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Linen business wins rookie award

A St. Petersburg manufacturer of linens used by hotels and resorts last week won the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce's rookie of the year award.

Linen Images Inc. was founded by Nadia Rehman, who came to St. Petersburg from South Africa. She used a loan from the city through the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp. to start the business in May 1999. It provides bed sheets, table linen and terry cloth robes to hotels and motels.

"I think it was more our staying power that got us to win the award," Ms. Lehman said, talking about the difficulties of the first year for a business without computer or car.

The rookie award was one of four handed out Thursday night to small businesses, which were judged on their innovation, impact on the job market, growth, ability to handle adversity and participation in the community.

JTV Inc. of Pinellas Park was named minority small business of the year for its work in repairing and cleaning underground pipes without digging them up. So-called trenchless rehabilitation is cheaper and uses underground cameras.

The company was founded by Joyce Velitschkowski in 1991. She said she and her family built the company's first underground camera. Earlier this year, Velitschkowski was named businesswoman of the year by the chamber's Women's Council.

Royalaire Mechanical Inc. won in the category of 26 employees or more. The Largo company provides full service in air conditioning, heating, refrigeration and ventilation, specializing in the industrial market.

It was founded by Donald and Steven Schwersky in 1987. The father-son team was joined two years later by another son, Rob. After Donald Schwersky died in 1993, Royalaire hit a slump for a couple of years. The brothers streamlined operations and renewed their concentration on customers to get the business back on track.

In the category of 25 employees or less, Modern Business Associates in St. Petersburg won. MBA manages work forces for the companies that hire it, taking over human resources, and administering payroll and workers compensation and shopping for benefits packages.

The company was founded in Safety Harbor in 1997 and moved to St. Petersburg this year. CEO A.R. Curcio said MBA was lucky to be in downtown St. Petersburg. "The development and growth (in the city) has been instrumental to our own growth."

_ SHARON BOND

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