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Many of Chattanooga's homegrown business successes have proven they can do well by doing good.

The companies selected this year as the most ethical businesses in the Chattanooga area by the Better Business Bureau include the nation's biggest privately owned security company, one of the country's top hospital billing and payment services and several decades-old businesses whose owners say they have built their companies on customer service and ethical practices.

"As we've gotten bigger, we've been able to remain true to our core values and beliefs and I think that has been key to our success," said Mike Walden, a U.S. Navy veteran and former Chattanooga police officer who started Walden Security with his wife Amy in 1990. 'Business is built on relationships and I think that is why it's so important to treat customers and employees in a proper way."

Walden Security, which has grown to become America's biggest privately owned security company with more than 6,000 employees and annual revenues of $340 million across 28 states, is one of a half dozen businesses and non-profits being honored with the annual Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics, the highest honor presented by the Better Business Bureau Serving Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.

Walden Security, which also won the Torch award when it was a much smaller business in 1997, was selected by a team of judges for the BBB for the award in the biggest business category.

BBB Torch Award winners for Marketplace Ethics in 2020

* Category I (1-10 employees) Winner is Mr. Handyman of Chattanooga and honorable mention is given to The Robinson Team of Keller Williams.

* Category II: (11-50 employees) Winner is Dale’s Heating & Air, Inc. and honorable mention is given to Ortwein Sign.

* Category III: (51-99 employees) Winner is Kelly Auto Group, Inc. and honorable mention is given to Pratt Home Builders.

* Category IV: (100-499 employees) Winner is North American Credit Services.

* Category V: (Over 500 employees) Winner is Walden Security.

* Nonprofit: Winner is Signal Centers.

Source: Better Business Bureau Serving Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia

Other businesses that won the Torch award this year include the medical billing company North American Credit Services, the Kelly Auto Group, Dale's Heating & Air, Inc. and Mr. Handyman of Chattanooga. Signal Centers was selected in the nonprofit category for the 2020 Torch Award.

The honors are usually presented during the annual meeting of the Better Business Bureau, but that gathering was canceled this year due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Jim Winsett, president of the 60-year-old Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga, said the Torch Awards have been presented to businesses for 16 years and are selected based upon consumer recommendations and comments and the review of a 4-judge panel.

"The award is designed to promote not only the importance of ethical business practices, but the willingness and efforts made by outstanding businesses to ensure that the marketplace remains fair and honorable for all consumers," Winsett said.

North American Credit Services, which helps provide outsourcing of hospital bills and payments, was recognized for living out its mission statement, which includes the corporate goals that "our clients are our purpose for existence; our client's needs change; we are not perfect, and we will be courteous and professional at all times." Dallas Bunton bought the company from Adventist Health Services in 1992 and has built it into one of the biggest firms in the industry.

In addition to Walden Security, the Kelly auto dealership is also a repeat winner of the BBB prize.

"Our success as a dealership stems in no small part from our commitment to treat every customer with respect, to trade fairly with everyone and to honor our word," said Kelly Subaru Owner Tim Kelly, whose grandfather co-founded the BBB in Chattanooga. "This award is an important recognition for every employee at Kelly Subaru who has helped us uphold that commitment."

Kelly, who is running for mayor of Chattanooga, added that the same ethics recognized by the BBB at Kelly Subaru would be a key part of his campaign.

"Customers and voters all deserve respect, transparency and honesty," Kelly said. "I believe this award signifies that we know how to deliver that."

In addition to its Torch awards, the Better Business Bureau also announced the winners of its 2020 "Student of Integrity" scholarships awarded for essays written by the students about business ethics and service.

The winners include Sarah Caroline Able Cleveland High School, Emily Morgan Allen Southeast Whitfield High School, Mia Grace Crider of Chattooga High School, Katherine E. Derrick of McMinn County High School, Evan Michael England of Richard Hardy Memorial School, Michael Traegan Gober of Walker Valley High School, Lexi Ann McGill of Fannin County High School, Andie Lanore Robinson of Calhoun High School, Jason T. Tran of,East Hamilton High School, and Bryara Madison Whitaker of Trion High School.

"Individually, the business winners and the student winners are exemplary representatives of ethics, integrity and trust in our marketplace," Winsett said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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file photo / Mike Walden of Walden Security)
 
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