For 20 years, the Chamber of Commerce has honored an individual or organization for significant contributions to the success of other businesses in our community by presenting a Business Advocate of the Year Award.

At the Chamber’s Annual Membership Banquet last week, Jimmy Randolph, the Existing Industry manager for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, presented this award to an individual who first began advocating for business owners in our community a decade before the Business Advocate Award was even created.

We were able to keep the award a secret from the award winner until the evening of the banquet, so I’ll keep you in suspense until the end of this article.

So, what exactly is a business advocate?

An effective business advocate has experienced the challenges of planning and operating a business, collecting receivables and making payroll each week.

They have walked in the shoes of a business owner and learned valuable lessons from the experience. Even more importantly, they are willing to share their hard-earned wisdom with others.

An effective advocate has learned humility and empathy. They are great listeners and creative thinkers. They are problem solvers.

An effective advocate makes the effort to get to know you and understand what you really need. They openly stand with you, support you and are willing to put their name and reputation on the line for you.

Here are a few thoughts from some of the numerous business owners this year’s honoree has assisted over the last 30 years.

One business leader said this year’s winner has always gone above and beyond to help small businesses. “(He) always goes the extra mile to see you through to the end.”

Another associate said, “I have heard many times from many different individuals that (this person) helped them get their business started or that (he) helped them through a tough time.”

And one more community member said, “(He) has inspired their organization and fellow employees to give back to the community. They have sponsored multiple nonprofits and great causes in the community for as long as I can remember.”

Among the greatest challenges facing entrepreneurs, not just in the startup phase, but as they grow and expand, is access to capital.

Just as critical, if not more, is a sound business plan. This year’s honoree has spent an entire career tackling these two toughest aspects of the equation for small business success.

For our 2020 Business Advocate of the Year, it is never about transactions — it is always about relationships.

As the individual who nominated our honoree this year stated: “(He) has provided individuals money to start their businesses, expand their business and maintain operations during periods of financial distress.

“But (this person) has done more than provide money for business. (He) gives valuable financial advice with respected lessons learned from years of experience.”

If you ask anyone in the Sanford community who to see about banking, the answer is always our 2020 Business Advocate of the Year, David Foushee, regional executive for First Bank.

Congratulations, David! Well deserved. I was so pleased that your sweet family was able to be in attendance to see you receive your award.