The Log Cabin Democrat will welcome hundreds from the local business community during its second annual Best Of Faulkner County Community Choice Awards Gala on Thursday at the Brick Room in downtown Conway.

In total, around 340 ticket holders are set to attend with more than 100 area companies represented.

"As readers may know, Paxton Media acquired the Log Cabin on June 3 and we quickly learned about the Best of Faulkner County program and the gala," new publisher David Meadows, said. "Employees and business owners unanimously encouraged us to continue the program, and rightly so."

He said it is a privilege to honor the area's many local companies – categories include beauty and health, dining, clothing, entertainment and leisure, kids and education, sports and more — through the contest.

"The Log Cabin is proud to support local businesses that help strengthen our community," Meadows said. "These businesses and the people associated with them are key to what makes Conway and Faulkner County so great."

Multi-media account executives Crystal Geraldson, Kelly Booy and Leigh Anne Gray have been working on the event since April, beginning with the nomination-phase prep, giving businesses time to notify their customers to get their support.

In years past, the community was able to vote on varying businesses through a paper-ballot system; people would fill it out and turn it back in.

"Staff members would spend countless hours — day and night — counting ballots [by hand], tallying votes and recording winners and runners-up," Geraldson said.

Last year, the LCD switched to a third-part, electronic system, which Geraldson said made a "huge difference," against any doubt regarding vote counts.

"For the first time, a team provided 24/7 monitoring of nominations and votes submitted," she said. "We still have a huge audience of print subscribers and are very award that some of that audience doesn't access digital media often, so, we also printed the ballot once for people to complete the good ole fashioned way."

Geraldson said the new system leveled the playing field and provided a higher-level of validity to the contest, which gives patrons the opportunity to honor their favorites in the county.

"From last year to this year, we saw over 100,000 more votes cast and the unique voters increased dramatically as well," she said.

In total, 141 first-place winners were honored during the 2018 event — the first Best Of Gala for the LCD — after receiving a record number of 215,000 votes altogether.

"Last year we weren't sure what to expect," Geraldson said, admitting to having to work strenuously to get it done, especially due to a short staff. "We put our hands to the plow and worked hard to bring a fun, exciting event to the area for those business finalists to attend and enjoy and we were blown away by the reception throughout the community."

She said the night was "filled with excitement" as soon as people started arriving for that pre-dinner cocktail hour.

"I was truly amazed to see some-what competitive businesses came together and truly congratulate the other finalists for their wins and accomplishments," Geraldson said.

After months of hard work, the group is excited to host, yet another, Best of Gala for the community, where the first-place award to the top business in each category will find be announced.

The LCD received more than 330,000 votes from around 11,000 people this year.

"Having worked with these businesses throughout the three different phases of the contest, we're so excited to get to the gala and hear those names called as people receive the recognition they have worked so hard for all year," Geraldson said. "Business owners spend countless hours ensuring that their customers receive the highest level of customer care, and having the community nominate and then vote them through to the final round, is such a huge reward for all of the heart and soul they put into their work."

She said the gala is the LCD trio's "icing on the cake," moment after working to promote and brand the businesses throughout the year; seeing the excitement on guest's faces as they arrive, a "huge reward."

"We truly work to become partners with our advertisers, promoting them not only through our print and digital media, but also as their customers and word-of-mouth promoters throughout the community," Geraldson said. "We aren't just sales reps, we are also mothers, wives, daughters, home-owners ... we are customers. So, we celebrate each finalist as an over-all winner, because they all work so hard and they all deserve the recognition and night of fun to celebrate that hard work."

Booy actually attended last year's event as a guest, a former employee of Art on the Green before coming on at the LCD.

She said she was impressed with the gala.

"I was in one of the chairs I'll be setting up shortly," Booy said, excited.

She said attending as a guest and now, working on the other side with the team, having her hands in the planning has allowed her to see it all with "different goggles."

"I am even more impressed with the teamwork that it takes to pull it off and all for what ... celebrating the best Conway has to offer," Booy said. "Some businesses have been here for generations, others barely a year. I have one business owner that is just so thankful that after more than 25 years serving and doing what she loves, to finally be recognized for that is a huge honor. This is exactly what it should be about."

The 2019 Best Of Gala begins with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. when guests will be seated to begin dinner. The awards ceremony will follow at 8 p.m.

Black Dude/White Dude's Leo Cummings and Todd Cate are set to emcee the event.

Staff writer Hilary Andrews can be reached at handrews@thecabin.net.