Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

Just like magic: Connectors Choice Awards crown 26 winners inside State Theatre

CLEVELAND — Broadview Heights magician Rick Smith Jr. captured his third consecutive Connectors Choice Award while Lake Health and Executive Caterers each garnered two honors Wednesday night at the State Theatre.

Presented by Cleveland Business Connects magazine and parent company Contempo Communications, the eighth-annual CCA ceremony attracted 410 attendees to the Playhouse Square venue. CBC crowned 26 winners — based exclusively on the 2014 accomplishments of those organizations, individuals, and events — in categories that represent the local corporate events industry and business networking community.

“This is one of the best-run events I attend every year, including events put on by national organizations,” Gino Zavarella Jr., the vice president of Gino’s Awards, said. Zavarella’s company won the Corporate Event Awards Company of the Year for the fourth time.

Smith, the president of The Magic of Rick Smith Jr., triumphed for the third consecutive year in the category of Corporate Event Entertainer of the Year. Unlike the previous two years, when he was touring nationally, he was able to accept his award in person.

Anne H. Doyle, the marketing events/community coordinator for Lake Health, was named the Corporate Event Planner of the Year. Lake Health Foundation’s FORE! Wellness Classic, organized by Special Events and Annual Giving Coordinator Tracy Dennis, was named Corporate Event Golf Outing of the Year. “Last year was an amazing year of success for Lake Health Foundation,” Dennis said. “We experienced record revenue from our FORE! Wellness Classic and Glitz 2014: Black Tie at the Ballpark.”

Mayfield Heights-based Executive Caterers earned Onsite Corporate Event Caterer of the Year. One of the company’s former employees, Senior Event Planner Kate Walter, was named Corporate Event Planner Rising Star of the Year based on her work in 2014. In January she assumed the catering sales manager role with Cameron Mitchell Premier Events in Columbus.

The Offsite Corporate Event Caterer of the Year award went to Strongsville-based A Taste of Excellence. “We were excited to be a part of Dazzle the District, the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, and many other events in the Cleveland and Akron areas,” District Manager Jim Tarladgis said. “As a local Cleveland company, we take pride in supporting other local businesses so that our growth has a positive impact throughout Northeast Ohio.”

Wizard of Ahs captured the Corporate Event Non-Fundraiser of the Year honors for its coordination of the Dazzle the District: Lighting the Legacy ceremony. “Wizard of Ahs may have won the award for creating and producing … the lighting ceremony of the world’s largest outdoor chandelier, but the real winner is Playhouse Square and the City of Cleveland,” President Mark Cheplowitz said.

The Northeast Ohio Foundation for Patriotism captured one of two Corporate Event Fundraiser of the Year honors, in this case for a function that boasted a planning budget of less than $50,000. NEOPAT’s fourth-annual Red, White, and Groove Gala promoted patriotism and support of military families throughout Northeast Ohio. “As the largest not for profit supporting Northeast Ohio military families, the exposure we received (at CCA) will help us get the message of our mission and efforts into the community in a way we could not do on our own,” NEOPAT founder Mike Swallow said.

With a planning budget of more than $50,000, Cleveland Public Theatre’s annual Pandemonium event won Corporate Event Fundraiser of the Year for the second consecutive year. “The theme, Take Flight, held special significance for us,” Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan said. “It represents our groundbreaking performances and life-changing education programs that take flight in the community, and it stands for the creativity and rebirth that we send soaring across the Gordon Square Arts District on the west side of Cleveland and beyond.”

Hugh Littleton, the senior training specialist at Corporate College, grabbed the Corporate Event Keynote Speaker of the Year award. “Last year was special for me because I had an opportunity to spend seven days in the United Kingdom with senior and executive leaders of The Smithers Group,” Littleton said. “What an awesome opportunity. It was a speaker’s dream come true.”

Dale McDonald collected the Corporate Event Photographer of the Year award. “Cleveland is on the rise — economic development that includes an influx of people moving back into the city; the vast amount of business the Medical Mart will bring to the event industry; the economic surge of Ohio City and the Public Square district; the inner-belt project; Play House Square renovations; as well as the attraction Cleveland has made to the movie industry are the perfect ingredients to an optimistic future,” McDonald said. “Last year was exceptional, but 2015 will be electric. I look forward to work with our extremely talented local event professionals to help document the rise of Cleveland through my lenses.”

The I-X Center received its first CCA honor as the Corporate Event Exhibit Company of the Year. “I am so proud of our entire team of dedicated event professionals, who consistently strive for excellence in serving and exceeding our customer expectations, particularly throughout our massive workload in 2014,” Vice President of Business Development Jeremy Levine said. “Not only is I-X Center the ninth-largest convention center in North America, it offers the most unique industry model, operating as the venue and service contractor, as well as the producer of a number of annual premier events.”

