Growing up working in her family's longstanding hardware store, Zettler Hardware, Caroline Worley learned the importance of small businesses and hard work.
"I grew up with my father taking us to the store every weekend. We started working there as kids when we were about 12. We started pricing merchandise, then putting it away, then helping people and doing inventory," Worley said. "I think that's where the entrepreneurial spirit comes from originally."
Worley, now an attorney and owner of a Westerville law firm specializing in small business, was recognized Jan. 28 by the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce as its Business Person of the Year.
Worley said she didn't set out to represent and work with small businesses.
Rather, she focused her efforts on earning a law degree with the goal of working for the FBI after visiting FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., as a 12 year old.
"I thought, 'This is the coolest thing I've ever seen' and I wanted to catch the bad guys and be a 'G-woman,' " Worley said. "That kind of ruled my life from age 12 to age 25, when I graduated and got my law degree."
However, the FBI was in a hiring freeze when Worley graduated from law school, so she set to work for Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Dale Crawford.
She also met her husband, Guy, who was then the Franklin County administrator.
A year into her post, the FBI lifted its hiring freeze, and Worley went through the application, testing and interview processes and was offered a position. But she decided to turn the job down and stay in central Ohio.
She worked at a large, local law firm and as a Franklin County prosecuting attorney.
After living in Florida for a few years, she found herself back in central Ohio, working for a friend's law firm that specialized in local businesses.
"I started focusing inside of his practice on supporting women-owned businesses. That was kind of my side focus, just sort of a niche no one was tapping in to," Worley said.
A few years ago, she launched Worley Law in Westerville with about 50 clients. Now, her firm serves more than 600 business clients.
"It wasn't my dream always to open a law firm or small business, but that's where I ended up," Worley said.
Away from her law firm, she's also become an advocate for female business owners, volunteering with the Westerville chamber's Women in Business group and with the Columbus chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
"It's part of owning a business. It's part of your duty," Worley said of volunteering in the community. "I love it. I love helping out and giving back.
"It makes everybody feel good, and the ultimate result of giving back is the businesses in your community grow. That's what runs the economy."
A year and a half ago, Worley joined with Mary McCarthy to launch the nonprofit Women's Small Business Accelerator of Central Ohio in Westerville.
The business incubator offers office space, mentoring and clinics for small business owners.
"The challenges there is that the people who are running it are all volunteers who own their own businesses. This is kind of our passion volunteer activity," Worley said. "It's been a challenge getting that started and going, but it's really getting going."
Between 25 and 30 people have taken advantage of the incubator's service since it opened, Worley said, and she now hopes the incubator will be able to expand into more space.
Worley said she's found her passion in supporting small, local businesses.
"It's fun. It's fun to watch businesses start and grow and succeed, and anything I can do to support that, I will," she said.