MILO, Maine — A local company that got its start in a basement with just a table saw 20 years ago and has grown to employ 116 people has been nominated by town officials for the Governor’s Award for Business Excellence.
Milo Town Manager Jeff Gahagan said JSI Store Fixtures Inc., which manufactures custom displays for the nation’s largest supermarket chains, has been a “staple” in the community. They’re not only the region’s largest employer, but they also give willingly to the community.
“They’re very important to this community, and we want to make sure they get all the recognition that they deserve,” he said recently.
JSI co-owner Mark Awalt said Wednesday the company is pleased with the nomination, but he said companies have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens.
The Milo company is one of about 20 across the state that have been nominated for the award, Elaine Scott, marketing director for the Department of Economic and Community Development, said Wednesday. A committee is reviewing those nominations.
The awards, to be announced in April, are designed to honor companies that provide their employees with a quality workplace and good benefits, and contribute to the local and state economy, according to Scott.
Colby College has helped host the awards over the years, Scott noted.
The business concept for JSI was the brainchild of Terry Awalt, who lost his job selling supermarket equipment in 1990, according to his brother Mark Awalt. Terry enlisted the help of his mother, Jean, his late stepfather, Clayton Johndro, and his brother Barry Awalt to form the business. Mark Awalt joined the company in 1997.
“Terry is an entrepreneur, a dreamer, a guy that thinks that everything is possible,” Mark Awalt said Wednesday. “When people start to push back a little bit, he’ll say ‘OK, we can put a man on the moon but making this product is not possible?’”
That thinking has helped develop the company that anticipates $20 million in 2011 revenues, Awalt said. He also said the company will have added 24 new employees by the end of February. The company payroll without benefits totals nearly $3.5 million.
While the history of the business is interesting, Awalt said the story is about the employees. “I would challenge any company in the state to compare our employees to theirs. I think if you create the right culture, the right environment, you can make all your employees great,” Awalt said.
In three months, JSI will celebrate 10 years with no lost-time injuries, which is something made possible by those employees, Awalt said. “Who else has 100 employees in the state that hasn’t had a lost-time injury in 10 years?” He said the company also is celebrating its 20th year of serving large customers such as Walmart, Tar-get, Hannaford Bros., Price Shoppers, Food Lion and Stop and Shop.
“We actually have a private equity firm behind us, too,” Awalt said. Three people from that firm are on the company’s board and those people have a tremendous amount of experience in the retail industry, he said. One is from the Netherlands and speaks six languages, and another is a Harvard graduate who was a former presi-dent of Target Stores.
“It just goes to show you what can happen in a little rural community like Milo, Maine,” Awalt said. “If you believe in something strong enough, and you’re willing to put a true, sincere effort into what your passion is, then anybody can accomplish what we’ve done and I still think we have a long way to go.”