Brunswick-based Baskets Galore for the second consecutive year triumphed as the Corporate Event Gift/Promotion Company of the Year. “We discovered even more ways to help our clients be successful and reach their goals, using our touch-gifts and gifting strategies,” CEO and founder Deborah Wasylko said. “We love making it easy for our clients to give and show they care with our turn-key, affordable gift programs.”

Comprised of 12 employees, downtown-based Hotcards won the Corporate Event Sign and Banner Company of the Year award. “While we did not light anyone on fire or beat any Guinness world records last year, we did progress incredibly far as a printing company,” Executive Administrative Assistant Megan Dye said. “Not only did we launch our first new website since 2007, we have also been able to reach record sales numbers and work with a huge array of new Cleveland customers, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Clinic, Campus District, and Caesar’s Entertainment at the Horseshoe Casino. We have also renovated our space to include an event area, where we hosted many events including Crain’s Cleveland’s 40 Under 40 and Industry Summit.”

Other corporate event vendor winners included GhostLight Productions (Production Company of the Year), Blooms by Plantscaping (Floral Design Company of the Year), and L’Nique Linens (Event Rental Company of the Year). GhostLight won for the second time in three years. “Last year was a year of positive energy for Cleveland, Ohio,” CEO Deborah Smythe Hermann said. “The International Federation of Gay Games IX were a great success, the announcement of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and the construction of new hotels and restaurants all bolstered the local hospitality industry. GhostLight Productions was thrilled to have entered our eighth year with such a great, creative vibe. On a wing and a prayer, we embraced the energy and harnessed new clients and events to create our 2014 homage to this great city.”

Blooms by Plantscaping tallied its fourth florist title in five years. For L’Nique, the event rental title was a first. “Last year proved to be a challenging yet successful year for L’Nique,” Director of Business Development Vince Iannaggi said. “We strived to provide the best products and services in the industry by focusing on the needs of our customers and fostering relationships. This included focusing on our L’Nique family and corporate culture. With the launch of our Red Book catalog we provided an additional tool to make doing business with L’nique a simple and enjoyable experience. The launch of our new website is next.”

Corporate event venue winners were Renaissance Cleveland Hotel (Hotel of the Year), Cleveland Museum of Art (Non-Hotel of the Year), and Kalahari Resort and Convention Center (Destination of the Year).  “It seemed that each and every month we saw new companies and professional organizations both from the Northern Ohio region as well as nationally meet at Kalahari this year,” Director of Community and Industry Relations Maris Brenner said. “Many of the programs booked when we added the expansion in 2012 and their program dates finally arrived. Every month was different than the next.”

In the five business networking categories, the Heights-Hillcrest Regional Chamber of Commerce garnered the Event of the Year award with its 20th-annual Business Expo. “We were proud to recognize longstanding sponsors of the event, the founders of the event, and, of course, the addition of the Bad Girl Ventures graduation,” Executive Director Angie Pohlman said.

Accompanied by several colleagues from women’s organization Red Key Network, Destination Geauga Director Lynda Nemeth earned the Business Networking Star of the Year. “Geauga County made some large strides toward getting additional lodging in the county, which will facilitate tourism in many ways, including increasing our overnight guests to the county, which in turn will increase our budget allowing us to do even more to promote our members,” Nemeth said. “We also formed some new partnerships through creative networking, to work with new members of the community to pool resources and have a greater impact.”

The Business Networking Rising Star of the Year award went to Engage! Cleveland Executive Director Ashley Basile Oeken. “Cleveland is in the midst of a renaissance, and the entire community is benefiting,” she said. “The change in morale is making it easy to share positive information about Cleveland and have it accepted. You can’t go to another city without someone sharing that Cleveland is on every top 10 list out there. This helps to fuel me and Engage! Cleveland’s work.”

The Business Networking Organization of the Year honors went to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank’s YP Pantry group. On the women’s side, the YWCA Greater Cleveland’s Women’s Leadership Initiative triumphed.

About Cleveland Business Connects magazine: CBC is a regional B2B and B2C publication that covers Corporate Northeast Ohio with a particular focus on female professionals/entrepreneurs as well as business networking and corporate event planning. The magazine started in November of 2006 and now publishes every other month. Please visit

About parent company Contempo Communications: Contempo Communications is the result of a 2010 merger between full-service graphic design firm (Contemporary Design Group Inc.) and its sister publishing firm (CBC Publishing LLC). This union empowers Contempo Communications with a unique expertise specific to the creative/marketing, publishing, and event industries. Please visit

  • Feb 27, 2015
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