From Staff Reports
AMERICUS — The 92nd annual meeting of the Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce held Feb. 16 at the Rylander Theatre, brought out a sizable crowd of people representing business, education, industry and other areas.
Following an invocation by the Rev. Bill Dupree, “The National Anthem” was sung by Olivia Johnson, a seventh-grader at Staley Middle School.
Dr. Wallace Mays, chairman of the Chamber board, introduced the Platinum Trustees: Accelerated Physical Therapy, After Hours Care of Americus, Americus-Sumter County Payroll Development Authority, Americus Times-Recorder, Apollo Healthstreet, AT&T Georgia, Barnett Computers, Century 21/Americus Realty Inc., Citizens Bank of Americus, City of Americus, Clinic Drug Store, The Denham Agency, Georgia Power Co., Georgia Southwestern State University, Glover Foods, Habitat for Humanity, Heart of Georgia Railroad, Magnolia Manor, Mulcoa/C-E Minerals, Parker’s Heating & Air, Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, Rotary Club of Americus, South Georgia Technical College, The Staffing People, SB&T, Star Racing, Sumter County Board of Commissioners, Sumter Electric Membership Corp., PetCareRX.
The Chamber Executive Committee was also recognized: Sherrill House, past chairman; Lewis Webb, chairman-elect; Sandhya Muljibhai, secretary; Charlene Pennymon, treasurer; George Torbert, assistant treasurer; Carey Harbuck, vice president of Community Development; Jay Roberts, vice president of Economic Development; Cindy Pryor, vice president of Membership; Michael Dixon, vice president of Tourism.
Directors were also recognized: Justin Arnold, Jackie Bryce, Aimee Ellanson, Norman Graves, Tracy Law, Marty McDonald, Vic Patel, Kevin Reeves, Rhett Simmons, Dave Tucker, Turner Williams, Steven Wright and Mary Wysochansky.
The Chamber staff was also recognized: Angela Westra, president; Ivy Oliver, director of Membership and Community Development; MeriBeth McNeill, Marketing and Business Development coordinator; Qaijuan Willis, administrative assistant.
A popular segment of the program is always the presentation of Division Awards.
This year they were as follow: Community Development Volunteer of the Year — Karen Werling; Economic Development Volunteer of the Year — Jackie Bryce; Ambassador of the Year — Sandhya Muljibhai; Membership Volunteer of the Year — Sherrill House; Tourism Volunteer of the Year — Tracy Law.
In making the announcement of the Small Business of the Year, Angela Westra said, “Small businesses make up more than half of our economic base. The Small Business of the Year is chosen by a committee consisting of Chamber volunteers and is based on criteria formed by the Chamber Board of Directors. These criteria include excellent customer satisfaction, superior customer awareness, ethical business practices, business growth within the last year, current upgrade or expansion of facilities, excellent relationships with other local businesses and has recently experienced new business investments. It should be no surprise that this year’s recipient has met all those criteria and more.”
Eshonda Blue and Jessica Wright of Innovative Senior Solutions were the recipients. They were unable to attend the meeting.
In announcing Fresh Plants Inc. as recipient of the Agribusiness of the Year, Westra said, “Established in 1998, this company has brought into the community over $60 million in revenues and ships its product all over the nation. This company is unique as it is owned by a co-op of seven local farmers, and has grown and prospered under the guidance and tutelage of manager Mr. Charles Hart.”
The Educational Excellence Award, for community collaboration, organizational leadership and the enhancement of the quality of education in Sumter County, went to Karen Gatewood.
Westra, in making the announcement, said of Gatewood, “The platform of the Chamber of Commerce has been Education First for many years now. We believe in order to have a sound and vibrant community we must have a dedicated, hard working and well-educated work force. We all know that we must have a strong public school system and excellent educational leaders in order to maintain and grow our business base. This individual served on the Board of Education, chaired the Education Committee, coordinated and organized the Elementary Students of Excellence Award ceremonies since they began, is a fabulous cook and is one of the sweetest individuals you will ever meet.”
