CHARLESTON -- The Charleston Area Alliance has announced the winners of the 2008 "Expect the Best" Awards.

The awards, which recognize businesses and organizations that promote quality of life at home, work and in the community, will be presented at the Alliance's Annual Celebration, to be held on Tuesday, May 6, at the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences.

This year's winners are:

* Large organization: The law firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe, PLLC. Founded 20 years ago by three local attorneys, Pullin, Fowler will soon have more than 50 lawyers in three offices that represent major corporations as national coordinating and trial counsel across the country. The firm, whose main offices are housed in a Quarrier Street building that it renovated in a historically accurate manner, provides exceptional services and benefits to its employees, including access to an on-site "Bright Beginnings" day care center, lunch time fitness classes in a fully equipped fitness center and 100 percent tuition reimbursement. Since the firm's inception in 1989, the overall attrition rate for all employees is 4 percent.

* Small organization: Blue Smoke Salsa, Inc. Blue Smoke Salsa was founded 15 years ago in Ansted by Robin Hildebrand, a working mother who left the traditional workforce to make a living and be at home with her children. Fifteen years later, her line of all-natural gourmet salsas is sold across the country. In 1995, she revitalized the main street of her home town by opening a commercial kitchen and retail shop featuring West Virginia products. The store has been named a "top spot to visit in West Virginia" by both Rand McNally and National Geographic Traveler. Hildebrand is an engaging spokesperson for the Mountain State, and soon will be profiled in "Southern Living" magazine and on the Food Network. Blue Smoke instills a sense of ownership and pride in its workers, and its "newest" employee has been with the company for six years.

* Non-profit: Appalachian Association of Professional Musicians, American Federation of Musicians, Local 136, AFL-CIO. AAPM works to improve and protect the working environment for its 300 members and 5,000 non-members and helps keep the sound of music alive in southern West Virginia. By identifying and creating live performance opportunities, such as the Woody Hawley Concert services, AAPM helps keep talented musicians living and working in our region, and promotes community, economic and workforce development. AAPM has recently partnered with the Kanawha Players at its facility on East Washington Street; this partnership has helped revitalize that neighborhood and will provide quality, live music at theatrical productions. Members also participate in community education initiatives such as "Musicians in the Schools," an instrument donation program and a "Music Biz 101" career education program.

* "Simply the Best" Award of Distinction: University of Charleston. This year the "Expect the Best" program will present a special honor to UC for its "above and beyond" contributions to the community. After facing near extinction in the mid-1980s, UC has undergone a renaissance and become a bright spot in the landscape of the city, the Kanawha Valley and the state of West Virginia. Full-time enrollment, at 1,316, is the highest since 1971, and UC's curriculum, "Learning Your Way," was profiled as a model for outcomes-based education in "The New York Times Magazine." Its first doctoral program, the UC School of Pharmacy, opened its doors to students in 2006, and more than 950 applicants vied for a slot in the class of 80 that will enter school this August. An on-campus fitness center was added, and plans are underway for a new graduate school of business, to be located in the former Boll furniture building in downtown Charleston.

UC's 250 full-time employees enjoy a range of benefits, including 100 percent tuition reimbursement for themselves and their families. UC is a vital part of the economy of Charleston, and opens its doors for numerous public events on its campus, including the popular Symphony Sunday, "Blues, Brews and BBQ" and "Wine and All that Jazz" events. UC is on the move and intends to stay that way.

"We had a record number of applicants this year, and our judges were impressed with their innovative efforts to improve quality of life for their employees and our community," noted Alliance President/CEO Matt Ballard. "While we salute all of the entrants for their outstanding work, we take special pleasure in honoring this year's winners, who truly are 'best of the best,'" he said.

The 2008 "Expect the Best" awards will be presented at the Alliance's Annual Celebration on May 6.

West Virginia's own Brad Smith, the new president and CEO of software giant Intuit Inc., will be the keynote speaker. Smith, a native of Kenova, is a Marshall graduate.

Tickets for the Annual Celebration, the Alliance's major fundraiser, start at $150 per person. For more information, go to www.CharlestonAreaAlliance.org/events.

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