Private Training Enterprise EmployNZ took out the top award from a strong field of finalists on Friday night at the 2016 Westpac Tauranga Business Awards.

Fisheries company Sanford won the Waikato University Management School Corporate Leadership Award, while Tauranga businessman and property developer Tom Roper won the Powerco Excellence in Business Award (see story below).

More than 400 people attended the black-tie event at ASB Arena for the awards organised by the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce, which had a new focus this year on encouraging a wider range of small- to medium-sized businesses.

"You'd be amazed at how many successful businesses we have here who operate quite nicely under the radar," said chamber chief executive Stan Gregec.

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"The awards are a chance to discover who some of these are, put the spotlight on them, and give them the wider visibility and recognition they deserve. I know the judges have been tested, and there were some robust debates to pick the supreme winner."

The judges noted there was an even spread of entrants into each category this year.

"There have been a large number of entrants representing a wide range of high calibre local businesses," said head judge and financial assessor Raimarie Pointon.

"There were some very strong contenders for Westpac Tauranga Business of the Year, resulting in five finalists. All five needed to reach a 90 per cent benchmark in excellence across their business, so this is indeed an excellent sign for businesses in the Bay."

The other finalists for the top award were Modern Office & Office Furniture Warehouse, which won the Innovation Award and the Manufacturing/Logistics Award, Nurtured at Home, which won the Service Excellence Award, YOU Travel, which won the Retail Excellence (Large) Award, and Z Retail Outlets, which won the Workplace Safety award.
Other winners included Waipuna Hospice (Digital Innovation Award), Fresh One (Customer Service Award), Pacific Coast Lodge & Backpackers (Tourism and Hospitality Award), and Furnish (Retail Excellence (Small) Award. (see box for full list of winners and sponsors).

As in previous years, the judging team said it was a positive experience visiting some of the dynamic and innovative organisations operating in the region. It was a pleasure and privilege to engage with people who are passionate about their businesses, the judges said.

Overall winner EmployNZ is a Private Training Establishment established in Tauranga in 2000 with the purpose of supporting people to obtain work and meet the labour market needs of the Western Bay of Plenty.

EmployNZ delivers individualised training courses to meet client and industry needs that ultimately place their clients into employment.

The judges said they were impressed with its collaboration with industry, the high level of staff engagement supported by the management, and high client satisfaction levels across all services.

They also noted EmployNZ's diversified income streams and growth, which were achieved despite working within a traditionally capped government funding environment, and its sound financial management.

"They have strong leadership, empowerment and succession planning evident across the leadership team, meticulous knowledge and understanding of their business," the judges said.

Westpac regional manager commercial, Central North Island, congratulated the winners.

"We're sure this is a stepping stone to even greater business success. As proud supporters of local, regional and national businesses, Westpac is delighted to help with a programme that inspires organisations to strive for and celebrate success."

The Bay of Plenty Times will be profiling individual award winners over the coming week.