The Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy in Norfolk is a finalist among the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's best small businesses in the country.
The academy — which also goes by its initials MAMA — is one of 17 finalists for the chamber's Dream Big Small Business of the Year Award. The award “celebrates the achievements of small businesses and honors their contributions to America’s economic growth," according to a July 17 news release.
Small businesses represent more than 99 percent of all employers, create three quarters of all new jobs, and account for more than half of the nation’s GDP, according to the chamber website.
The chamber will recognize and award the winner a $25,000 prize at the Small Business Summit in Washington on Sept. 12.
All finalists also are automatically entered into an online ballot, in which the public vote for the Community Excellence Award. This award recognizes a small business that has demonstrated leadership and community engagement that positively affects the quality of life in its community. Online voting runs through July 31. Customers, employees and neighbors are encouraged to cast a vote.
MAMA has supported Toys for Tots, the Homeless Shelters of Hampton Roads, Little League sports and youth scout organizations.
The national chamber said it selected MAMA out of a record number of applicants. The Hampton Roads Chamber selected the academy as the 2016 Business of the Year.
MAMA is one of the largest maritime training school in the country. In the niche market, “we’re a big fish in a little pond,” said academy President Ed Nanartowich.
Eighty five percent of the academy's 35 employees are veterans, including Nanartowich, who served in the naval reserves.
The academy serves about 3,000 students annually. The vocational center offers more than 90 U.S. Coast Guard-approved courses in subjects such as firefighting, navigation and engineering. On the first attempt, 80 percent of students pass their courses. Many who fail come back immediately for no charge and achieve an overall passing rate in the high 90th percentile.
Nanartowich said, “there’s a lot of satisfaction from veterans to come in with no idea what to do and then be told that they are actually sitting on a gold mine of information and competencies that they can easily roll into a six-figure salary with time and training.”
The school also offers full scholarships to disadvantaged youth and recent high school graduates looking for work.
One of the biggest challenges for his small business, said Nanartowich, is to market the maritime industry to potential workers who know nothing about it and instead turn to other trade work.
According to the Department of Labor, there are plenty of opportunities. It expects a shortage of 20,000 jobs in the maritime business by 2020. Nanartowich said the shortage is largely due to the retiring baby boomers who will leave behind a high potential for promotion in the industry.
MAMA has seen rapid growth in response. In 2010 the academy made around $1.8 million in revenue. In 2014 it made $5.2 million. Nanartowich credits the success to how the academy treats its customers.
“We never turn anyone away, and we give them honest answers,” he said. “We treat them as they matter and we are here for them.”