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Sumter Chamber of Commerce holds 96th annual meeting

Awards presentations highlight well attended event

AMERICUS — The 96th Annual Meeting of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce was held Feb. 18 in the Pope Center at South Georgia Technical College (SGTC).
Several hundred people attended the event which began with a reception hosted by One Sumter, followed by a dinner prepared by the culinary arts students at SGTC.
Barbara Grogan, president of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, gave the welcome, followed by the Rev. Bill Dupree who led in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a moment of silence for the American troops, and gave the invocation.
Chamber board Chairman Tracy Law introduced officials and guests and thanked the Americus Sumter High School Jazz Ensemble which provided music for the evening, directed by Debra Hughes. He also recognized all who hold public office in Sumter County to stand and be recognized.
Law also recognized all the past chairmen and members of the board
“It gives me great pleasure to recognize the 2015 Board of Directors, whose commitment and service has been invaluable to the Chamber and to this community,” Law said, recognizing the following Executive Committee – 2015: Lewis Webb, past chairman; Jay Roberts, chairman–elect; Rhett Simmons, treasurer; Danny Minick, vice president of agriculture; Sandhya Muljibhai, vice president of leadership development; Faith Pinnell, vice president of health & wellness; and Dave Tucker, vice president of membership.
Law also recognized the directors: Jackie Bryce, Ben Dupree, Kyler Crawford, Paul Farr, Bill Harris Jr., Marylynne Joiner, Chad Ledger, Mark Pace, Williams Rambo, Reda Rowell and Ross Youngdale.
Law also expressed his appreciation for the Chamber office team which includes Barbara Grogan, Ivy Oliver, Mary Beth Bass and Lynsey Williams.
The Chamber’s  Platinum Trustees were also recognized.
“There is a group of businesses in Sumter County that go above and beyond in their support of the Chamber,” Law said. “In addition to paying their membership dues, our Platinum Trustees extend extra financial support which allows the Chamber to provide additional services and benefits to its members, as well as present a college scholarship to a local high school student.”
They are: Alex Saratsiotis, Accelerated Physical Therapy; Courtney Brinson, AT & T Georgia; Mike Barnett, Barnett Computers; Rick Whaley, Citizens Bank of Americus; Mayor Barry Blount, City of Americus; The Pinnell Family, Clinic Drug Store; Dan Berman, Concentra Solution and PharmaCentra; Jem Morris, Georgia Power Co.; Charles Patterson, Georgia Southwestern State University; Peter Dalva, Habitat for Humanity; Brad Lafevers, Heart of Georgia Railroad; Mark Todd, Magnolia Manor; Dr. Mike Busman, MedSpa of Americus; Gerrit Posthumus, IMERYS Refractory Minerals; Kevin Reeves, Parker’s Heating & Air; Brandi Lunneborg, Phoebe Sumter Medical Center; Mary Ann Crowley, Rotary Club of Americus; Barry Blount, SB&T; Janice Davis, South Georgia Technical College; Mike Yerby and Cathy Tyler, The Staffing People; Randy Howard, Sumter County Board of Commissioners; Ted McMillan, Sumter Electric Membership Corporation; Mr. and Mrs. David Williams, Williams Office Equipment.
The highlight of the meeting was the Presentation of 2015 Awards, led by Barbara Grogan.
Bill Harris Jr., a member of the Chamber board and the Americus Downtown Development Authority, presented the award for Community Enhancement.
“In 2012, the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce developed the Community Enhancement Award which recognizes a Sumter County business, family or organization that has made a recent investment in operations to notably improve the appearance of property, facilities and services provided,” Harris said. “Back to the 1990s and even before, this family has worked to enhance Sumter County in many aspects.  Whether it is their willingness to volunteer their time and expertise with local organizations, or to invest personally in the revitalization and redevelopment of the community, this family has remained focused on the growth and prosperity of Sumter County through many generations.
“In the 1990s members of this family began partnering with others to renovate what is now over 30 homes, including those around Barlow and Earl Street, and most recently what began in 2012 with an initial cluster of properties in downtown Americus; they’ve brought about consistent enhancement to the community. Where you might remember shopping at a Belk’s and Allied Department Store, Eli Attyah Grocery, or visiting the Glover Opera House, today these buildings house Center Stage Market, Fabulous Feet Dance Studios, the Fair Store and Bittersweet Coffee and Books. We have witnessed a significant enhancement along Forsyth Street in downtown Americus, with the restoration and reopening of these properties. This evening, it is my pleasure to present the Community Enhancement Award to Mr. John Crisp, Mr. Charles Crisp and Mr. Henry Crisp, who have always enhanced our community.”
Sandhya Muljibhai, vice president of the leadership development division, presented the award for Customer Service.
“Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business,” she said. “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. In a community our size, it is imperative that the customers feel valued … so much so that they will not only return, but will encourage others to do so as well.
“This local business knows about making customers feel valued; so much so that on any given day, and particularly a Saturday around noon, you can find all of your friends gathered around the tables enjoying scrumptious food and catching up. The environment is one that makes you want to not only eat, but visit, say hello and stay a while.  A chef who has found his passion in creating and sharing delicious dishes partnered this passion with exemplary customer service that makes every visit a memorable experience for the patron. This year’s award goes to a business that not only provides marvelous meals but also a level of customer service that makes everyone feel at home.  It is with great pleasure that I present the Excellence in Customer Service award to the Lee Harris and the staff at Sweet Georgia Baking.”
Faith Pinnell, vice president of the health and wellness division, presented the Servant Leadership Award.
“Numerous job responsibilities associated with several major roles keep this individual more than busy enough with few moments, if any, of down time,” she said. “This individual works for many local municipalities, creating and maintaining maps, databases and pertinent information that keeps us all informed and safe on a daily basis.
“Along with this detailed work this individual gives personal time to help numerous organizations in ways that would exhaust even the strongest and most capable of individuals. From creating spur of the moment maps to recruit prospects, maintaining accurate property listings for emergency personnel, to providing the community planning and development departments with resources, every detail of our community that requires a database of information related to property and mapping is maintained by this individual.
“This servant leader spends her time providing the data needed for many of us to be successful in our roles. She has the heart of a servant and helps lead others, offering positive encouragement and working along beside you whenever she can. Through her efforts, she makes sure that Americus and Sumter County is known from every data point possible. I’ve highlighted only a few of the reasons why she is the perfect choice for this year’s Servant Leader Award, I could add many more because the list is endless. And though she is unable to join us tonight, please help me congratulate Ms. Beverly Butcher, winner of this year’s Servant Leadership Award!”
Lewis Webb, 2012/2013 chairman of the board, presented the award for Small Business of the Year.
“Small businesses make up more than half of our economic base,” he said. “The Small Business of the Year is chosen by the board of directors and is based on the following criteria:  excellent customer satisfaction, superior customer awareness, business growth within the last year, current upgrade or expansion of facilities, and excellent relationships with other local businesses. This family owned business meets these criteria and many more. They partner with many others, whether it be the community to host New Year’s Eve Bashes, partnering with the Ride Home, a nonprofit paying tribute to American Prisoners of War and Those Still Missing in Action, to hosting dinner meetings and relaxed settings for local companies to host clients, the business goes above and beyond to cater to the individualized needs of all patrons.
“Along with their services, they believe in community support and volunteering, and you will always find one of them around to lend a helping hand, even on rainy community cleanup days, they never back away from an opportunity to see the community grow and prosper. They give of their time, talents and personally invest in the community, working to ensure the downtown focal point of our Shining City on a Hill remains vibrant and welcoming to all.
“In 2015, they received the Best Western Chairman’s Award, the hotel chain’s highest honor for outstanding quality standards. As their home community, we also award them as the Small Business of the Year, as Sharad, Vic, and Divya Patel and the entire Windsor Hotel team provide outstanding service and support of our community. Please accept this award with our gratitude.”
Danny Minick, a member of the board, presented the award to the Agribusiness of the Year.
“The Agribusiness award is presented annually to a company who is dedicated to sustaining and expanding the agricultural footprint of Sumter County,” he said. “As a leading agricultural business in the community, it plays an important role in the economic success of the community. The annual economic impact of the agricultural industry in 2015, was well over $126 million, which is due to companies like the one we are awarding tonight.
“What began in a potato shed in 1973, has steadily grown to include multiple locations with products being shipped to the New England states, Canada, Texas and California at times. A local citizen started this business, and he operated with two principles from which he would never deviate: honesty and a quality product. These principles served him and this community well, as the business is now up to 50 employees at various times of the season. The brand, started by Mr. Roy Lee and known as Roy-Boy, commands respect for quality wherever you go. Working with producers regionally across the state, they are able to process, package, and ship fresh green beans from late September to late June, providing the beans almost year-round.  It is my pleasure this evening to present the agribusiness of the year award to Mr. Taylor Neighbors and his team at Magnolia Packing. You are a great example of the many agribusinesses in Sumter County, and we wish you all many more years of success.”
Dave Tucker, vice president of the membership division, presented the award for the Manufacturer of the Year.
“There is a wide array of manufacturers in Sumter County, with many hardworking individuals,” he said. “Manufacturers play a crucial role nationally and internationally, as well as drive the local economies. With so many great manufacturers, it can be challenging to choose just one each year. However, this manufacturer has consistently grown and evolved as they have stayed competitive in their markets.
