Each year we select Business Excellence Award winners from nominations gathered from the community. These awards are our way of celebrating the incredible amount of excellence around us and awarding the truly deserving – those whose contributions elevate our community and make it a better place for everyone to do business, work and lives.

2021 was a volatile year of starts and stops as our community, and the world, emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, it was a year of opportunity, when focused and effective organizations could accelerate through recovery and position themselves for success. This year’s Business Excellence Award winners emerged and flourished despite a year of uncertainty. During unpredictable times, they used their innovation, leadership, and philanthropy to serve our community like never before.

Award Categories

Sustained Excellence >

  • Project Harmony Child Advocacy Center
  • QLI

Philanthropy >

  • Carol Joy Holling Camp, Conference and Retreat Center
  • Fontenelle Forest
  • i3 Bank
  • Omaha Public Power District
  • OrthoNebraska

Innovation >

  • Boys Town
  • Children’s Hospital & Medical Center
  • Hawkins Construction Company
  • Omaha Children’s Museum
  • Omaha Conservatory of Music

2020 Small Business of the Year >

  • Stable Gray

Leadership >

  • BFF Omaha
  • Carson Wealth
  • Spreetail
  • Tri-Faith Initiative

Milestones >

  • Honoring those in business for 25 to 150 years

2021 Small Business of the Year

The Stable Gray creative team posts in their office.

Stable Gray

“No matter what business you’re in, you have to deliver,”

“We’ve learned over the years that customers are rarely buying what you’re selling,” said CharDale Barnes, co-founder and CEO. “They’re buying from you in hopes to have a certain experience. So, you when you maintain a high level of customer service, it inevitably leads to a much more effective outcome for your client.”

Stable Gray, Inc. is a creative agency founded in 2015 by CharDale Barnes and Theardis “Teddy” Young. They strive to blur the lines between large companies with unlimited marketing budgets, and budget-conscious small businesses.

Barnes sees his agency as a brand translator for their clients, using passion and empathy to build strong consumer relationships. Because when they’re able to maintain a high level of customer service, it inevitably leads to a much more effective outcome for their clients.

“No matter what business you’re in, you have to deliver,” said Barnes. “Your customer is spending money with you to solve a problem and if that problem isn’t solved, they leave disappointed. Always deliver what brings them closer to their solution.”

Equally important, though, is Stable Gray’s connection to the North Omaha community. Each year, Barnes and Young donate to Abide and Bridge Church in an effort to push forward the mission to eliminate the inner city.

Congratulations, Stable Gray, our 2021 Small Business of the Year!

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Sustained Excellence

The Sustained Excellence Award offers another level of distinction for those organizations that prove, time and again, that excellence is standard operating procedure. This award honors those who have received Business Excellence Awards in any category (innovation, leadership and/or philanthropy) for two or more consecutive years. Refusing to allow challenges or unforeseen roadblocks to impede their growth, these businesses once again distinguished themselves in 2021 as industry examples of continued success and excellence throughout their operations.

Project Harmony staff poses in front of their lobby signage.

Project Harmony Child Advocacy Center

“When you get city, county, state, federal government working together and then you add in the school systems, it’s remarkable to see the level of collaboration that does come together on a government level.”

Project Harmony is one out of seven child advocacy centers (CACs) in the state of Nebraska and one out of 924 nationally accredited CACs – serving a collective 338,475 children each year. Currently, they provide training for employees of the state’s largest school district to help employees learn how to be resilient not only for themselves but for the students they serve.

The Omaha Public Schools asked Project Harmony to train its staff (over 9,000 individuals) on how to manage one’s personal resilience when working with children. The training is for everyone from the janitor to the school counselor.

In the training sessions, OPS staff are asked to reflect on personal impacts of the last year and are given tools and coping skills so they can show up for the next student walking into the classroom.

QLI staff member comforts a patient


“Our clients deserve top-quality care 365 days a year.”

QLI is now the nation’s largest and most specialized post-hospital resource for brain and spinal cord injury survivors. QLI provides its powerhouse rehabilitation program alongside nationally lauded long-term care and assisted living services.

“Recently, businesses across Omaha have felt the squeeze of staffing shortages,” said Mike Joyce, Director of Development and Public Relations. “While some have the option of condensing schedules, our clients deserve top-quality care 365 days a year.”

Leading by example to motivate their employees to look outside their roles for ways to help, QLI’s leaders stepped up to the challenge.

