Ahoy, mateys. The time for recognizing those who have taken the helm and led the Greater Alton area to success is here again.
Oct. 29 marked the 22nd year that the RiverBend Growth Association has awarded area entities the Captain of the Riverbend Awards during its annual State of the Riverbend celebration.
The awards were created by the RBGA to identify and honor the many ways in which local organizations have enhanced the Riverbend and are presented to businesses, bodies of government and individuals that have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to public enhancement, community service and economic enhancement of the region.
This year, the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, Med Resources and Challenge Unlimited received the award for economic enhancement, while Argosy Casino Alton, Scheffel Boyle and St. Louis Regional Airport received the award for both economic enhancement as well as community involvement.
Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Alton CVB, with the mission to build awareness of the many tourist attractions and opportunities in Madison, Jersey and Calhoun counties, was formed in 1985 and has won 19 Marketing Excellence Awards in categories such as Best Visitor Guide, Best Website and Best DVD.
“After more than 30 years, we have made tourism mainstream in this region,” Alton CVB President and CEO Brett Stawar said. “(Tourism) is a big part of our solution to the fiscal problem for this region, as well as the city.”
The tourism industry in northern Madison, Jersey and Calhoun counties accounts for more than $424.5 million spent in the region this past year by travelers. The CVB plays an integral role in marketing the area to outside visitors as well as encouraging local patronage and spending from within those counties.
Argosy Casino Alton
The Alton Belle Casino, the first casino in Illinois, opened in 1991. In 2005, Argosy Gaming Co. was purchased by Penn National Gaming, making Argosy Casino Alton part of a 20-facility national gaming enterprise.
Most recently, it renovated its dining area and opened Journey, the casino’s new restaurant.
A major sponsor of the Liberty Bank Alton Amphitheater, it contributes cash and in-kind donations to service groups and nonprofits in excess of $170,000 annually.
“(This) demonstrates the commitment that our organization has to this community and being involved in this community,” Argosy General Manager Joell Shearin said. “The 350 employees we have … spend countless volunteer hours in the community, involved with really good causes … whether it is participating in a run, an event, taking applications for the Salvation Army toy drive, things like that.”
The casino also hosts many fund raising events throughout the year.
Challenge Unlimited Inc.
Specialized Services Inc. was established in 1959 by parents with adult children with disabilities in an effort to establish, maintain and operate vocational training programs and a sheltered workshop for individuals with mental, emotional or physical disabilities and was funded from contributions from the community.
With the help of state grants and funding, the organization has grown tremendously, developing an affiliated company with a group home (Residential Services of Madison County) in 1989 and adding a second (Alpha Industries) in 1995, changing its name to Challenge Unlimited that same year.
Today, along with its affiliate company, Residential Options Inc., it has grown to more than 400 employees. Also this year, Advanced Outsource Solutions Inc. was created by the management team at Challenge Unlimited to provide secondary packaging services to the area.
“We have had the good fortune … of providing jobs for the disabled, and we could not have done this without all of the partnerships and networking from all of the different community leaders and civic municipalities that we serve,” said President Tom Moehn, who has been with the organization for 46 years and, during his speech, announced his pending retirement in February.
The new president of the organization will be Charlotte Hammond, who also spoke at the event.
Med Resources, a full-service medical equipment company, was founded in 1995.
In 2000, it was acquired by Delmar Gardens and has since grown into the premier home medical equipment company in the region, with sites in Missouri and Kansas as well as Illinois. The recently renovated location on State Street in Alton employs 14 people and features a new, state-of-the-art computer system.
“We look forward to a great future ahead,” Executive Director Jeff Braun said. “We would like to thank everyone for the great support we have had and for welcoming us to the community.”
Richard Scheffel borrowed $1,000 and opened his accounting firm at the Elfgen (Wedge) Building in Alton in 1955. In January 2014, the firm he founded merged with J.W. Boyle and Co. Ltd. from East St. Louis to form Scheffel Boyle, creating one large firm.
Today, Scheffel Boyle houses more than 120 employees throughout nine offices in the region and is recognized as the largest locally owned CPA firm in the St. Louis Metro East area and the 11th-largest in the entire St. Louis region.
Awards include recognition by St. Louis Small Business Monthly as “Most Reliable” in 2012, “Best Accounting Firms” in 2013 and “Winning Workplace” in 2014. 2015 marks its 60th anniversary.
“We do encourage our staff to volunteer because we think it is extremely important to give back to your community where you make your livelihood,” CPA and Principal Mike Fitzgerald said.
St. Louis Regional Airport
Opened as a dirt airfield in 1928, the airport grew through the decades, expanding to include a 150-acre business park on the airport’s west side. Today, that park is 600 acres and houses 43 companies.
A 2012 Illinois Department of Transportation study shows a total output from the airport at $135.2 million. It hosts fundraising events, public safety and emergency response training, one of the area’s largest annual fireworks celebrations and an annual fly-in and car show.
Today, it provides more than 500 jobs at the airport and an additional 270 jobs off-airport, which rely on the airport for ongoing employment. West Star Aviation alone has provided a significant boost for the local economy.
“The most dynamic and growing and progressive and profitable career in Madison County and especially the Riverbend area is logistics and transportation,” Manager Dave Miller said.