Ben Puck
Ben Puck

This year’s most-celebrated small-business owner in the country might hail from Carroll County.

The Small Business Administration named Ben Puck, founder and president of Puck Custom Enterprises in Manning, as the “Iowa Small Business Person of the Year.” Puck will go on to Washington, D.C., during the week of April 30 — National Small Business Week — and is in the running for the National Small Business Person of the Year award.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Manning Mayor Harvey Dales said during a Carroll County city roundtable Tuesday evening. “Just going to D.C., I think, is pretty good recognition in itself.”

Puck started his business in 1979 with his brother, pumping and hauling liquid manure and eventually designing new equipment to improve manure application. He’s received five equipment patents through the years.

Puck Custom Enterprises has grown to employ about 60 people.

“Puck and his company’s contributions to the community of Manning are significant,” a news release from the Small Business Administration says. “The growth of his business has fueled the type of employee growth that’s vital to rural communities like Manning.”

Puck has described his business as a combination of innovation and efficiency — the need for more-efficient manure application has driven the business forward.

“I like to say that we love technology, but technology is driven through efficiency,” he said during the opening of PCE’s new facility in 2010. “We are not a technology leader, we are an efficiency leader.”

Also during the opening, he described the manure-application business as “a baby yet to walk,” noting it has expanded most just in the past few decades.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad visited PCE in 2014 and noted the manure-application industry’s relationship to livestock operations.

“This is really the future of livestock production,” Branstad said. “It has to be done in conjunction with what you are doing.”

In 2015, PCE opened a retail storefront in Osik, Croatia, a product of a chance meeting between PCE’s general manager, Jeremy Puck, and Croatian entrepreneur Robert Spajic at Iowa State University several years before. Spajic and fellow entrepreneur Darko Bilic saw an opportunity to use Eastern Europe’s growing market for swine technology — and they identified PCE as a good vehicle.

“People are the only reason anything ever really happens,” Jeremy Puck said. “The right people wanted to do something out of the ordinary.”

There are more than 26 million small businesses in the United States, according to the news release. And Small Business Week is all about them.

“Since its establishment in 1963, the highlight of this annual tradition is the presentation of awards which focus on the outstanding contributions of small-business persons and champions at the district, state and national level,” the release states.

Gaylin Ranniger, president of First National Bank of Manning, nominated Puck for the award.

Aside from the economic impact he’s made, Puck supports local churches, schools, businesses, charities and other community organizations,” the release states. “Whether it’s through monetary contributions or contributions of time — such as taking a leadership role in the IKM-Manning School’s STEM program — Puck, his family and PCE have been invaluable to Manning’s efforts to remain a thriving rural community.”