On October 11, 2018, 22 food vendors and 310 guests gathered in the Elgin County Railway Museum for a night of networking, learning, and celebrating. The Elgin/St. Thomas Small Business Enterprise Centre hosted its 9th Annual Bridges to Better Business event to give businesses and organizations a chance to mingle and connect while showcasing several notable local businesses. The event took place in the historic Michigan Central Railroad Repair Shops, with string lights framing in the seating area and spotlights giving the surrounding locomotives a mysterious glow.
A highlight of the evening was a feature brought back from previous years: the St. Thomas/Elgin County Food Showcase. Guests walked among almost two dozen local food and drink vendors, providing vendors an opportunity to advertise their products and allowing guests to discover the abundant local food talent in Elgin-St. Thomas. Tara McCaulley, manager at the Small Business Enterprise Centre (SBEC), says that the food showcase is her favourite part of the event. “A lot of the people there wouldn’t have known the businesses. That’s what’s so beneficial to me for this event. It’s just giving our businesses the opportunity to showcase what they have to offer for people who may not know that they’re even there.”
Thanks to a relatively new tradition of presenting the Elgin/St. Thomas Small Business Awards, food vendors weren’t the only businesses showcased at the event. SBEC began these awards about four years ago as a way to recognize the hard work of local business owners. “The awards give us an opportunity to say thank you to the entrepreneurs that are slogging it day in and day out and helping to create jobs,” says McCaulley. Some of the awards given were an Inspirational Business Award to JettaJacks & Co, a Promising New Startup Award to Rail City Recreation, a Long Term Business Achievement Award to Quai du Vin Estate Winery, and the St. Thomas Small Business Award to Le Cafe Siam Thai Cuisine.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Juno award winner, best selling author, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed “geek,” David Usher. His hour-long presentation was highly entertaining and inspiring, incorporating live music, video, technology, and even the audience. A short question and answer period followed, allowing St. Thomas’s entrepreneurs to learn about creativity in business from David’s unique experience.
Though this was SBEC’s ninth Bridges to Better Business event, McCaulley noted that this year, like the past two or three years, seemed to reflect the shift in St. Thomas’s business atmosphere. That shift is a bit difficult to describe, but it’s embodied by the number of people who are going to business ownership as an employment option, by the young entrepreneurs who are buying buildings in the downtown core, by the passion the community has about supporting local business. “To see it so vibrant here… it’s hopeful.”
The 9th Annual Bridges to Better Business was certainly a reflection of the exciting times the Elgin-St. Thomas business world is experiencing. Connections were made, networks were expanded, entrepreneurs were recognized and inspired, all while surrounded by the massive locomotives that helped put St. Thomas on the map. Stay tuned for information on next year’s Bridges to Better Business by following the Small Business Enterprise Centre on Facebook or by visiting their website.
Watch our live stream of the award ceremony and the beginning of the event here: