• Slide

The Park Event Center
June 3, 2021

11:30a.m. -Check in

12:00p.m.- Program begins

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2021 Award Winners

2021 Small Business PERSON of the Year

Joe Francis,

Central McGowan 

Joe Francis, owner of Central McGowan 
Joe Francis always planned to take over the family business, he just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.   
Central McGowan has a long history in St. Cloud. Originally started in 1947 by Carl Shutan it was purchased by Leo Henkemeyer in 1954.  Henkemeyer purchased McGowan Welding Supply in Little Falls a few years later, merging the name into Central McGowan.   
Henkemeyer ran the business for a number of years before turning leadership over to a management team.  Henkemeyer’s three daughters had no interest in running the business, but all the family members agreed that Joe Francis, Henkemeyer’s grandson, would one-day be in charge.  By the time he was 16 Francis was doing a variety of odd jobs at Central McGowan.   
To begin the transition to family leadership, Francis’ parents, Cindy and Jeff, moved into leadership roles at Central McGowan, but in 2011 Jeff Francis passed away unexpectedly.  Cindy Francis and Joe, only a junior in college, briefly discussed selling the company, but both agreed that was an option they did not want to consider.  Cindy Francis stepped in as company CEO and Joe Francis started to fast-track the family succession plan. 
During the succession and since becoming president/CEO in 2016, Francis has led the company through a number of expansions and acquisitions. He has diversified the business from industrial gasses to include CO2 distribution to bars and restaurants, custom automation and robotics, and dry ice.  And he has doubled the number of employees.  It is for these reasons that Joe Francis was selected as the 2021 St. Cloud Area Small Business Owner of the Year by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce.

2021 St. Cloud Area Small Business Owner of the Year: Joe Francis, Central McGowan

2021 Sponsorship Information 
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2021 BUSINESS CENTRAL MARK OF EXCELLENCE: Woman in Business Champion

Donella Westphal

Donella Westphal, owner
Jules' Bistro
Donella Westphal ran a successful advertising agency out of her home and regularly met with clients at Jules’ Bistro in downtown St. Cloud.  When the owner of the bistro decided to sell the restaurant, she asked Westphal for help.  By the time she arrived home, Westphal told her husband, “I want to buy Jules’ Bistro.” 
Even though she had no restaurant experience Westphal managed to convince both her husband and the bank that the decision was a good one.  After turning over her entire staff in the first three months, Westphal wasn’t so sure.  She cut back on her agency work, learned every job in the restaurant, and did lots of cooking, serving, coaching and mentoring. 

 It wasn’t long before she was purchasing the space next door to expand dining.  Then, after only three years as owner, Westphal received financing to gut and remodel the existing kitchen and add a baking kitchen in the basement of the building. 
Timing was not on her side.  About halfway through the construction, COVID-19 hit and the restaurant was shut down.  Westphal talked with her banker who agreed to continue to finance the construction and she forged ahead taking advantage of the closure to finish the project.   
With 24 employees prior to the pandemic, and 14 today – including nine who remained throughout the pandemic -- reopening has been a deliberate process for Westphal.  She has cut back hours and is closed on Mondays, a traditionally slow day in hospitality.  The plan is in place to expand hours as demand increases.  
In the meantime, her reasons for buying Jules’ Bistro remain solid. An important goal for Westphal is to create an environment where employees can make and build full lives for themselves, and where she can help people learn how to be part of a shared community. The restaurant allows her to create that sense of community – for downtown, for staff, and for patrons. 
These days she spends less time cooking and serving, and more time coaching staff and working with them to find creative ways for Jules’ to be a generous community partner. From Anna Marie’s Alliance to the “Kindness Cake” – a Jules’ fundraising original – their charitable focus is on building community and helping families, women and children. 
Westphal’s unexpected career shift, company growth and expansion, successful survival of the pandemic, and support of women in business and the community has earned her the title of 2021 Business Central Mark of Excellence-Woman in Business Champion. 

2021 St. Cloud Area Woman in Business Champion: Donella Westphal, Jules' Bistro

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2021 Entrepreneurial Success Award

Joe Sexton & Gary Posch,
Brandl Motors

Joe Sexton & Gary Posch, Owners
Brandl Motors
Joe Sexton and Gary Posch heard that the Chrysler dealership in Pierz, Minn. was for sale.  Though they both had worked in dealerships, they had no ownership experience.  Even so, Brandl Motors in Pierz was underperforming at such a level that the two men figured they couldn’t help but do better.  Convincing a banker -- and Chrysler -- that they could do the job took a little more effort. 
Sexton and Posch saw it as a challenge. The longer it took to secure the dealership, the more they wanted it.  After six months of being pestered, Chrysler finally agreed to the deal.  That was in 1999.  They had 12 cars on the lot and five employees. 
In 2003 they expanded into St. Cloud with used cars and a mobility department. Their mobility program provides financing for small dealers who sell mobility vehicles. Such vehicles are often hard to finance and Sexton and Posch saw it as a nationwide opportunity. They were right.  Today they do 70-100 contacts per month on mobility vehicles. 
 In 2005 they bought the Dodge dealership in Little Falls.  They closed that site and the one in Pierz and combined them in their current location in Little Falls.  In 2008 they built and expanded into their current building, just in time for the Great Recession. They look back at it as a learning experience, one 
that made them better operators.  They also feel some pride because they made it through those years without downsizing or laying off employees. 
In 2018 they received an email asking them if they wanted “to buy my business.”  “Who are you?” they asked.  It turned out to be a dealership in Aitken.  The owner was required to upgrade his facility and hadn’t done it.  Sexton and Posch agreed to a deal. The dealership was in worse condition than they realized and for the first two-three years it was a struggle, the said, but has since turned around. 
Today Brandl Motors has three locations, about 220 employees and sells about 2,500 units a year. This steady growth, and successful response to adversity, earned them the 2021 St. Cloud Area Entrepreneurial Success Award.  This award is presented to those who have successfully grown a business from a small enterprise, as defined by the Small Business Administration, into a large company. 

2021 Entrepreneurial Success Award: Joe Sexton and Gary Posch, Brandl Motors


St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce
St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce P.O. Box 487 St. Cloud, MN 56302-0487 320-251-2940