ITHACA, N.Y.—The Tompkins Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 125th anniversary and presented its 2022 business of the year awards at Ithaca College on June 16, in person for the first time in two years.

Beginning in 1897, the Chamber has evolved throughout the years and has more than 700 active members currently. “The Chamber works to forge links and connections between and among businesses and government, community organizations, residents and institutions,” said president and CEO Jennifer Tavares.

The annual awards go to local businesses and organizations within the county that have served and grown in and with the community.

The Howard Cogan Tourism Award was given to the Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT), which was founded in 1989 and has been working since to save natural lands and resources around the county and make them accessible to locals and visitors. Most recently, the land trust worked to obtain Bell Station, which runs along Cayuga Lake and is now open to the public.

FLLT Director Andy Zepp accepted the award, saying that “We really appreciate the support and partnership of the Chamber and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Because it’s so important that our Chamber recognizes that it’s not a choice between economic development or conservation, that if they’re not in sync, we’re definitely going to lose.”

The Entrepreneur of the Year, which is given to a “startup business or existing business which has exhibited significant growth, new job creation, launch of new products or expansion into new markets” was awarded to the owners of Salt Point Brewing, Sarah and Chris Hesse and Camilo Bohóquez, for their work expanding into the business’ new location at 6 Louise Bement Lane in Lansing, New York.

Salt Point, which was started by the Hesses brewing beer at home, has “evolved into a thriving business that makes excellent beverages, serves quality food, prioritizes local farms and suppliers and provides a great work environment for its employees.”

“I just can’t thank you enough, really,” Sarah said. “It was just incredible to feel the love and support of people that we didn’t know and I’m really just so grateful and also glad to have this platform to express that gratitude formally.” Continuing on, Sarah shouted out Salt Point’s staff who were hard at work prepping food for the evening.

The Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) received the Not-for-Profit of the Year award for its work in providing free and education resources and opportunities both locally and nationally, in particular related to climate change. With two venues, the Cayuga Nature Center and the Museum of the Earth, PRI worked hard to enable virtual resources for the duration of COVID-19.

“We applaud their efforts to educate on climate change, energy, earth science, and our role in preserving the earth’s ecosystems,” said Kelli Cartmill of the Chamber’s board officer.

Receiving the 2022 Distinguished Business of the Year award is Cayuga Health Systems under the leadership of President and CEO Martin Stallone, who “has heroically led our community’s healthcare response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Collaborating with community partners to shift resources quickly when the pandemic hit, Cayuga Health Systems and all of its employees allowed the community to remain as safe and healthy as possible, Matteson said.

“I am, on behalf of Cayuga Health, humbled by the gratitude and the recognition that you are bestowing on all of the health care workers that have done so much hard work throughout the pandemic and continue to do so at this very time,” Stallone said, acknowledging the county’s close-knit community and its dedication as a whole to keep everyone safe.

“We didn’t do this alone — Tompkins County Health Department, the government, the higher ed partners, and many-based organizations were there with us. And in many ways, I feel guilty for the asymmetric amount of credit, because it was really a team effort,” Stallone said.

Finally, the Noel Desch Key Person of the Year Award was given to Aly Evans, who has served on the Tompkins Chamber Board of Directors, worked as a Chamber ambassador and held leadership roles at nonprofits in the area, notably currently serving as the executive director of Foodnet Meals on Wheels.

Honoring Noel Desch, a community leader, engineer, veteran, town supervisor and “do-er,” the award is given to someone who acts with respect and integrity and without any expectation for personal gain or recognition.

“Aly possesses infectious vision and energy which radiate in every interaction, and she’s always the first to celebrate the accomplishments of those around her,” said Sarah Barden, member relationship manager. “We are truly grateful for all the ways that Alice shows up for the chamber and Tompkins County

Evans accepted the award saying she was honored and humbled. “I don’t do this for the accolades,” she said with a laugh. “I do this work in the community because I feel it’s important to make our community better. It’s something that I live for.”

Jeff Matteson, Chamber board chair, said “these awards represent very good work, very good people, growing our businesses and growing good people.”

Matteson also said that the Chamber is committed to restoring tourism in the county, building a new strategic plan and rebuilding its membership roles in this “next stage in our economy while we collaborate to address some of our community’s key issues and needs together.”

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...