Mary Wysochansky and Anna Stinchcum and the staff of After Hours Care of Americus were the recipients of the Excellence in Customer Service Award.
Westra said, “Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. It is important to provide customers with quality and excellence in service and to do so with a good attitude that values the customer and encourages loyal patronage. And in a community our size, it is imperative that the customers feel valued and they will not only return, but encourage others to do so as well. This year’s award goes to a business that not only makes customers feel valued, but helps them feel better as well.”
The inaugural Community Enhancement Award went to Perry Wellness Center and its Happy Patch Produce stand.
Westra said, “This year, a committee of the Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce developed the Community Enhancement Award which recognizes a Sumter County business or organization that has made a recent investment in operations to notably improve the appearance of property, facilities and the services provided. This organization revitalized a piece of property in such a way as to not only expand and improve its facilities and services, but utilized the property in such a way that it improved the aesthetics of the entire neighborhood block as well — all the while, providing a unique environment to the individuals its serves, as well as, to the public.”
Jay Roberts was awarded for Servant Leadership.
Westra said, “The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. There is no better way to describe the recipient of this Servant Leadership award. This individual not only is available anytime the Chamber needs help, but serves nearly every committee the Chamber has or takes part in ... he comes from a long history of Chamber leadership as his father led this organization as its Chairman in 1967. We hope that he knows how important he is to this organization and how grateful we are for his willingness to serve while dodging the limelight.”
Cindy Pryor was recognized as Volunteer of the Year.
Westra said, “The Chamber of Commerce could not succeed without its fantastic volunteers. While all of us here tonight volunteer in one capacity or another, there is always one or two individuals that work just a little harder, show just a little more enthusiasm, and always do so gratefully and willingly. This individual has never failed to be the anchor for Chamber projects, has provided insurmountable time and energy to Chamber efforts.”
Westra gave remarks about the successes in the local community over the past year.
“In 2011, we witnessed the completion of our new hospital, we started shipping chopsticks to Asia (who would have thought?), we welcomed a new call center and returned jobs to the US from overseas, and we opened over 80 new businesses in Americus alone.
The Americus Motorsports Complex is on the horizon with the topography study underway, other businesses and industries are expanding, and both colleges are thriving.”
Westra also explained that the Chamber is beginning a new agriculture initiative this year, by establishing an agriculture committee; partnering with Georgia Farm Bureau, partnering with the Sumter County Extension Office, hosting an agriculture appreciation event, and creating awareness about local agribusiness through public relations, farm tours, etc.
Westra had high praise for her staff of Ivy Oliver, MeriBeth McNeill and Qaijuan Willis, whom she referred to as “the incredibles.”
Outgoing board chair Wallace Mays then handed the gavel to incoming chairman Lewis Webb, who introduced the executive committee: Dr. Wallace Mays, past chairman; Tracy Law, chairman-elect; Turner Williams, secretary; Rhett Simmons, treasurer; George Torbert, assistant treasurer, Faith Pinnell, vice president of Community
Development; Jay Roberts, vice president of Economic Development; Cindy Pryor, vice president of Membership and Michael Dixon, vice president of Tourism.
He also introduced the 2012 board of directors: Jackie Bryce, Aimee Ellanson, Carey Harbuck, Marty McDonald, Vic Patel, William Rambo, Dave Tucker, Mary Wysochansky.
Westra introduced the guest speaker, Charles Marshall, a humorous motivational speaker. Marshall is founder and president of M Power Resources, a company dedicated to providing growth resources for business and individuals. He has over 20 years of full-time experience as a motivational speaker and comedian. He has authored two books. “Shattering the Glass Slipper” and “I’m Not Crazy But I Might Be a Carrier.” He has also produced and performed in two full-length comedy videos.
Marshall gave an energy- and laughter-filled presentation on the importance of customer service, often pulling in unwitting or unwilling audience participation. While his lessons are serious, his presentation is hilarious.
A beautiful array of hors d’oeuvres and beverages followed in a reception on the Rylander stage.