STEPHEN HEMELT — Small business drives Orange County on path to major news, groundbreakings

Published 12:10 am Sunday, April 2, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Major plant groundbreakings may make headlines in Orange County, but our small business success is what makes this community a home.

For every new plant announcement and existing expansion, there are hundreds (or thousands) of residents who go to work every day on “Main Street” in the service of faith and family.

Small business supports big business in ways that are tangible for everyone in Orange County each and every day.

One of the chief supporters of these entrepreneurs is the Lamar State College Port Arthur Small Business Development Center, which serves all of Orange County and much of Jefferson County.

The SBDC provides support for business owners by offering a variety of classes such as SBDC orientation, QuickBooks training, tax preparation, insurance types, developing a business plan, management/human resources and customer service.

In May, it is recognizing 17 locally owned businesses during the 2023 Small Business Awards Banquet.

This year’s theme is “Reimagining Main Street.”

“I feel like we’re in line with what they’re doing across the country in bringing back that small town feel, that destination location, to ‘main street,’ if you will,” SBDC Director Dana Espinal said. “I’m excited about this year’s awards banquet. It’s always good to see everyone come together to honor and recognize these small businesses.”

This year’s banquet is May 2 at The Pompano Club in Port Neches.

Individual tickets are $30 and will not be sold at the door. To purchase prior to April 20, call 409-984-6531.

One of the highlighted businesses is Innovative Air Solutions, recently named by the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce as Business of the Year.

Innovative Air founder Robert Currie said he has always had a servant’s heart.

“We’ve been blessed beyond anything,” he said. “I feel like I owe this community, because this community has supported me and my family for many years. We love the people in this community. You could not find a better place to live.”

That’s the investment made by countless small businesses across the region and is what truly makes this community special.

“If you can dream it, we can build it” is the motto of Texas Built Cabinets, recently named Small Business of the Year by the Vidor Chamber of Commerce.

“Truthfully, I couldn’t even talk when I found out,” says Crystal Shafer, owner. “I was just surprised and proud.”

Crystal and her husband Michael are passionate about their business, which they purchased in 2016 and have expanded from one full time, one part time and one steady builder, to a 12-member team working with more than 30 builders in the area.

“At the end of the day my husband and I go to bed just normal people trying to make a difference in our community,” Shaffer said.

The “normal” people Shaffer is talking about are actually quite remarkable when it comes down to it.

You don’t have to run a billion dollar chemical company or teach at a prestigious university to make an impact in the lives of people.

That’s the results small business entrepreneurs are producing each day.

Total Impressions opened in 1998 in the newly built Grace Plaza, and in 2020 expanded to include the Cryotherapy Wellness Center. Now the company is Business of the Year as named by the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce.

“I started doing wigs because I had a best friend and sister-in-law go through breast cancer, and losing their hair was a big hurdle to get over,” owner Terri Gauthier said. “I knew how important it was for them to find something to make them feel good.”

Small starts lead to big finishes, and this is especially true with our small businesses.

And the best part is, our local businesses are just getting started.

There are a lot of special things in development for Orange County. Luckily for us (and them) we have a great group of local professionals ready to do the businesses needed to get the job done.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader, and Orange Living Magazine. He can be reached at