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From the Best Of team

Welcome to the 2017 Best of Central Minnesota magazine!

The Times Media Best of Central Minnesota contest has been a longstanding, constantly evolving part of our local business culture, and I speak for everyone on the Best Of team when I say that we feel thrilled and honored to be leading it.

Throughout the process of planning the contest, magazine and event, the Best Of team has been asking local business owners: What does Best Of mean to you? What does it take to be "the best"? To the team here at the St. Cloud Times, Best Of means so much more than simply crowning winners in a contest.

To us, Best Of is a celebration of the qualities that make Central Minnesota a great place to live, work and enjoy life — industriousness, creativity, hard work, personality, community and kindness — all of which are encompassed by the people of this region. And businesses are nothing without the people behind them! The businesses, events and individuals highlighted by our awards reflect these values in their can-do spirit, their customer service, their consistency in meeting (and exceeding!) the needs of the people, and their dedication to their communities.

We hope that as you read this magazine and eagerly peruse the results of this year's contest, you'll be entertained and inspired by the content we've included.

This year, the Best Of team sent surveys to winners from the 2016 contest (many of whom also turned out to be winners this year!), asking them to tell us in their own words what it's like be one of the Best of Central Minnesota.

We had some fun with our questions, too; if you'd like to know what Lynn Schurman's (Cold Spring Bakery) favorite cheesecake flavor is, or what Jeff Seifert (Benusa Appliance Sales and Service) had to say for himself when asked "Is your refrigerator running?", keep reading!

There are so many talented individuals who make up the Best Of team and put the contest into motion. In the newsroom, we have business reporter Matt Perkins, producer Andrew Fraser, photographers Dave Schwarz and Jason Wachter, engagement editor Randy Krebs, content coach Sue Halena, and news director Lisa Schwarz, as well as myself, working tirelessly to run a seamless contest and produce a high-quality magazine.

On the other side of the building (though no further from our hearts!) in advertising, we have project and event coordinator Jennifer Och, advertising account executives Ross Priest and Seth Johnson, sales manager Anita Chisholm, and advertising director Marilyn Birkland keeping the proverbial trains running on time by taking the helm of event planning, advertising sales and much more.

We're thrilled to have St. Cloud Toyotaas the auto sponsor at our fabulous Best Of event. Mary Bruno, of Bruno Press, also receives all our thanks for creating our beautiful awards.

Of course, the most important "thank you" goes out to you, the Times readers and Central Minnesotans who nominated and voted in this year's Best of Central Minnesota contest. We quite literally could not have done it without you.

Here's to another extraordinary year of business and community in Central Minnesota, and to many more to come!

— Alyssa Zaczek, Food, Dining & Beer Reporter and lead reporter for the Best Of magazine

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