Inaugural Morial Awards Recognize Companies for Economic Impact

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(L to R) Judy Reese Morse, president and CEO of Urban League of Louisiana; Terry Williams, president and CEO of Airware Transportation and Logistics; and Mike Sawaya, president and general manager of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Urban League of Louisiana honored the winners of the inaugural Ernest N. Morial Awards at a luncheon on Dec. 3 in the Convention Center’s Great Hall.

The awards recognize a small business and a corporation that have demonstrated innovative growth and economic impact, as well as exceptional contributions to the sustainability and growth of local communities and small businesses across the state of Louisiana.

Airware Transportation and Logistics was recognized as Small Business of the Year. Woodward Design+Build was recognized as Corporation of the Year.

The awards were established in celebration of Mayor Ernest N. Morial’s achievements and his legacy as a civil rights activist, and political pioneer. As the first Black mayor of New Orleans – from 1977 through 1986 – he championed the Convention Center’s construction and saw it as a way to promote economic development, especially for local and diverse small businesses.

“Small business growth has been a central focus for the Convention Center,” said Michael J. Sawaya, president and general manager of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and co-chairman of the Urban League’s Annual Gala. “We’ve made it our commitment to continue to support our local small business vendors and to honor the legacy of the Convention Center’s namesake, Ernest N. Morial. We congratulate the winners for their achievements and we hope the awards will inspire businesses, big and small, to promote the economic growth of our small business community.” 

Through their Small and Emerging Business Program, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is committed to creating opportunity to help the SEBs of Louisiana succeed. The Convention Center encourages the hiring of local vendors for the purchase of goods and services at the Convention Center and provides easy access to new business opportunities through their SEBConnect app, and through the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority’s website at 

“We are proud to partner with the Convention Center to recognize those businesses, big and small, who continue to fearlessly triumph and support small business growth in a highly competitive environment,” said Judy Reese Morse, president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana. “We commend these exemplary businesses for their outstanding work.”

Since the Small and Emerging Business Program launched in 2019, 687 Certified Vendors have been registered and nearly $10 million has been awarded to SEBs and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises.

“The Authority has been a champion of more active involvement of SEB’s as a guiding principle for how business is done at the Convention Center,” said Bonita Robertson, small and emerging business committee chair, Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority. “Recognizing businesses that demonstrate active involvement in alignment with our vision is an appropriate way to continue the progress we have made in recent years, as well as to honor the incredible legacy of Ernest Nathan Morial.”

 The Morial Award winners were presented with a trophy that was custom-sculpted by New Orleans visual artist Sheleen Jones, who is renowned for using her art to pay homage to the heroes of our city. The winners will also receive the Urban League of Louisiana’s full suite of capacity-building and training, technical assistance, and will have all expenses paid to attend the National Urban League annual convention.


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