Passion for the Community Drives VGA & Associates 12/14/17 12/14/17 2:13:06 PM
Vic Gutman & Associates celebrated the holidays last year with a “train ride.” Gutman is on the right.
Small Business of Month
Passion for the Community
Drives VGA & Associates
By Dan McCann
The Daily Record
For Vic Gutman & Associates (VGA), the most wonderful time of the year is also one of the busiest. Right now, the force behind some of Omaha’s most popular and long-standing community events is in the midst of managing its 18th Holiday Lights Festival, a season-long celebration that pops with more than 40 blocks of downtown illumination, live music, skating and family fun.
“It’s truly the community coming together for a great holiday celebration,” said Vic Gutman, VGA’s owner and founder.
The Holiday Lights Festival runs through January 1, which will mark the start of a milestone year in the life of VGA, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Small Business of the Month for December. The company, which also launched the Summer Arts Festival and Omaha Farmers Market, celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2018.
Gutman says the secret to VGA’s longevity is an authentic passion for the community and the hiring of good people. Right now, the office consists of 17 full- and part-time employees. Gutman said his team is hard-working, dedicated and “very passionate about over-delivering in meeting our clients’ goals and our project goals. They are also passionate about the impact their projects have in the community. Everything we do is really about community. Whether it’s the events or the non-profit organizations we work with, that’s the one thing that ties everything together – we want to have a positive impact on the community.”
VGA traces its roots back to 1975 when Gutman co-founded the Omaha Summer Arts Festival. He incorporated Vic Gutman & Associates three years later to formalize management of the festival and serve other nonprofits. Today’s VGA encompasses the events division that produces, manages and markets its roster of marquee community happenings as well as commemorative and fundraising events.
“Our events are extremely labor intensive and deadline-driven. Summer Arts Festival, for example, takes anywhere from 2500 to 3000 hours of our time to produce. … Everyone is committed to making their part of what they do with the festival successful, whether it’s the marketing or program development. I have someone who just loves logistics. She loves seeing everything come together.”
The Summer Arts Festival attracts 60,000-80,000 people to downtown Omaha each year. Each Omaha Farmers Market (held Saturdays in the Old Market and Sundays in Aksarben Village May-to-mid-October) attracts 8,000-10,000 people.
The busy VGA crew kicked off the month of December – its very first weekend – split between the annual Holiday Market (part of the Omaha Farmers Market) at Aksarben Village and the Holiday Lights Festival’s Wells Fargo Family Festival.
“We had different people working at each one,” Gutman recalled. “They pay attention to the details. They do sweat the small stuff. They know that every detail done right adds up to a good experience for the people who attend the event.”
Beyond its bedrock community events, Gutman said VGA is very proud of the work it does in the nonprofit arena. Its nonprofit services division provides an array of services, including marketing & communications, grant writing and serving as project manager for the one-of-a-kind Tri-Faith Initiative.
“The Tri-Faith Initiative has an impact globally,” Gutman said. “It’s the first time in human history a synagogue (Temple Israel), a church (Countryside Community Church) and a mosque (The American Muslim Institute) have intentionally co-located on one campus – and it’s happening here in Omaha.”
Gutman continued, “My staff puts thousands of hours into that each year, working with volunteers and a great board of directors. It’s really been an honor, and it’s something my staff is very proud to be involved with.”
The synagogue and mosque are now open. The church will open in the spring of 2019. Fundraising continues for a fourth building – the Tri-Father Center – that will open in 2019 or 2020.
All told, VGA partners with almost 2 dozen nonprofit clients managed all aspects of recent capital campaigns for Girls Inc. and The Rose Theater. It has worked with the YMCA on development for years and manages the Omaha Police Foundation.
“We’ve had a chance to work with great non-profit organizations that make a difference in this community. We have a chance to be part of that and help them achieve their goals,” Gutman said.
Further burnishing its “full service” credentials, VGA has a minority ownership interest in the E Creative graphic design firm, which allows VGA to offer its clients creative services such as brand identity, website design and other print and digital marketing materials.
Gutman said VGA has a culture that says it will do everything it can to make a project successful: “We take pride in everything we do because almost everything we do is so public.”
Though the company has racked up its share of incredible successes over the decades, it hasn’t been without challenge. Some projects have faltered.
“We had to abandon our efforts for a Tenth Street Market, a year-round public market in Omaha,” Gutman said. “We had a lot of interest. A lot of people invested their time, energy and money into it as well. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the right time.”
“But,” he continued, “we can be confident that a public market will be happening in Omaha at some point in the future, which we may or may not be involved with. But one way or another, it’s going to happen.”
Other challenges the company faces relate to sheer volume.
“At any one time, we may be juggling 12 or more projects, and all of my employees work on more than one project. So, they have to be able to prioritize their time. They have to multi-task to make sure all of our clients are receiving the attention they deserve,” Gutman said.
Fundraising, he said, is always a challenge as well.
“We do a lot of fundraising for our clients – and we’ve been very successful – but you can never take it for granted,” Gutman said. “We’re fortunate to live in a community that’s very generous philanthropically. That makes all of the difference in the world.”
VGA’s mission is to bring people together by strengthening nonprofit organizations and producing exceptional public events. In the course of doing that over the last four decades, Gutman said it is a true honor to be named the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Small Business of the Month, the second time the company has been so honored.
“We’re grateful to the Chamber to be recognized. We’ve been longtime Chamber members. We value our participation,” Gutman said. “We’ve worked with them, one way or another, for many ears. They’ve been vital to the success of our project.”
United Republic Bank sponsors the Chamber’s Small Business of the Month award. To nominate a small business online, visit www.omahachamber.org. Nominees must be current Chamber members with 50 employees or less.