Howard County Chamber of Commerce’s (HCCC) Signature Event is a gala evening of great food and drinks, socializing and lively, national-caliber entertainment. In 2015, HCCC hosted award-winning comedian, writer, actor, activist and entrepreneur Jimmy Tingle. He found humor everyone could relate to in life’s little ironies — whether airport travel, children or smartphones.

The event also provides an opportunity to recognize members of the business community with the annual Awards for Chamber Excellence (ACE). These awards are presented to congratulate outstanding leaders for their achievements and to share their stories as examples of innovation, dedication and community service.

Business Person of the Year: Matt Eyre, Eyre Bus, Tour & Travel

Matt Eyre, above left, has worked at Eyre Bus, Tour & Travel for 17 years in various departments, rising through the ranks, and was promoted to president in 2012. He is a former chairman of the Howard County Tourism board, and a former board member and executive committee member of the Chamber, having served the maximum number of terms.

Eyre is very proud of the fact that he is part of a third-generation family business. He credits his grandparents for instilling in him the values of hard work and dedication, and he looks to his parents as role models for how to live his life, both personally and professionally.

Eyre Bus, Tour & Travel is a long-standing Chamber member, and its support includes event sponsorships, donating buses for Chamber trips and Young Professionals Network trips, as well as Eyre’s consistent presence and enthusiasm at Chamber activities. He is passionate about the business and his employees, and is an optimistic leader who envisions only positive things. That’s why, whenever you ask him how he’s doing, he will always be “on top of the world.”

Small Business of the Year: Damon Foreman Music Academy

“Flaming the flame, inspiring the passion.” That’s Damon Foreman’s goal as a music teacher. “I love to watch students flourish. I’m one of those rare businesses that barely looks at the bottom line. I know I’m making a profit, but it’s not my central focus.”

Damon Foreman Music Academy (DFMA) has been a Chamber member since 2008 and has been voted Howard Magazine’s “Best Place to Take Music Lessons in Howard County” several times. It recently celebrated its eighth year in business, although Foreman, above right, has been teaching for more than 40 years, with a brief hiatus as a chemical engineer.

Some of his students have gone on to make music their profession as well. “One seventh grader who started with me is now studying music business at NYU. Another has a hit record on Spotify, and another is working at Discovery Channel in music technology.” With 11 instructors, DFMA recently doubled its space, including a state-of-the-art facility for audio and video recording.

Foreman sits on the board of Voices for Children and supports numerous charitable causes. His dream is to form a nonprofit that allows musical access to those children whose parents are not able to afford lessons. While DFMA provides lessons for all instruments, Foreman himself plays the guitar, bass, piano, drums, banjo, ukulele and mandolin.

Large Business of the Year: Clyde’s of Columbia

Clyde’s has been a Columbia institution since 1975, having been the first restaurant after Clyde’s original Georgetown location. With a view of Lake Kittamaqundi, and outdoor dining options during the summer months, guests can watch nature while enjoying American favorites and seasonal specialties.

Named after the Scottish river and with the insight that many people “would rather eat in a saloon than drink in a restaurant,” the founder, Stuart Davidson, started the original Clyde’s in 1963 on M Street. Clyde’s now has 14 restaurants in the Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland region, and has remained one of the most successful and enduring privately-owned restaurant companies in the country. It has one of the highest employee retention rates in the restaurant business, with an extensive training program demonstrating its commitment to employee growth.

Clyde’s is one of the Chamber’s oldest members and supports many HCCC events. It is very active in the Howard County community, providing catering support and sponsorships to numerous county organizations and charities.

Entrepreneur of the Year: Mac Cassity, Mid Atlantic Social Media

Mac Cassity, above right, is a serial entrepreneur and owner of Mid Atlantic Social Media, servicing clients all over the country. He worked in his father’s insurance office as a teenager, and has had an interest in entrepreneurship ever since. “My father is the one person that has really influenced my career,” he said. “He has been a business owner since before I was born, and we have partnered together in several business ventures.”

His marketing firm has grown rapidly over the past several years, and Cassity stresses that personal relationships are the key to success. “Initially, much of what I provided to clients was in the form of website content: articles, blog posts, etc. But more recently, we have focused on managing a variety of social media accounts for both large and small businesses.”

He also has begun pursuing another of his passions: fitness. “I was able to open Extreme Fun and Fit Bootcamp in 2012, helping people focus on all aspects of a healthier lifestyle in a fun and positive manner.” Cassity recently started yet another new business, HoCo Haulers, with the mission of helping Howard County residents with attic and garage cleanouts and light demolition at reasonable rates.

A Chamber member since 2007, he has been nominated for the “Best of Howard” Awards in 2014 and 2015, and was a member of the founding group of the Young Professionals Network. He served as YPN chair for two years, and served on the Chamber board as the YPN representative during that time. He has served on numerous other Chamber committees, and looks forward to the next big thing. “As new social media communities pop up, it changes the landscape of how businesses can (and should) communicate with customers and prospects.”

