Continuing a Proud Tradition

In the fall of 1995, BusinessWest created a new recognition program. Called ‘Top Entrepreneur’ (‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ was and still is copyrighted), it was launched to pay homage to the strong tradition of entrepreneurship in Western Mass., recognize its vast importance in the development of this region, and honor those who are continuing that tradition today.
Past winners have included Jeb Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales; Andrew Scibelli, then-president of Springfield Technical Community College and catalyst for the Technology Park on that campus; the Falcone family, founders of the Rocky’s Hardware chain; and the Holyoke Gas & Electric Department, chosen last year for its entrepreneurial exploits in the realm of regional economic development.
This year, the honoree is Robert Bolduc, founder and CEO of Pride, the large chain of stores that has become a significant part of the local business landscape. Bolduc, who started his operation with one small, full-service gas station in Indian Orchard, later to become one of the first self-service facilities in the region, grew it in every way it can be grown — from geography to the products on the shelves — and could have been honored at any time over the past 15 years.
He was our pick this year not merely for his body of work, although that was certainly a big factor — but also for the way in which he pressed on and continued to expand during the past few years, when most business owners in this region were hunkering down and merely trying to survive.
Bolduc’s story, which is chronicled starting on page 24, is an inspiring and effective way for us to re-emphasize the importance of entrepreneurship to the growth and vitality of this region. As we’ve said on many occasions, while it’s possible that one or more very large employers could be attracted to this region, thus spurring employment opportunities, it is far more likely that real and substantial growth will come organically from small ventures growing into larger employers.
History has shown this to be the case, including such stories as those of Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, who started small in Springfield before becoming one of the largest gunmakers in the world (and a company that, coincidentally, will soon be adding more than 200 new jobs); Milton Bradley, who reinvented toymaking; Michael Kittredge, who started Yankee Candle, and countless others.
These individuals all started with good ideas, but also had the skill, vision, persistence, courage, and, yes, healthy doses of luck to turn them into successful ventures that have contributed to the overall health and vibrancy of our region.
It is this tradition that we’re honoring with our Top Entrepreneur award, but we hope this recognition program does more.
Our other motivation in starting it was to inspire the colleges and business-development groups in the region to continue to find new ways to foster entrepreneurship. This means everything from educating elementary-school students that owning one’s own business is a very reachable, very worthwhile career option, to developing new facilities in which fledgling companies can get started and perhaps, if the individuals behind them have the wherewithal, get to the next level and beyond.
So as we honor Robert Bolduc for all that he and his team at Pride have accomplished, we also pay tribute to all those who carry on the tradition, and hope that these stories continue to fuel both the imagination and the spirit of entrepreneurship so vital to progress in the Pioneer Valley.