Michael Crow, Denny Barney

Michael Crow, Denny Barney

Two Mesa families who not only built successful businesses but also have been praised for their enormous contributions to the city and the region will be honored Tuesday during the PHX East Valley Partnership’s PHX East Valley Thought Leader Forum.

The Berge family, founders of Berge Ford, and Whiteman family, which founded Empire Southwest, will be honored with the partnership’s 2019 Corporate Legacy awards.

The forum, 3:30-6 p.m. Dec. 3 at Mesa Arts Center, will also host Arizona State University President Michael Crow and a presentation titled “The New Workforce: How Automation and Other Advancements are Revolutionizing the Way We Work and Do Business.”

The latter presentation by a panel of experts will explore changing dynamics in business and predictions and trends on which jobs will stay and which will go. Crow will kick that off with the keynote address.

“Our region’s diverse economy is demanding that we look at things differently and recruit professionals with expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence, automation and the Internet of Things,” said Denny Barney, partnership president and CEO. 

 “Our changing business environment also is creating opportunities to retrain and redeploy employees in jobs where they are needed the most,” he added.

Tickets are $75 for East Valley Partnership members and $85 for non-members. Register at evp-az.org.

Of the companies started by the Berge and Whiteman families, Barney said, both were “generations and that “their visionary leaders not only help drive our economy, but improve our quality of life, too.”

Empire Southwest is a family-owned business that the late Jack Whiteman founded in 1950 as Empire Machinery, an Eastern Oregon Caterpillar and John Deere dealership. 

When Whiteman was awarded Caterpillar’s Arizona territory in 1959, the company relocated and began building partnerships with Arizona’s construction and mining industries that endure today.

John O. Whiteman succeeded his father as CEO in the mid-1990s and focused Empire on customer service while encouraging employees to be involved in the community.

Third-generation CEO Jeffrey S. Whiteman took over in 2002 and further built the company and its community commitment.  It also formed an alliance with Sitech Southwest, expanded the company’s focus on agriculture, launched a truck and trailer division and created a renewable energy group.

The company has more than 2,000 employees in a territory that includes Arizona and southeastern California. 

Empire Southwest donates at least 2 percent of its pre-tax profits to children-related initiatives. The Whitemans also have a history of championing causes such as early childhood education, health care and homelessness, and protections against human trafficking. 

The family was one of the initial founders and contributors to Mesa’s i.d.e.a. Museum, which supports early learning, creative thinking and family engagement through art exhibitions and STEAM activities.

Berge Ford, which earlier this year was bought by Larry H. Miller Ford Mesa, also championed giving back.

It was founded by C.M. “Shorty” Berge more than 75 years ago and grew into one of Ford’s top 100 dealerships nationwide under his son, Craig Berge.

Craig, who died two years ago, joined the business in 1962 after earning an MBA and becoming a registered engineer for five years with Airesearch Manufacturing Corp.

Craig ran multiple businesses in multiple states, including construction, land development, farming and cattle feeding operations. 

“There were many facets to his business life,” his obituary stated.

As a businessman, Craig became heavily involved in activities and charities in Arizona, including at the University of Arizona, which honored him in 2002 with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

He was active as the Mesa Planning and Zoning Chairman, the city Traffic Safety Committee, Chamber of Commerce, East Valley Partnership, Roosevelt Water Conservation District and Mesa Hohokams.

Under his leadership, Berge Ford adopted a mission statement that declared what “things we believe in and the way we conduct business: We will not do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical; your attitude determines your altitude; and #1 Priority- Identify and satisfy the needs of our customers.”

At the time the family was looking to sell the dealership, Berge Ford President Nancy Berge said they were looking for a buyer whose “values and culture matched with our own.

The PHX East Valley Partnership was created in 1982 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of civic, business, education and political leaders dedicated to the economic development and promotion of the East Valley cities, towns and Native American communities.

 The Partnership advocates in economic development, education, transportation and infrastructure, health care and other areas.

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