Over the past few months, a visitor to QLI’s campus might find the Vice President of Human Resources doing a client’s laundry on a Saturday morning, the Marketing Director clearing his afternoon to clean windows, or the Events Coordinator, an Occupational Therapist by training, working side-by-side with our CNA team to deliver direct care.

Their leadership is constantly focused on building up new leaders and maximizing skill sets regardless of title. They cultivate a culture of belonging and curiosity, encouraging an inclusive, flat, and open system where everyone is encouraged to be part of the conversation.


Organizations, small and large, with an others-focused philosophy of giving make a significant impact on Greater Omaha’s health and well-being. Recognition goes to those who go above-and-beyond to improve individual lives and the broader life and vitality of our community. These businesses demonstrated selfless stewardship by not only investing their own resources, but also rallying the Omaha community to support and champion underserved communities.

Two girls pose smiling for the camera, holding up mugs of root beer float.

Carol Joy Holling Camp, Conference and Retreat Center

“Our team members have a front-row seat to philanthropy, which inspires them to pour their own time, talents, and treasures into the community.”

“As a nonprofit organization, Carol Joy Holling Camp, Conference & Retreat Center experiences first-hand the impact generosity of others can have every day,” said Jason Gerdes, Executive Director. “Our team members have a front-row seat to philanthropy, which inspires them to pour their own time, talents, and treasures into the community.”

The camp will never turn a camper away if they cannot afford it. Annually, the year-round staff donates approximately $30,000 worth of time back to the organization. That equates to almost 70 “camperships” supported by the 36-member staff alone.

Annually, the team gathers to pick up trash along the two miles of county road leading into camp. And outside of the organized event, employees are known to come back from hikes and long walks around the site with handfuls of litter to recycle or dispose of properly.

Also, during the summer of 2020, the organization opened its 317-acre site for respite and outdoor recreation. Hundreds of people utilized this place set apart to walk, hike, fish, meditate, and take time away from the stresses of living and working in a pandemic.

A Fontenelle Forest raptor recovery expert holds a screech owl for two small children to observe.

Fontenelle Forest

““As an urban nature center, we’re uniquely positioned to provide access to an immersive natural space.”

“Fontenelle Forest approaches community stewardship by providing access to nature through its land management,” said Andrew Klinkenborg, Manager of Donor Relations. “As an urban nature center, we’re uniquely positioned to provide access to an immersive natural space, and the core of Fontenelle Forest’s mission is to steward this land for the wider community’s benefit.”

Within the last three years, Fontenelle Forest has introduced community-focused efforts like: Library Pass Program; Summer Camp Access Partnership; and Blue Star Museum.

The Library Pass Program allows any public library cardholder to check out a Fontenelle Forest day pass in the same manner as checking out a book. The program has allowed more than 9,000 individuals to visit the Forest at no cost and experience the outdoors.

Summer Camp Access Partnership distributes camp scholarships to youth-focused nonprofits to increase forest accessibility while maximizing the mission impact of both Fontenelle Forest and partner organizations.

Blue Star Museum is a nationwide program offering free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families. In 2021, Fontenelle Forest provided free admission to more than 2,000 military personnel and their families.

metro community college

i3 Bank

“Our mission of serving our customers and our communities is emulated from the very top.”

“Our mission of serving our customers and our communities is emulated from the very top,” said Matt Kluver, Retail Relationship Manager. “Our bank team members serve on numerous boards, volunteer throughout our communities for various causes and events, and find unique philanthropic causes to support.”

During the pandemic, employees rallied together to support their communities through food and monetary drives and support of non-profit organizations in each market they serve.

The events of 2020 also made i3 Bank more intentional in their efforts to recognize first responders and service members including employees, immediate family members, customers and community members. They also held special ceremonies and gave out cookies and flags for customers and staff on Veterans Day.

Additionally, i3 Bank has been recognized by the Small Business Administration through their Heartbeat program for contributions to their customers, community, and industry. There are currently over 50 other organizations that have also received monetary donations from i3 in the last year.

OPPD Employees smile while volunteering at the Boy & Girls Club.

Omaha Public Power District

“Our entire business is constructed around the premise that we can help build thriving communities.”

“One of OPPD’s Guiding Principles is to be a Trusted Energy Partner, said Laura King-Homan. “Our entire business is constructed around the premise that we can help build thriving communities. In all that we do, we seek to make life better in the communities we call home.”

In 2020 and 2021, the combined funds raised during OPPD’s Month of Giving totaled more than $500,000 for United Way of the Midlands and their Energy Assistance Program. OPPD also worked with Habitat for Humanity, sponsoring five neighborhood cleanup events throughout north Omaha in 2021.

