The Small Business Administration Mississippi District Office honored outstanding small business owners and financial institutions that have supported small business during a program at the Magnolia Civic Center Thursday.

The location was chosen because New Albany is home to the top winner: Small Business Person of the Year Mary Jennifer Russell, owner of Sugaree’s Bakery.

The award is given to someone who develops an outstanding, growing business that involves innovative products, creates jobs and contributes to the community.

Russell was nominated by Three Rivers Planning and Development District Director Vernon R. (Randy) Kelley.

Sugaree’s is familiar to many in Northeast Mississippi, but also those well beyond that geographic area. Locally, the business is so familiar that people here may not realize what Russell has accomplished.

Sugaree’s began as a home-based business in 1997 and began to expand when it moved downtown to the former Gray’s Drugs building, eventually also encompassing the building next door in 2007 and adding off-site warehouse space for her mail-order business in 2010.

She is planning construction of a 20,000 square foot building on her riverside property, that could serve as a multi-purpose facility.

The SBA describes Sugaree’s as “a Southern heritage small batch bakery with a mission to help preserve the culinary tradition of the Deep South.”

Russell now has 30 employees and the business has grown from a $200 investment to be a $1.5-million annually operation that includes retail, wholesale and mail order sales.

Sugaree’s became a familiar part of the annual Mississippi Picnic in New York City and has been written about in southern as well as national publications including The Washington Post and New York Times.

She has been active in community affairs, particularly the New Albany Main Street Association, creating some of their signature events such as Arts, Beats and Eats, and has been a mainstay in promoting the Biscuits and Jam Farmers’ Market, which is on her property she leases to the city for a token fee. In addition to the farmers’ market, she is working to increase consumption of locally-produced fresh foods among young people.

In accepting her award, Russell first thanked her employees, asking them to stand. “They make the magic happen, they are the sugar fairies,” she said. “They care as much as I do, make sure the quality is there and work together well.”

Russell thanked the SBA and other organizations that provided advice, financing and other support.

She also credited family support, especially her mother’s influence, on her success.

“I learned to bake at her knee as a tiny little girl,” she said, describing her mother as a master baker. “She gave me my love for baking and I am forever grateful for that.”

 “The business growth speaks for itself but it is 100 percent due to the employees who work there,” Russell said, and added thanks to the community. “New Albany is a great place to do business, very supportive.”

In addition to the individual winners and top lenders, the SBA presented two special “Trailblazer” lifetime achievement awards for their efforts to help business and economic development.

One went to Thelman Anderson, loan officer for Central Mississippi Development Company, Inc. of Jackson.

The other was to Pontotoc’s Vernon R. (Randy) Kelley, executive director of Three Rivers Planning and Development District.

Kelley first worked for Tennessee Valley Regional Housing Authority, then Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District become becoming executive director at Three Rivers in 1976. He has won many awards and honors and his organization has played key roles in the development of local business and community projects – the best known likely being the PUL Alliance that brought Toyota to Blue Springs.

Other individual winners included Minority Small Business Champion Louis Finkle of Gaston Point Community Development Corporation in Gulfport, Financial Services Champion Vickie M. Rovers of Renaissance Community Loan Fund in Gulfport, Young Entrepreneur Latrice Rogers of Goddess Lengths Virgin Hair Bar in Jackson and Generational Family-Owned Business Richard Delcambre of Bozo’s Seafood in Pascagoula.

The SBA provides a large variety of financial and informational services to small business.

The event was sponsored by BNA Bank, Renasant Bank and Three Rivers Planning and Development District.

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