In an economy where many businesses are struggling just to keep their head above water, the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce has selected as their Businessperson of the Year the head of a company that has seen significant growth in the last year.

In an economy where many businesses are struggling just to keep their head above water, the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce has selected as their Businessperson of the Year the head of a company that has seen significant growth in the last year.

The chamber selected last week Chris Jones, president and CEO of Iron Pony Motorsports, as its Businessperson of the Year for 2008.

Selection committee chairman Rick Rano said that Jones's leadership and care for the surrounding area of his business put him in the forefront for this year's award.

"I think the leadership he's shown in his industry with Iron Pony, and the growth of their company and its vision, made him perfect for this award," Rano said. "While other stores have been retracting as far as growth or just staying in business, they've just been growing. Also, the shopping center (on Westerville Road) has had a rebirth since they've been there -- they've taken care of everything, down to keeping the parking lot clean."

Jones said it was wonderful to be selected for the award in the area he calls home.

"I grew up in Minerva Park, so Westerville has always been home to me," Jones said. "I was more thrilled to find out that I had just been selected as a finalist; that was quite an honor."

Jones has been the president of the motorcycle parts and accessories store since 1998, but has been involved with the business since he was 14.

"Back then it was called S and A Auto Parts, which was started by my father and some of his associates," Jones said. "I got into motorcycles in about 1973, and I thought that was a lot more interesting than selling car parts."

Jones said that although Iron Pony is extremely large for its market, keeping a small bike shop feel has been a key to its success.

"We've tried to create a destination store, much like a Cabela's, and people will drive or ride their bikes in from all over just to see the store," he said. "But the way this market is set up, customers are used to a small-bike-shop atmosphere, and we try to accomplish that with having extremely knowledgeable managers on the retail floor, and now having the bikes right in the storefront."

Adding motorcycles to its inventory of parts and accessories was something Jones said he'd always wanted to accomplish, and to that end Iron Pony purchased the Yamaha of Columbus dealership earlier this year. Motorcycles, not just accessories, are now on Iron Pony's inventory list.

The chamber of commerce selects a business owner from its community each year for the top award. In addition to Jones, selected as finalists this year were April Chaad from State Farm Insurance, Dave and Charlene Kott of Asset Management, Chris Madden of Polaris Grill, and Jeff Hartnell of the Westerville Visitors & Convention Bureau.

"From top to bottom we had a great list of finalists this year," Rano said. "Any one of those candidates could have received the award, but in the end we decided on Chris. It was a very close decision."

All of the candidates will be honored at the chamber's annual dinner, to be held Jan. 27 at the North Point Conference Center in Lewis Center. The event is open to the public, and tickets can be purchased by contacting the chamber on the Web at www.westervillechamber.com.

lrice@thisweeknews.com