GovConnects Government Contractor of the Year: Ciena Government Solutions Inc.

Headquartered in Hanover, with more than 5,000 employees worldwide, Ciena has been at the forefront of evolving communications networks since its beginning in 1997. Pioneering the ability to split light across fiber optic lines, thereby enabling the transport of greater volumes of information such as voice, video and data across communications networks, propelled Ciena into the limelight.

Ciena’s current 1,000-customer base in more than 60 countries comprises nearly two-thirds of the world’s largest telecom service providers, and the world’s largest defense network. Ciena’s Government Solutions Inc. (CGSI) is a wholly owned Ciena subsidiary, created in 2004, serving the unique networking infrastructure needs of the U.S. federal sector. Its products and services are localized, with a growth rate of about 10–12% per year.

In 2013 CGSI committed to supporting the Chamber’s GovConnects division, which works to connect the local federal government contracting community to growth opportunities, educational resources, partnerships and government customers. In addition, Ciena is involved in the communities where it operates through donations to national and international philanthropic organizations, STEM education programs and community events. CGSI does community outreach training programs whereby veterans can learn free of charge.

The company’s commitment has directly affected the success of GovConnects’ mission, in particular by providing a senior executive to serve as the chair of the Cyber 6.0 conference in 2015. In addition to providing high-level speakers for the government contracting continuing education program, CGSI supported strategic planning as a thought leader and active member. The company’s program managers provided one-on-one interaction with representatives of local small and medium government contracting businesses seeking guidance and access to partnering opportunities.

GovConnects Advocate of the Year: Dismas Locaria, Venable LLP

As chair of the GovConnects education committee for two years, Dismas Locaria, above left, led the effort to build outreach programming to serve the government contracting community through a semester-based education series composed of panel presentations. The program quickly gained a reputation for quality content.

As committee chair, he routinely engaged new government contracting business members and advisory council members, leading to increased interest and participation in the summer series. His company sponsored the newest initiative of GovConnects, the Women in Government Contracting Leadership Forum; and he actively supports initiatives and programs of GovConnects including the Cyber Conference, First Fridays and Business Breakfasts.

Young Professional of the Year: Dave Sciamarelli, MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate

On the Young Professionals Network board since 2013, and on the executive committee serving as treasurer, Dave Sciamarelli, above right, is chair-elect for 2016. In the past, he also led YPN committees as both membership and sponsorship chair.

Sciamarelli is dedicated to the success of both the Chamber and the YPN, and he goes out of his way to attend chamber functions and make new guests at events feel welcome. He is active in the Howard County community, participating with such organizations as the Inner Arbor Trust, Base Business Initiative, Howard Tech Council and Community Foundation of Howard County. He is also on the board of directors of Young AFCEA and is a recipient of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Maryland’s Finest award in 2014.

Business Advocate of the Year: Cole Schnorf, Manekin LLC

A member of the Chamber’s board of directors since 2011, Cole Schnorf, above left with co-chair Alex Adler, has been invaluable in his role as co-chair of the Legislative Committee. The Legislative division serves as the voice of the membership and advocates for the business community, and Schnorf’s leadership has helped the Chamber fulfill that mission.

He brings a wealth of knowledge to the committee, and through regular interaction with local and state officials he is instrumental in guiding the Chamber’s position on legislative issues. His service to the Chamber was critical during a time of transition in 2014.

Some of his greatest contributions to date have been on issues such as the storm water remediation fee, the gas tax, combined reporting, minimum wage increases, mandatory sick leave and downtown redevelopment.

Chamber Ambassador of the Year: Jordan Hucht, Vision Financial Group

Jordan Hucht is the co-chair of the Ambassador committee, volunteers that act as an extension of the Chamber’s staff. This group reaches out to fellow members to make sure they are taking advantage of committees, programs and networking opportunities, and mentors the newest members to the Chamber, as well.

Hucht has consistently directed and supported the overall business of the Chamber’s team of 15 ambassadors since 2013. At monthly meetings, he encourages and motivates them, displaying a high level of attention and focus on member retention. He himself mentors approximately 12 new members annually, and stays connected in the Chamber community. Prior to his co-chair position, Hucht served as an Ambassador since 2010.

Chairman’s Award for Volunteer Service: Brandt Rider, The Columbia Bank

Brandt Rider, above right, has served as the chair of one of the Chamber’s most active event planning committees since 2008. The Jingle Mingle is one of HCCC’s premier events, and Rider has guided the committee through seven successful and festive holiday parties.

He represents the premier sponsor, The Columbia Bank, on the committee, and also assists in soliciting other event sponsorships. He is actively involved in selecting vendors and entertainment, leads a phone campaign to call each and every Chamber member to invite him or her to the event, and assists in recruiting committee members and volunteers for the event. He is always willing to help in any capacity, and his knowledge and experience make the Jingle Mingle planning process go smoothly.

All award photos courtesy of Bittner Photography and The Umbrella Syndicate