Started in 2008, the contest was created as a shop-local campaign for Walker County. “The vision for the contest was to recognize business in Walker County who were voted the best in their trade by the persons who frequent them,” said Walker County Chamber of Commerce president Stephanie Snodgrass.
Held each fall with the winners announced in November, the Best of Walker contest celebrates local businesses who exceed in their service areas, with dozens of awards presented each year.
In its short history, the contest has already undergone some changes.
“When it began, awards were awarded at the Business Expo. For the next two years they were awarded at Cham-ber membership luncheons,” said Snodgrass. “Last year this event became a dinner in which more people partici-pated in a more formal awards ceremony. 2011 was also the first year that first-place winners received plaques and not certificates.”
Furthermore, some of the categories have been dropped or consolidated, due to a disproportionate amount of participation.
“Currently we have not added any categories to the contest,” she said. “Several have been removed based on the number of votes received. In 2011 we had 64 categories and this year we have 55. The decrease in number was made by the Best of Walker committee, which looked at the number of votes received per category. If a category had un-der 100 votes it was automatically removed.”
On the other end of the spectrum, some categories have proven to be overtly popular among Best of Walker vot-ers.
“Walker County residents are very passionate about their favorite foods, restaurants and where they live. Gen-erally these individual categories receive over 900 votes each.”
Furthermore, the contest has grown with technology, and this year will not be using paper ballots at all.
“When the contest first began participants were encouraged to vote via paper newspaper ballot as well as elec-tronically,” said Snodgrass. “As votes are hand-counted by the Best of Walker committee and Chamber ambassa-dors, this was changed last year as to accept only electronic votes. Hand-counting individual votes took us five-plus days to count. However we are now down to two full days of counting, once votes are alphabetized by category.”
In 2011, more than 2,500 people voted in the contest; each year, the amount of public response has grown by leaps and bounds.
“Over the past four years the level of participation has increased both in the number of votes received as well as in the number of attendees to the awards ceremonies,” said Snodgrass. “Our hopes are that the contest will con-tinue to grow over the next several years. We hope to offer new advertising avenues for our winners as well as new categories with the changing times.
“I believe that this contest gives our community something to look forward to each fall,” she said. “It is a friendly competition in which people are allowed to give their opinions on what they believe are the best businesses and service providers in Walker County.”
The contest not only promotes local pride, but is a boost to businesses as well, and gives them the opportunity to advertise.
“By providing ‘Vote For’ sheets our hope is that businesses will place these in their windows and patrons will not only know that the business they are visiting wants to be voted as the best of Walker County but also that they have confidence enough in their products and services that they might also win,” said Snodgrass. “Winners are also given the opportunity to advertise in the Walker County Messenger in a special insert in the month of December, just in time for Christmas. Plaques are also given for first place as well as certificates for second so that winners may be recognized throughout the year. Another perk offered to winners is the opportunity to purchase special outdoor advertising such as banners and signs to help show that they are a part of the best Walker County has to offer.”
Among regular winners of the past four years’ contest are Jackson Chevrolet for best dealership, Dr. Ford for best chiropractor, and Dr. Storey for best doctor.