Top businesses honored by MetroNorth Chamber

by Eric Hagen
Staff Writer

The MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce recognized three members at a Feb. 10 awards ceremony not just for their business success, but for their relationships with the community and the chamber.

The MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce at a Feb. 10 awards ceremony recognized three chamber members for their business successes, work in the community and involvement with the chamber. Left to right: Ross Bloomquist, senior vice president of Financial One Credit Union; Scott Vonderharr, owner of Cartridges Direct; and Tom Newland, owner of Allegra Design Print Mail.

Cartridges Direct of St. Paul was recognized in the micro business category, Financial Credit One Union with locations in Blaine, Coon Rapids and Columbia Heights won in the services category and Allegra Design Print Mail in the products category. The awards ceremony was held at The Harvest Grill restaurant and event center in Coon Rapids.

Applicants could have been nominated by another chamber member or self-nominated, according to Lori Higgins, president of the MetroNorth chamber. All nominees filled out an application to answer questions such as what the business does, business history, performance over the past year, number of employees, what type of innovation has happened, what involvement the business has with the MetroNorth chamber and what awards has the business won in the past.

Higgins said a committee of five fellow chamber members reviewed the applications, met as a group and decided who would win the awards.

Pawn American Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Brad Rixmann as the keynote speaker at the ceremony shared the story of how his business started and how it has grown. He closed by encouraging the business community to become part of the solution for turning around the economy. He said it takes more than voting.

“As business leaders one thing we have to do is we have to put people to work,” Rixmann said. “What we have to do is figure out how to work together. I see the successes and the brightest days of our country as being ahead of us, and I have to, and you do too, because of our kids.”

The three winners

Ross Bloomquist, senior vice president of Financial One Credit Union, said it opened nearly 300 more accounts in 2011 than 2010, and direct loan volume grew by over 40 percent. The readers of the Sun Focus News voted them as the best credit union in the area. He said this award shows that Financial One is providing a high level of customer service.

Bloomquist said when Previn Solberg took over as Financial One’s president in January 2010, the emphasis switched from numbers to relationships. Instead of just focusing on rates, spreads and margins, they began focusing more on relationships with members, local businesses and communities.

“My advice to other chamber members is to get out and connect with the people and the communities in which you do business,” Bloomquist said. “Become more active in the chamber. If you want to succeed and develop new business, you need to participate. It’s not enough to put your name and number in the directory.”

Allegra Design Print Mail began as a traditional quick print shop in 1993, but has evolved to include consultation services as well, according to the owner Tom Newland. Rather than just printing 10,000 posters for a customer, Newland said they will ask the customer what their marketing plan and purpose is so they can meet their goals.

Over the past year, Allegra added full color poster and banner printing technology in order to bring more promotional printing opportunities for customers in-house. Soft cover bookbinding was added a few months ago because there was a rapidly growing demand for this finishing service, Newland said.

A new innovation that Cartridges Direct has been working on for the past six month is something owner Scott Vonderharr is calling “managed print services.” Instead of just providing supplies and doing repairs for the customers, Cartridge Direct can remotely monitor printer activity in another office at its own office in St. Paul. It can tell how much toner the printer is using, when new toner is needed, whether an office should rearrange how printers are set up in order to be more efficient and whether the printer is getting too many paper jams or is using too much electricity.

Vonderharr said this enables office staff to get a better handle on how much its current printers are costing and what can be done to improve efficiencies as opposed to purchasing new printers.

Besides being successful businesses, these three companies have been heavily involved in MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce activities and the community.

Newland was a founding board members of the Panther Foundation, which has given over $500,000 back to the Spring Lake Park School District. During the start-up of the Blaine Public Safety Association, Newland served for four years on the board of directors. He presently serves on the Blaine Park Advisory Board and the Blaine Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Steering Commission.

According to Bloomquist, Financial One Credit Union has partnered with the Columbia Heights Police Department on an initiative to provide school supplies to kids in need of assistance. It also sponsors three scholarships for students. Financial One was a sponsor in the Acoustic Jam to Fight Hunger event in September 2011 organized by the Young Professionals of Minnesota.

Vonderharr said Cartridge Direct has been involved in multiple chamber activities including the breakfast networking and business card exchange events. The CPA and attorney that Cartridge Direct works with are also members of the MetroNorth chamber.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]