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Awards celebrate diversity efforts


When Gary Hughes heard his name called at the Equal Business Opportunity Awards recently, he turned left and right to congratulate a winner before he realized he was the one.

"I was surprised," said Hughes, executive director of the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network. "Did you see that list of people? The people who were up there with me were excellent."

Hughes joined five other Howard County business people and companies honored at the breakfast for including and encouraging minorities, women and the disabled in their businesses and civic activities.

As award ceremonies are held this month for regional and state honors, several Howard County companies and business leaders are scheduled to be honored.

Three local men were chosen by the Small Business Administration for awards and will be honored at a breakfast Friday.

Four companies in the county's NeoTech Incubator - including one that was honored as an EBO star - are up for the Maryland Incubator Company of the Year awards to be held May 30.

About 300 people gathered at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville two weeks ago to honor the 16 nominees for the EBO awards, given by the Howard County Economic Development Authority, and five companies and individuals who walked away with an award - an engraved silver star on a pedestal.

Hughes won the Outstanding Individual Commitment award. As director of FIRN, which links immigrants and local businesses through job placement, counseling and interpretation services, Hughes has made a personal commitment to encouraging minority businesses by ensuring the organization purchases its goods from diverse firms.

"We're always buying something; the question is: Who are we buying from?" he said. "There's no formula set, but you need to take a look at how you're doing things - are you being unfair just by not being aware?"

EpiTech, an incubator company run by Anne Pettitt and Suzanne Menard, was awarded the Outstanding Business Achievement award for the leaders' promotion of information technology careers to local students and involvement in grade-school drug awareness programs. Columbia's Yvonne Bush-Minge, owner of Bright Beginnings Childrens' Centers received the Outstanding Individual Achievement award for her commitment to providing employment opportunities for single mothers and free child care for her employees.

Project Masters Inc. and AllFirst Bank were honored for Outstanding Company Achievement. April O'Koren, president of Project Masters, forges strategic alliances with women and minority businesses, and AllFirst, a Small Business Administration preferred lender since 1990, has appointed a director of diversity to ensure equal opportunities within bank operations and throughout the community.

This month, several other businesses and leaders will be celebrated for their contributions, innovation and earnings at the Baltimore District SBA awards and the inaugural Maryland Incubator Company of the Year Awards.

Robert Henig, of Bob's BMW in Jessup, was named an entrepreneurial success by the SBA, Timothy Daly, of Access Group, was named Home-based Business Advocate of the Year. Edmund S. Coale of Coale Pripstein & Associates was named Accountant Advocate of the Year.

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