OPPD partnered with Metropolitan Utilities District in the annual Heat the Streets Run & Walk for Warmth raising funds for the Energy Assistance Program (EAP). More than 500 runners and walkers participated virtually and brought in more than $100,000 for utility assistance in the community.

OrthoNebraska employees work with a band saw while building a house with Habitat for Humanity.


“OrthoNebraska’s approach to stewardship is centered on being active members of the communities we serve.”

“OrthoNebraska’s approach to stewardship is centered on being active members of the communities we serve,” said Katie Benak, Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications. “This includes everything from supporting youth organizations in the area to donations to non-profits.”

As a trusted resource for orthopedic injuries, OrthoNebraska providers routinely donate their time to speak at events for athletes, coaches, and parents to discuss injury prevention and safe return to play. A small group of team members has spent time at The Hope Center speaking with kids at their Employment Learning Academy about the various careers in healthcare, requirements for certain roles, and what it is like to work in the industry.

Additionally, the OrthoNebraska sports medicine team spends significant time on the sidelines of events triaging injuries to ensure athletes get the care they need when they need it the most. This ranges from high school football games and weekend soccer tournaments to community rodeos and fun runs for the weekend warriors.


Creating something better is no easy process, but it’s what true innovators live for, thinking beyond “the now” and “the norm” to improve their customers’ lives. Those recognized for Excellence in Innovation embed this on-going quest for improvement into their cultures and push their bounds, every day, to elevate our community. Casting aside conventional wisdom, these businesses found new and creative ways to grow their business and inspire their team members.

A Boys Town doctor checks on a pediatric patient.

Boys Town

“”Boys Town is proud to use cutting-edge research methods and sound science to create new life-changing therapies.”

“Boys Town is proud to use cutting-edge research methods and sound science to create new life-changing therapies, treatments and programs in youth care and health care,” said Melissa Farris, Marketing Manager. “These innovations improve the physical, behavioral and emotional well-being of thousands of children and families each year.”

Boys Town’s unique approach of blending research and clinical care continues to generate new and better ways to improve and transform lives.

In 2021, they opened the Boys Town Institute for Human Neuroscience, one of the most advanced neuroscience research facilities in the nation. It’s also the only site in the world to have two next-generation MEG (magnetoencephalography) systems, the most powerful and accurate brain mapping technique available.

This 15,000 square foot facility is where research and clinical care come together. Currently, there are seven research labs conducting studies on healthy brain development, developmental disabilities, pediatric psychiatric disorders, trauma exposure, healthy and pathological aging, cognitive decline, substance abuse, and other neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions.

A team of Children's Hospital surgeons uses high-tech equipment in an operating room.

Children’s Hospital & Medical Center

“We’re proud to be on the leading edge of research ensuring a safe, effective vaccine for children.”

“Children’s has risen to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic through innovation and collaborative partnerships to protect the health of children in our communities,” said Chanda Chacon, President and CEO. “We’re proud to be on the leading edge of research ensuring a safe, effective vaccine for children by serving as the local clinical research site for the pediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trials.”

In March of 2020, Children’s quickly expanded virtual visit capabilities. By that summer, their virtual care team of 250+ providers had conducted 20,000 virtual visits in 20+ pediatric specialties. Children’s launched two educational vaccination campaigns in partnership with the Nebraska Department of Education, Fruitful, and Max the Vax, to keep kids protected and in school.

Additionally, the Hubbard Center for Children offers some of the latest, most innovative equipment in a state-of-the-art surgical suites. Operations can now be performed with minimally invasive techniques, using small cameras and instruments placed through incisions less than 5mm, and the DaVinci Xi surgical robot, the first in Omaha to be used in a pediatric setting.

Two construction workers look at a touchscreen displaying data on a job site.

Hawkins Construction

“Our culture allows us to produce cheaper, faster, cleaner, and safer projects for our clients.”

Hawkins Construction Company has built, managed, and nurtured a culture of continuous improvement and problem-solving.

“Our culture allows us to produce cheaper, faster, cleaner, and safer projects for our clients,” said Chris Hawkins, President and CEO. “Innovation also allows our management team to be flexible in contracting.”

This focus on innovation inspired Hawkins to create an app that helped streamline their planning, make communication more transparent, and adjust instantaneously to changes. Thanks to the app, Hawkins paved over 4 million square feet of roadway in 2021, hitting their scheduled pour times at a 95% rate (and 100% overall project deadlines met) and over 300 equipment moves made on time, safely, while still allowing proper inspections and maintenance.

Additionally, management time dedicated to scheduling and adjustments for changes decreased by over 60%.

