One hundred and forty-one first-place award winners were honored Thursday during the Log Cabin Democrat’s Best of Faulkner County award celebration at The Brick Room.

More than 300 guests entered on a red carpet and enjoyed dinner, ice sculptures and holograms and heard from current Miss Arkansas Claudia Raffo, who emceed the event.

Publisher Kelly Sublett said this is the first year the LCD has held any type of awards ceremony for the annual event, which is a reader’s choice for best businesses in the county including beauty and health, dining, clothing, entertainment and leisure, kids and education, sports and more.

“This event was an undertaking, making sure we came out of the gate with fun, excitement and an entertaining way to honor our small business community,” she said.

Sublett said that in prior years, the newspaper distributed paper ballots in the print editions leading up to the final announcements.

“This year, the contest was designed on a third-party application in coordination with our company, GateHouse Media,” she said. “The digital voting first took nominations from the community, and in a second round of voting, narrowed the categories to three finalists and an overall winner in each category.”

The 2018 selection, Sublett said, broke records for number of votes — in total, 215,000 votes were cast.

“Opening up for the contest online, as well as the traditional print ballot, brought an incredible increase in audience participation and passion about our local business community,” she said. “As the proud newspaper of record in Faulkner County, the Log Cabin understands how vital it is to reach clients and customers where they are. In 2018, it’s online and in print.”

Lisa Licht, advertising director, said the process has been a “true labor of love.”

“Honoring local business owners in our booming community, is a very big deal and we want to make sure everyone knows about them,” she said. “When local businesses thrive, we all succeed.”

Licht said tabulating the individual votes was different than in years before in terms of time and manpower.

“The advantage of digital counting is the algorithm is set and always tabulating in real time,” she said. “Of course, newspaper ballots were physically counted and double checked for accuracy, as we’ve done in previous years.”

The online factor, Licht said, also gave the LCD great information on who those voters were.

“For instance, the system let us know where votes were coming from locally and from Log Cabin followers around the world,” she said. “We had several votes from a military base in Germany.”

Licht said the farthest vote came from a military base in Japan.

“So, we know that even though Faulkner County residents may be far from home, they still show real loyalty to local businesses,” she said.

This year’s special section honoring winners will be included in the LCD’s Sunday newspaper.

“I encourage every subscriber to pick one up and make notes about the Best of Faulkner County businesses,” Sublett said. “You certainly will continue to see them thrive here with your support.”