Louisiana native Mike Mitternight was named the National Small Business Association's Advocate of the Year at a luncheon yesterday, kicking off the NSBA's annual Washington Presentation conference.

About 160 NSBA members and non-members convened at Washington D.C.'s Capital Hilton Hotel to celebrate the first day of the conference, in which lawmakers and policy experts speak about the issues facing small businesses. Each year, since 2005, the Lewis Shattuck Small Business Advocate of the Year Award has gone to the small business owner who demonstrates a history of activism on behalf of small businesses. Mitternight, owner and president of commercial air-conditioning and construction company Factory Service Agency, has been committed to helping business owners like himself ever since he joined his father-in-law at the Agency back in 1978.

"One of the first things he told me to do was get involved in business associations. He told me if businesses don't get involved in government, government will take over the business," Mitternight, 65, remembers. "It was good advice, but maybe I've taken it to an extreme."

Mitternight's passion for advocacy grew after Hurricane Katrina devastated so many of New Orleans' small businesses. Though Mitternight's company, which is based just outside New Orleans, suffered minimal physical damage, he says his accounts receivable immediately became "accounts inconceivable." Many of his customers had to close up shop altogether.

In an effort to replace that income, Mitternight turned to the Small Business Association for a loan, but soon learned how difficult it was for small businesses to recover financially post-Katrina. He was forced to submit five years of financial records and had to pledge his home as collateral on the loan, a loan he did not receive until a full six months after he applied.

"Since the storm, I realized that federal issues are becoming more and more critical to business owners, and business owners need to get involved," he says.

So Mitternight joined the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry in starting a fund that would help small companies in New Orleans rebound. NSBA President Todd McCracken says this was one of the reasons NSBA chose Mitternight as Advocate of the Year.

"He was a real leader at that time," McCracken says. "The issues he speaks to aren't based on an ideology or party. They're based on the real concerns and needs of small businesses, and people respond to that."

Mitternight has also testified before House committees regarding issues like unemployment, insurance and energy conservation issues.

"When there's a hearing, committees often call us and say, 'We'd like to find a witness who fits these qualifications,'" McCracken says. "When he fits, Mike is always one of the first people we call."

Mitternight says winning the Advocate of the Year award is a real honor, not only because it validates the work he does, but also because of the company he is in at NSBA.

"Everyone who's a member of the Association and all these other groups is an advocate," he says. "We're all here to preach the value of small business."