A group of children join an Omaha Children's Museum staff member catching balls dropping from the ceiling in their STEM center.

Omaha Children’s Museum

“The museum believes every child should have a childhood filled with discovery, creativity and learning.”

“Innovation at Omaha Children’s Museum is all about finding new and unique ways to serve a young audience, regardless of their means,” said Kim Reiner, Director of Marketing and Public Relations. “The museum believes every child should have a childhood filled with discovery, creativity and learning.”

To live up to that vision, the museum established programs like the Welcome Fund, the Partner School Program, and the Museum Without Walls initiative.

The Museum Without Walls (MWoW) initiative was launched in March 2020 with virtual programs and interactive virtual field trips over Zoom, and creating STEM kits to distribute to 1,000 local students. It grew to include in-person programs and nearly all programming has been free for families and community organizers.

The program served 8,840 individuals at neighborhood festivals and cultural events in 2021.

In 2021 and 2022, the museum partnered with Varsity Tutors to transform science shows into free virtual opportunities that served thousands of kids online. This year, the museum will partner with UNO, allowing them to research informal learning and STEM in early childhood.

Dozens of children play instruments during an outdoor recital

Omaha Conservatory of Music

“When COVID burst onto the scene, we were able to pivot to virtual lessons within 2 weeks and were able to continue lessons for all the children in String Sprouts.”

“When COVID burst onto the scene, we were able to pivot to virtual lessons within 2 weeks and were able to continue lessons for all the children in String Sprouts,” said Mark Kresl, Director of Development. “This was particularly important as students lost much of their social network and felt isolated.”

Using that innovative spirit as a spring board, the Omaha Conservatory of Music created String Sprouts, a groundbreaking and one-of-a-kind program in the country that provides an instrument at no charge for children ages 3 through 8. It’s also only one of four programs in Nebraska to be recognized and supported by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Recent studies have shown the positive impact String Sprouts has made on these aspiring young musicians. Iowa West Foundation showed that children in the String Sprouts program outperformed their peers in grades by a full grade point.

In addition, they had 30% fewer absences and had no disciplinary interventions (district average 7%). These numbers are significant because they are in direct contrast to national numbers for underserved children who typically average a full grade point behind their peers and have disciplinary interventions exceeding the class average.


Excellence in Leadership recognizes those organizations with a strong vision for the future; a devotion to collaboration, inclusivity and forward-thinking; and a dedication to elevating their employees and the communities they call home. Whether it’s setting a bold and ambitious course of action or finding solutions in the face of uncertainty, these businesses exemplified the elements of leadership and truly shined in 2021.

A violinist plays on the street in Benson while children do a craft activity at a table.

BFF Omaha

“BFF Omaha is an organization for artists, run by artists.”

“BFF Omaha is an organization for artists, run by artists,” said Alex Jochim, co-founder and Director. “Many of our creatives have no professional training, come from backgrounds without privilege, have faced discriminations, or elicited judgements from which many organizations would not take a chance on.”

In 2020, BFF created the GenQ & Green Team program, which provided professional development and real-life training experiences for many volunteers and participating artists. Those staff members remain with the organization today, and are continuing to elevate their positions, creating more room and opportunity for additional staff members.

As a group, the BFF collective is whole-heartedly focused on putting the ability to create space and provide opportunities for Omaha’s creatives directly in the hands of its creatives. They know the value and potential impact in the ability of the city’s creative community to actually influence the cultural voice and impact of Omaha, from the ground up.

Although BFF has enough funding to fully compensate their full-time Executive Director, they instead distribute funds to their part-time volunteers in order for 17 additional staff members to grow into leadership positions themselves.


Carson Wealth employees enjoy the new rooftop terrace in their headquarters.

Carson Wealth

“Each individual, regardless of role, is empowered to make a difference.”

“At Carson Wealth, we don’t call anyone employees, we call them stakeholders,” said Ron Carson, Founder and CEO. “Each individual, regardless of role, is empowered to make a difference.”

And that difference starts by developing young leaders through a traditional mentorship program and a rotational internship program with three Nebraska universities. They’ve also cultivated partnerships with the AAAA Foundation, the nonprofit FinServ Foundation, and 19 HBCU’s to empower the next generation of financial professionals through coaching and training programs.

Carson Wealth also has an Annual Women’s Leadership Series and completed a DE&I partnership with Inclusive Communities. Employees can tap into Advanced Professional Development funds, tuition reimbursement, and student loan assistance.

