Richland Rotarians honor community’s entrepreneurial leaders


A retiree with a record of working to secure federal dollars to clean up Hanford and spark the local economy has received the Sam Volpentest Entrepreneurial Leadership Award.

Gary Petersen

Gary Petersen

Gary Petersen received the award during the 25th annual Richland Rotary Club’s Entrepreneurial Awards ceremony on Nov. 2.

Petersen managed the federal program portfolio for the Tri-City Development Council, or TRIDEC, for 14 years until he retired in 2017.

During his career, he led numerous trips to Washington, D.C., and tours with local elected and congressional leaders to highlight the Hanford project and economic development needs of the Tri-City region.

In addition, he provided leadership to support the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative in 2012 that has led to opportunities within the clean energy sector for the region, most notably the Tri-Energy Partnership project for the development of the X-energy advanced reactor.

Even in retirement, Petersen has kept a focus on helping his community. He helped found the nonprofit group Northwest Energy Associates to advocate for safer, faster and less costly methods to clean up the Hanford site and currently serves as president.

The award is named for Richland Rotarian Sam Volpentest – known as Mr. Tri-Cities – who dedicated 48 years of support to economic development of the region and cofounded TRIDEC. Known as The Sammy, the award goes to community leaders who guide and inspire others, contribute to entrepreneurship in the community and are creative and self-motivated visionaries.

After more than a year of virtual meetings, the Rotary club held a socially distant, hybrid in-person/virtual awards meeting for this year’s annual awards, which also included five Entrepreneurial Awards.

This year’s winners are:

  • Empowered Health Institute. Led by Dr. Jessica Schneider, this membership-based clinic offers primary care, health coaching, family medicine and health-focused wellness program to patients. It’s been in business for more than two years in the Richland Parkway.
  • OCOchem. CEO Todd Brix, who was born and raised in Kennewick, said the company has been in business three years, recently relocating and consolidating its research and development operations in the Tri-Cities Research District about a year ago, after its Blue River, Oregon, lab burned down in the Holiday Farm fire in September 2020. OCOchem is located in Energy Northwest’s Applied Process Engineering Laboratory, where it uses an electrochemical process to bond CO2 to hydrogen to store energy.
  • Growing Forward Services. Paul Casey started the business in 2012 with a mission to spark breakthrough success by kickstarting the leader inside every person. Growing Forward offers a suite of seminars, teambuilding retreats and one-to-one leadership coaching. Casey also produces a podcast called “Tri-Cities Influencers,” in which he interviews local leaders.
  • Northwest Paddleboarding. This mother-daughter-owned full-service paddleboard business offers mobile rentals of paddleboards, kayaks, lessons and tours, including moonlight paddles. The business was mobile for its first three years, opening its storefront adjacent to Howard Amon Park in 2018.
  • 9th Street Studio. This downtown Benton City family salon, owned by Gabriela and Luis Ruiz, provides a variety of services, from haircuts and custom coloring, hair extensions to facial waxing, special occasion hairstyles, makeup and pedicures. The owners have made numerous interior and exterior improvements to their building, which they bought in December 2020. The studio has been in business since August 2016.

The Rotary awards date to 1996 at the urging of AM Sastry, an employee of PNNL and Richland Rotarian. Sastry approached the club about recognizing entrepreneurs within the bi-county region. At the time, this work was a focus area of the region’s economic development efforts.

TRIDEC, Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Tri-Cities Research District, Fuse SPC and the Port of Benton help to select the five entrepreneurs and Sammy winners.



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