As we prepare for the Copper Cactus Awards, presented by Wells Fargo, which will be shown at 7 p.m. on Oct. 17, we reflect on the event’s history and what sets it apart from other events in Tucson’s business community. Not only have the Copper Cactus Awards been around since 1997 and remain at the forefront of Tucson business awards, but the event also stands out because of the unique judging criteria, the inclusivity and timeliness of the categories, and the trophy itself.


Staying Power

 The Copper Cactus Awards are the Betty White of Southern Arizona’s award ceremonies because they have been around for so long. 2020 marks the 23rd consecutive year the awards have been celebrated. Originally, Wells Fargo orchestrated the event and the Tucson Metro Chamber sponsored the Small Business Leader of the Year category. In 2012, Wells Fargo switched gears and passed the duties of managing the entire event over to the Tucson Metro Chamber. Wells Fargo has been the title sponsor ever since and the partnership remains strong and vibrant.


Evolution of Categories

 Prior to when the Tucson Metro Chamber began to run the event, the categories included Business Growth, Best Place to Work, Small Business Leader of the Year and Community Service. Since then, the Chamber added a category strictly for charitable non-profit businesses. And new this year, categories include Innovation in Remote Working, to reflect the work-from-home need due to the pandemic, as well as a category to celebrate startups. 


One is Never Enough

 An interesting phenomenon that we embrace is when companies come back to attempt to win a different category each year. Finalists in any category can try to win the same category the following year, but winners are only eligible to apply to a category they haven’t won previously. We have noticed an increasing trend for companies to earn a trophy for every category, which is an outstanding way to show a company’s credibility for awards that are not easy to win.


The Trophy 

 The Copper Cactus trophy stands 16 inches tall and weighs four pounds. It is made from solid, locally sourced copper from the Rosemont Mine and CAID Industries manufactures the custom-designed masterpiece. It is a beauty and the rinky-dink participation trophy you received as a kid pales in comparison. Past winners display their trophies with the same pride as Oscar winners do.


Winner Selection Process

 The Tucson Metro Chamber accepts nominations from the community, which are most often from coworkers of the nominees, the businesses themselves, or customers. Nominees then fill out the online applications. Each category has three judges assigned to score those applications.  Judges use the scoring criteria provided on the score sheets and keep their answers strictly confidential. The point system ensures a fair and measured selection. The Chamber staff does not judge the applications.


And the Winners Are…

27 small but mighty businesses will be honored at this year’s Copper Cactus Awards—presented by Wells Fargo—virtually on October 17. Register at tucsonchamber.org/copper-cactus-awards and watch to find out who wins! 


Heather Wuelpern is director of communications at Tucson Metro Chamber