Ron also created one of the most popular conferences in the financial advisor space: Excell. This annual gathering of 2,000+ attendees is filled with keynote speakers (including former presidents, athletes, and world-renowned CEOs), breakout sessions, and a community committed to bettering themselves.

Two Spreetail employees listen intently in a meeting


“Spreetail prioritizes training and development to support personal and professional development for the success of every Spreetailer.”

“Spreetail prioritizes training and development to support personal and professional development for the success of every Spreetailer,” said Dana Nielsen, Senior Talent Brand Partner. “Our best-in-class Talent Development programs include onboarding, career development, manager training and support, coaching, leadership development, talent management, mentoring, and more.”

In 2021, Spreetail launched a new Leadership Landscape initiative, targeting development for emerging leaders, all new managers, key talent and upcoming leaders, and those in the executive pipeline.

Those participating in the Leadership Landscape programs have shown a 3x higher average tenure and are 2x more likely for promotion than those not in programs. Out of the 104 graduates in 2021, 95% are still at Spreetail and 42 have earned internal moves.

Additionally, leadership reviews all performance and development goals set at each performance review cycle, identifies themes and aligns career and skills courses to the needs of team members.

The Tri-Faith center glows during an evening concert on the lawn.

Tri-Faith Initiative

 “Our leadership philosophy is that it is okay to be imperfect, to make mistakes, and to take risks.”

Inspired by the faith of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities, Tri-Faith Initiative cultivates inclusive environments to advance interfaith relationships and understanding.

 “Our leadership philosophy is that it is okay to be imperfect, to make mistakes, and to take risks,” said Wendy Goldberg, founding member and Executive Director of Tri-Faith Initiative. “Tri-Faith fosters an environment that creates a psychological safety net for risk-taking and failure.”

During the 2021 Israel/Palestine crisis, Tri-Faith facilitated a joint statement between the faith partners that acknowledged their belief that more than one truth can exist at the same time. The statement also represented the communal belief that it’s important to have complex conversations, be courageous, and listen deeply to others, particularly when you disagree.

The Tri-Faith Initiative is proactive about identifying changing community needs. As industry thought leaders in religion, race, and social justice, Tri-Faith’s leadership creates a balance between autonomy and cooperation in addition to freedom of thought and belief.


Milestones matter, and anniversaries of 25, 50, 75, 100, 125 or 150 years in business mark the dedication of organizational stakeholders, as well as the commitment of customers to the business or nonprofit. 

25 Years

  • Amur Equipment Finance
  • A-Relief Services, Inc.
  • Constellation West
  • Fast-Trac Freight Services, Inc.
  • First Star Recycling
  • Forest Green Lawn & Landscaping, LLC
  • Heartland Properties, Inc.
  • Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites @ Ameristar
  • Lastime Roofing
  • Lovely Skin
  • Magnum Development
  • Markel Specialty
  • Mercedes-Benz of Omaha
  • Midlands Choice
  • Nebraska Medicine
  • Notre Dame Housing, Inc.
  • Olsson
  • OMNE Partners
  • Payroll Maxx LLC
  • SignIT
  • Slate Architecture, Inc.
  • Smith, Slusky, Pohren & Rogers, LLP
  • Stortz Financial Group
  • Student Transportation of America Inc.
  • Suiter Swantz Intellectual Property
  • The Alliance Group

50 Years

  • Access Elevator and Lifts, Inc.
  • Charles Schwab
  • Combined Health Agencies Drive (CHAD)
  • Data Axle
  • DC Centre
  • Grandmother’s Inc. dba Don & Millies
  • Hyatt Hotel Reservation Center
  • International Nutrition
  • KVNO
  • Masimore, Magnuson & Associates P.C.
  • Metro
  • Millard Manufacturing Corp.
  • Palco Industrial Marking and Labeling, Inc.
  • Santa Monica House
  • Special Olympics Nebraska

75 Years

  • Edward J. Heck & Sons Co.
  • Fisher Fixture
  • Mitchell & Associates
  • Nebraska Iowa Supply Co., Inc.
  • Sadoff Iron & Metal Company
  • T.O. Haas Tire
  • Westside Community Schools

100 Years

  • Edward Jones Investments
  • Highline Warren
  • Salem Baptist Church

125 Years

  • Omaha Musicians Association

150 Years

  • Doane University
  • Northwestern Mutual of Nebraska

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Many thanks to our generous sponsors.

This event is made possible by the generous contributions of several organizations. We appreciate their support.

Small Business Awards Sponsor

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Excellence: Earned Not Given

Learn more about our annual Business Excellence Awards and how to nominate your company.