No doubt you've heard that phrase countless times, especially this time of the year when the Academy Awards and the Tony Awards celebrate the best in movies and on Broadway.

I would guess most industries have some type of award to acknowledge its best, newest, largest, fastest or most improved performers. Gatherings to honor business leaders for their past achievements tend to be annual events that also serve to raise much-needed funds for associations and voluntary organizations.The Journal of Commerce has received its share of tributes over the years. Last month, I was proud to accept the Export Development Award for our company presented by the World Trade Center Association of Los Angeles-Long Beach. This award recognizes us for providing exemplary service to local industries by stimulating their exports into international markets. On behalf of our 400 employees dedicated to providing the best news analysis and database services, thank you!

I was among distinguished company at last month's 11th Annual Hall of Fame dinner in Los Angeles. Tom Jimenez, president of Eslabon International, received the association's member achievement award for 2000. ''The presidents of Grupo TACA and Jacobson Pilot Service and the chairmen of Imperial Bank and Candle Corp. are being recognized for their initiative, perseverance and understanding of the global marketplace,'' said Barry Sedlik, chairman of the World Trade Center Association.

The Hall of Fame dinner was one of many events throughout the country to celebrate May as World Trade Month.

I am disappointed that one event was eliminated this year: the presentation of the President's ''E'' Award. Tra-ditionally, the president and the secretary of commerce attend a Rose Garden ceremony in May for seven or eight companies that contributed significantly in the effort to increase U.S. exports.

''Our goal is to re-energize the program. Last year we made only six ''E' and ''E Star' Awards, which was the lowest total in over 10 years,'' said Jesse Leggoe, the newly appointed ''E'' Awards Program Officer. ''This year we expect to announce more than 15 new awardees.''

There was a presentation to three exporters in March by Deputy Commerce Secretary Robert L. Mallett, marking the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Commercial Service, which administers the ''E'' Awards program and provides professional trade assistance to U.S. companies at home and abroad.

President Kennedy started the ''E'' Awards program in 1961 to honor and recognize America's exporters. The ''E Star'' commendation was added in 1969 to further acknowledge those winners able to sustain their export expansion efforts.

''Since its inception, over 2,400 companies have received the ''E' Award, and approximately 500 of these recipients have added the ''E Star' designation for keeping up export performance,'' Leggoe said.

Are you an exporter, or provide export related services? If so, you may qualify for suitable recognition. To apply, contact one of the 100 Export Assistance Centers (EACs) that are run by the U.S. Commercial Service in major cities. Leggoe points out that the screening process is quite vigorous. (The 4-page ''E'' Award instructions and 5-page application can be found at www.usatrade.gov).

''Most applicants find out about the program after consulting with one of our EAC specialists. It's not a requirement, but helps if the company is working with a local EAC on its export-promotion efforts. Our specialists can guide them through the process.''

Bill Spitler, director of the Newark (N.J.) Export Assistance Center, is one of these specialists. Asked about what he sees as the biggest challenge for exporters, he said, ''Many small firms became skeptics after the Asian crisis bit into business. Also, manufacturers are now preoccupied with meeting the very strong demand from their domestic customers. They tell us they can't keep up here, let alone think about how to do business overseas.''

An Export Assistance Center can help. You don't need to have the infrastructure or the know-how to be a successful exporter, just the motivation, a good product and the willingness to try.

Why export? Last year's report by the U.S. Small Business Administration on international trade provides some answers. Small business exporters tend to pay higher salaries, are more productive, experience greater job growth and are more likely to stay profitable. Add the opportunity to win the prestigious ''E'' Award and you create a winning combination.

In accepting the World Trade Center's Hall of Fame Award last month, George Graziadio, chairman and co-founder of Imperial Bank, spoke of his company's motto: ''TNT,'' an acronym for ''Today, Not Tomorrow.'' U.S. exports of goods and services are once again growing in double digits. Why not join the rebound and visit an EAC to see how you can be an export winner?

See you in the Rose Garden.