Two Hancock County Residents Win Top SBA Award

Two Hancock County residents will receive the U.S Small Business Administration's highest citizens award this week.

Brice Phillips is the owner of the non-profit public information radio station WQRZ. Tish Williams is Hancock County's Chamber of Commerce Director. Both will be honored with the Phoenix Award for their outstanding contributions after Hurricane Katrina.

Williams is proud of how Hancock County businesses are bouncing back.

"We're now seeing about 40 or 50 percent of our businesses, of our 1600 businesses back up and running," Williams said.

Six feet of water flooded the Chamber office. Nine feet swamped Williams' home. There was little time to rest.

"I will not forget contacting my boss and saying, 'Okay, what are we going to do now?' And he said, 'Tish, you don't seem to realize you are the Director of the Chamber of No Commerce.' It's a little comical now, but at the time, it was nothing but the truth."

To help businesses in the devastated community, Williams helped to set up a Business Assistance Center.

"Since the center opened on September 21, we have served over 4,000 customer visits. The services ranged from access to the Internet, to just outright business services like copiers, the use of a phone. As we all know, right after the hurricane [they] were non-existent," Williams remembered.

"Then we brought in the WIN Job Center, working on unemployment claims and helping our businesses with work orders and matching the needs of businesses."

The SBA noticed the efforts and wanted to recognize her work. Williams appreciates the honor, but doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

"In my mind, it's not about Tish Williams. It's about Hancock County and a demonstration of what we can accomplish when we work together."

As mentioned earlier, the owner of WQRZ, Brice Phillips, is also receiving the Phoenix Award for his tremendous help to the community after the hurricane. WLOX was unable to reach Phillips Tuesday because he was already on his way to Washington for Thursday morning's ceremony. (Click here to read an earlier WLOX News story about Phillips' work before, during and after Katrina.)

Two other South Mississippians will also pick up awards from the SBA. Donna Brown, the General Manager of Gulf Hills Hotel & Conference Center in Ocean Springs won the American Spirit Award.

And Craig Harvey, CIO/Executive VP of NVision Solutions Inc. located at Stennis is this year's Mississippi Small Business Person of the Year.

by Al Showers