“Having received their first order on May 6, 1977, they began with seven employees and have expanded to 75 employees.  Working together as a family has always been a part of their lifestyle. Three generations of this family continue to play integral roles with the company, each bringing their expertise to contribute to the success. Producing flexible polyurethane foam, they have all handled every phase of the operation to become familiar with each stage of manufacturing the foam product.  This type of dedication to each detail is what they knew would make them successful, and it has. Sumter County is proud you all have chosen to operate your manufacturing facility here. Mr. Harold, Greg, Steve, Tina, Rick, and to every one of the Austin family, it is my privilege to honor Mr. Harold Austin and award the Manufacturer of the Year to the team at Austin Urethane.”
Following the awards presentations, Tracy Law officials passed the gavel to incoming Chairman Jay Roberts, whose platform is  Engaged Business, Thriving Community.
“As I begin this new role, I would like to start by thanking you, Tracy, for your dedication and support over the past few years,” he said. “During your time of leadership, we have seen the chamber grow, evolve and bring in many new members and citizens who make this a great place to live. In appreciation of your efforts, we would like to make a donation this evening to the Scott Law Foundation, in your honor. We know you hold the foundation and Scott close to your heart at all times, and we have been honored to serve with you, as you have treated the Chamber like your family as well. Thank you!”
Roberts also recognized the 2016 board of directors: Executive Committee – 2016 — Tracy Law, past chairman; Rhett Simmons, chairman-elect; Reda Rowell, treasurer; Marylynne Vasbinder, secretary; Sandhya Muljibhai, vice president of leadership  development; Dave Tucker, vice president of membership; Faith Pinnell, vice president of health & wellness; Kyler Crawford, vice president of agriculture: directors Keelan Barkley, Jackie Bryce, Kim Christmas, Paul Farr Bill Harris Jr., Whitney Kimbrough, Chad Ledger, Danny Minick, Mark Pace, William Rambo, Kevin reeves, Ross Youngdale.
Roberts then introduced the Sumter Trustee Award.
“As we begin to bring this evening to a close, I want to share with you all about a new award the Chamber is announcing this evening,” he said. “As organizations grow and evolve, we have the opportunity to be guided, mentored and build friendships with many people along the way. In doing so, there are times when someone makes such an impression that it can be felt community wide, on a daily basis. So much so that you begin to think of this person and how they may address a topic or handle a situation … always thinking what would they do?
“As the board of directors began thinking of this award, the word ‘trustee’ came to mind many times. When you consider the definition of ‘trustee,’ words and phrases such as ‘appointed, given trust to take action or manage ‘come to mind. There are many people in Sumter County who have risen to the occasion and served in a trustee capacity for this community, the organizations and the citizens at various times in their lives. But one particular person came to our minds. For over four decades, this person has worked as if they were a trustee of this community, and particularly this institution where we are this evening. They have set goals, followed through with implementation, and met success, not for themselves, but for this community. Because in each of these goals, they saw the bigger picture, had the vision to understand that as they lead the expansion of educational programs, improvements of facilities and campus, increases in enrollment, athletics teams and clubs competing at national levels, SACS accreditation and national recognition, and growth of the South Georgia Technical College Foundation, that they were not just growing South Georgia Technical College, but they were growing people, on a personal and individual level, and they were growing this community one person at a time.
“As a trustee, you couldn’t find someone who would be more dedicated to growth and success than this person. When we asked for friends and family to share words to describe this person, terms like ‘committed, energetic, dynamic, and visionary’  were shared. But also voiced were terms that conveyed that he understands the value of people, such as ‘never meets a stranger, makes everyone feel important, and sees the potential in all.’ It is for these reasons and many more, that tonight I am announcing the Sparky Reeves Sumter Trustee Award. Because Sparky exemplifies what it means to be a trustee, to be given the responsibility of the success of Sumter County, and to proudly act upon that responsibility.
“Sparky, if you will join me at the podium, tonight I am honored to present you with the first Sparky Reeves Sumter Trustee Award, and we invite you join us next year and for many years to come as we acknowledge others who have followed in your footsteps of serving as a trustee for Sumter County. You have laid a fine foundation for both South Georgia Technical College and the community to continue growing.”

Jay Roberts, chairman of the board, Sumter County of Commerce, at left, with Sparky Reeves, recipient of the inaugural Sparky Reeves Sumter Trustee Award. Allene Reeves is shown in the center.

Jay Roberts, chairman of the board, Sumter County of Commerce, at left, with Sparky Reeves, recipient of the inaugural Sparky Reeves Sumter Trustee Award. Allene Reeves is shown in the center.