More than 400 of the region’s top business leaders were in attendance as Michael L. Pia, Director of South Mill Champs, was inducted into the Chester County Business Hall of Fame by the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC).
The award that recognizes Pia’s outstanding leadership, business endeavors and achievements was presented at the CCEDC’s annual Business Achievement Award Dinner on Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at the Phoenixville Foundry.
“As one of the largest mushroom growers in the country, South Mill Champs has demonstrated not only longevity of success but also continuous innovation and diversification. Mike and his family have been at the helm of that achievement for many, many years,” says Gary Smith, CCEDC President and CEO. “At a time when the entire U.S. mushroom industry is facing challenges, this is recognition of what industry leaders like Mike contribute to the Philadelphia area, the nation and the world.”
Wednesday’s award presentation comes as South Mill Champs, based in Kennett Square, actively looks to expand to new mushroom growing facilities that would bring significant additional investment and employment to Chester County, as well as incorporate new, state-of-the-art technologies.
“For nearly 90 years, our business has flourished in Chester County,” says Pia. “Beyond its natural beauty lies a supportive business environment, a strong economy and people of the highest caliber. While our business today takes us throughout North America and abroad, Chester County will always be our home. It’s an honor to be recognized with the Chester County Economic Development Council’s most prestigious award.”
Pia is a third-generation mushroom farmer whose grandfather began growing mushrooms in Chester County in 1932, just a few years after immigrating to the U.S. from Italy.
Pia’s father, Louis, grew up in the family business and in 1950, he began producing a new type of synthetic mushroom growing substrate (the composted food base for the crop) developed at Penn State University. Very quickly the small, family mushroom farm became the largest commercial supplier of mushroom growing substrate in the U.S.
In the late 1970s, Louis’ two sons, Mike and John, began working full time in the family business. In 1982, the Pia family switched its focus from commercial substrate production to mushroom growing when they purchased the largest mushroom farm in Chester County from a subsidiary of the Clorox Company.
Mike and John assumed full ownership and control of the family business in 1984. Soon after, they formed South Mill Mushrooms as their sales company and continued to grow the business through acquisitions and expansions, eventually becoming one of the largest mushroom producers in Chester County and the fourth largest in the U.S.
In May 2017, the Pia brothers brought a financial partner into the business to capitalize on the significant growth opportunities they saw in the industry. A short seven months later, the company purchased Champs Mushrooms, the largest mushroom producer in British Columbia, nearly doubling the size of the business and rebranding as South Mill Champs.
Today, Pia’s son Michael Jr. represents the family’s fourth generation of mushroom growers. South Mill Champs supplies more than 2,000,000 pounds of mushrooms each week to retail, wholesale, foodservice and industrial customers throughout North America.
The business is fully integrated with state-of-the art composting facilities, traditional and Dutch style growing operations, automated packaging, freezing and processing and a nationwide distribution network. Total operations boast a workforce of nearly 2,000 people.
Pia has served two terms as President of the American Mushroom Institute and has served on the Mushroom Council, of which he is a founding member. He has also served as a board member of numerous local organizations including the CCEDC, YMCA of the Brandywine Valley, Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for Better Housing and United Way.
One of his most rewarding duties is running the Michael & Nancy Pia Foundation with his wife Nancy. They formed the charitable organization in 2002, focusing on improving the lives of children by supporting the good work of numerous local charitable organizations.
Past inductees into the Chester County Business Hall of Fame include Claudia P. Hellebush, former CEO of United Way of Chester County (2018); Dr. Jerry Parker, President of Delaware County Community College (2017); W. Thomas Musser, Chairman of The Tri-M Group, LLC (2016); John Bogle of The Vanguard Group; Greg Bentley of Bentley Systems; Oscar Lasko of Lasko Products, Inc.; Jack Loew of J. Loew & Associates, Inc.; Tom Fillippo of Devault Foods; Robert Hankin of Hankin Group; Jerry Parsons of CTDI; and more.