The 2017 Pine Bluff Rotary Club’s George A. Makris Sr. Small Business of the Year is Strong Manufacturing Co., which has been around since 1964 and has 32 employees, with 30 percent of them having been with the company for 20 years or more.


The award was announced at the annual Rotary Club Small Business Appreciation meeting Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Country Club. Nick Makris of M.K. Distributors presented the award, which was named for his grandfather, to Mike and Annette Kline, who bought Strong in 1995.


According to the company’s website, Strong Manufacturing is the “nation’s leading manufacturer of equipment for mixing and pumping lightweight insulating concrete and floor underlayments. We have set the standard for lightweight roof deck systems as well as gypsum based floor underlayment and manhole rehabilitation systems. Our systems have proven themselves in daily field use for over 30 years, and we are proud of the fact that some of our first customers are still some of our strongest supporters.”


Speaking for the company, Annette Kline said the award was “a great honor. Pine Bluff is our home and we enjoy working with people.”


She also spoke of the difficulty of finding a skilled labor force to fill some of the jobs the company has.


“Hopefully, when Go Forward Pine Bluff passes, we will be able to find qualified people,” she said.


The speaker for the program was Lelan Stice, who, in addition to his work at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, owns two Doctor’s Orders pharmacies, one in Pine Bluff and one in White Hall, and the recently-opened Mountain Berry Yogurt at White Hall.


Stice said different organizations have different ideas about what constitutes a small business, but they are responsible for 64 percent of all the new jobs created every year, and 44 percent of the total payroll. While many people think of small businesses as those selling products, there are other small businesses that offer services, such as insurance and real estate agents.


A member of the Pine Bluff Small Business Association, Stice said the group is currently working on creating a shop local campaign, rather than the big box stores that people frequently visit, because a majority of the revenue those stores collect goes out of the city. Stice said small businesses are also responsible for a lot of donations made to charity and support local programs such as Little League baseball teams.


“Many large business have strict policies on charity giving,” he said. “USA Drug contributed a lot to organizations, including almost 10 percent of the budget for Neighbor to Neighbor.”


The late Steven LaFrance, who started the USA Drug chain, sold it to Walgreen’s. Stice said that lost all of the company’s contributions except $100.


“There are a lot of things we don’t have in Pine Bluff,” he said, citing Best Buy as one example, “but you can shop online if you do it smartly and responsibly.”


Stice said Amazon recently started collecting sales tax on purchases, adding that when he opened the yogurt business, there were a lot of things like equipment the company needed that he could not get locally.


“I had all of it shipped to my house so that Pine Bluff gets the tax money,” he said.


Stice said that while he has worked in the community for 17 years, in 2006, he moved his family to Little Rock.


“My kids were getting old enough that they wanted to hang out at the mall, and that scared me because I remember being at the mall when there were shots fired and people running and screaming,” Stice said. I’ve seen changes since then, and a bright light is coming. I bought a house down from the hospital, and I am excited about Go Forward Pine Bluff.”


He predicted that the five-eighths cent sales tax voters will consider on June 13 will pass.


“I think people are going to vote to move this community forward,” Stice said.