: “A lot has changed in our world since that first business awards competition back in 2001 when we gathered in a marquee in the grounds of Weston Park.
“The Bank of England had set interest rates at 5.5 per cent, you could buy a litre of petrol for 76p, and the average Shropshire wage was just over £14,000.
“But one thing has remained constant . . . the stream of amazing Shropshire businesses who continue to put their stamp of quality all over the world.”
‘Ideas man’ Shed Simove, who has worked on TV shows such as Big Brother and The Big Breakfast and now has his own successful online novelty gifts shop, stepped in as this year’s guest speaker after passport problems left supermodel Caprice stranded in America, and forced to stand down.
Shropshire Chamber chief executive Richard Sheehan said the night had been a huge success.
Not only had there been a record number of entries this year, but the audience helped to raise around £3,000 for the Severn Hospice with a ‘Red Card, Yellow Card’ game.
Mr Sheehan said: “It became very evident soon after we launched the 2014 Shropshire Business Awards that there was a level of interest from the business community that we had not experienced for some considerable time.
“The positivity that is surrounding the improved economic climate carried over to the awards, with record levels of entries that were of a truly outstanding quality.The teams of judges really had their work cut out to determine a winner.
“On the night itself the blend of carnival and celebration of success produced a cocktail of excitement with an audience of 640 people seeing the best of what Shropshire has to offer.
“While the event is a massive amount of work for my team, I know they are already planning for the 15th anniversary event on June 26, 2015, intent on making it bigger and even better.”
At the start of the evening, Chamber president Keith Winter gave an emotional tribute to his predecessor John Clayton, a stalwart of the Shropshire business scene who died earlier this year. He was a long-time campaigner for the county’s direct rail link to London.
Mr Winter revealed that a new award, for Shropshire business person of the year, was to be created in Mr Clayton’s memory.
David Battisby, managing partner of Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors which was among the sponsors, said: “We all know the economy has been through a really difficult period, but all the signs are that business is on the up in Shropshire.
“We deal with a wide variety of companies, large and small, across the county and confidence is certainly higher now than it has been in recent years.
“Events like the Shropshire Business Awards help to raise the profile of the business community and we are delighted to be a part of it.”
Shropshire’s new Euro MP Jill Seymour was also at the event on her first official engagement since being chosen as Ukip’s representative on the European Union’s transport committee.
She echoed the sponsors’ comments, saying: “It was a fantastic evening. You could see the hard work, determination and talent the businesses have achieved. The evening was full of ambiance, atmosphere, and entertainment.”
♦ For pictures from the evening, and biographies of all the winners, download the latest pdf issue of Shropshire Business Today.