Sumter County Chamber of Commerce holds 99th annual meeting and awards dinner

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, May 29, 2019

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — A huge crowd attended the 99th annual meeting and awards dinner hosted recently by the Sumter County of Commerce at the Pope Center on the campus of South Georgia Technical College (SGTC). Following a reception and seated dinner prepared and served by SGTC culinary arts students, Faith Pinnell, 2019 chair of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, welcomed everyone.

She thanked SGTC for hosting this year’s annual awards dinner, and the following: Presenting Sponsor —Phoebe Sumter Medical Center; Reception Sponsor — Citizens Bank of Americus; Keynote Speaker Sponsor — The Staffing People; Gold Sponsors — City of Americus, Georgia Southwestern State University, Georgia Power Company, One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, SGTC, Sumter EMC, and Clinic Drug Store.

Pinnell also recognized the Chamber’s board of directors and Platinum Trustees.

“Our Platinum Trustees invest additional financial support and contributions to allow the Chamber to provide added services and benefits to our members, as well as present a college scholarship each year to a deserving high school student who that has completed our Chamber Champions Program,  and also awards a scholarship to a GED Student graduating from South Georgia Technical College’s GED Program,” she said.

“The Chamber is here to ensure your success, while working in partnership with the Sumter County Development Authority, One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, Americus-Sumter County Tourism Council, Americus Main Street, and all of our County and City officials throughout Sumter County to continue the progress we are making to build prosperity across our community.”

Pinnell also recognized Rhett Simmons who served as the 2017 and 2018 chair.

In 2018, Carolyn Wright was hired to serve the Chamber as president and CEO. Pinnell said, “Through her guidance the Chamber has focused on building our Division’s missions to build a stronger Chamber and truly becoming again the ‘Voice for Business for Sumter County.’”

Pinnell gave an overview of various activities of the Chamber Divisions.

The Education Division, chaired by Krystal Heath, hosted the second annual “State of Education” Dinner, welcomed new teachers to all of Sumter County’s schools, supported Feed My School Day at Furlow, and more.

The Governmental Affairs Division, chaired by Dr. Sam Adams, developed Sumter County’s Legislative Agenda for the 2019 State Legislative Session, which was delivered to our legislators this past fall.

Justin Arnold, chair of the Governmental Affairs Division, is organizing a Washington Fly-In this fall to share with our federal elected officials the needs of rural Georgia, and the 2019 Legislative Wrap-Up Luncheon was also held recently.

The Business Development Division, chaired by John Stovall, started the recognition of the Chamber’s “Business of the Month.” This year, the Division is working to provide requested workshops that will help our businesses of Sumter grow.  The Division started the “Coffee Connection” on the 2nd Wednesday of each month in partnership with Café Campesino. Monthly “Business After Hours” have resumed.

The Leadership Development Division, chaired by Paul Farr, added Furlow Charter School’s 11th graders to this year’s program.  A great Chamber program led by Program Coordinator Qaijuan Willis, Chamber Champions continues to be a strong entity of growing strong future leaders for Sumter County. The Division also kicked off a new college student-focused program, designed with assistance from the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at UGA, that is a customized Leadership initiative for students at Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College.  Focusing on community exposure, INSPIRE Sumter kicked off in the Fall of 2018.  “A special thank you to Jill Hohnecker of Georgia Southwestern State University, as well as Cynthia Carter and Paul Farr of South Georgia Technical College for helping to create a greater awareness of all that Sumter County has to offer for our new young professionals. We hope it will continue to serve as a unique talent retention program for our community!”

Last fall, under the direction of Dr. Sam Adams, the Chamber’s Ag Division hosted its first Ag Appreciation Day for business leaders, local officials, and the local legislative delegation.

“A new Division has been added this year,” Pinnell said. “A Programs and Events Division being Chaired by Kristi Weaver.  This Division will focus on plans to celebrate our Chamber’s 100th Year of Service to Sumter County Business community in 2020.”

Recently, the Chamber Board of Directors hosted a “Past Chairs” Dinner. Over 15 previous Chamber chairs came and shared their memories of time serving the Chamber and business community.

As the awards segment began, Pinnell asked Jimmy Whaley, 2019 vice chair, and Kristi Weaver, 2019 Programs and Events Division chair, to come forward to help present the 2019 Chamber of Commerce Awards.


Community Partner Award

“In Sumter County, we continue to be blessed with businesses, organizations and partnerships that go above and beyond to see success and growth in our community.  What’s unique about this year’s recipient is how quickly this company has embraced that spirit as if they had always been a part of the fabric of Sumter County,” Pinnell said. “Tonight’s recipient began that practice in 1951, by forging a partnership among business leaders in Emanuel and Candler counties to form a fledgling telephone cooperative to serve the economic needs of those east Georgia communities.  To say partnership is in their blood would be an understatement, but it is true and well represented in everything that they do and in every community they serve — tonight’s Community Partnership recipient truly embodies their mission and lives out their values of ‘Excellence, Integrity, Innovation, and a Servant’s Heart’ in their day-to-day service to their customers and relationships with their partners.”

Pineland Telecommunications has been in the community for nine months and has brought in 32 miles of giga-bit enabled broadband service to businesses and industries. “Not only did they announce a $2 nillion investment in Sumter County last August without asking for anything in return but our support, they immediately rolled up their sleeves, delivering balloons at 5 a.m. along the much-anticipated service delivery corridor where their services have been deployed.”

Pineland has also contributed financially to the new Ignite College & Career Academy and investing as a donor to the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation. Accepting the award was Dustin Durden, Pineland’s general manager and executive vice president.



Citizen of the Year Award

“As the Chamber nears the end of its first 100 years, we have been looking back at the events talking with the people that have made Americus such a special place to work and live,” Pinnell said. “As a result, it has become clear to us that individuals — sometimes in very public ways and sometimes in quiet ways — individuals who invest their time, energy and resources are the ones who make the biggest difference, so we decided to introduce a new award to recognize these wonderful leaders for what they do in our community.

“This year we are proud to recognize someone who makes a difference in each of our lives at our most memorable moments — weddings, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries — you can’t have these events without seeing the impact of this man and his business. His ability to deliver an amazing experience or a beautiful arrangement without taking the spotlight away from the Honoree has benefitted all of us over the years. Furlow Gatewood started Gatewood Florists following the end of the war in 1944, and Leon Holloway began working for his second cousin at the shop as a teenager in the mid-‘70s and eventually bought the store by the end of the decade. During that same period, two of his cousins started a catering business, aptly named Cousins Catering, and he worked with them for over 35 years before buying the business. Over those years, Leon purchased the Carnegie Library and transformed it into this community’s premier event location.

Throughout his career, he has hired-mentored and invested in hundreds of students from Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Tech College. He has served on Phoebe Sumter Hospital Foundation board and on Andersonville Guild.”

Pinnell said that Leon Holloway has helped the Chamber recruit businesses to town and he has helped comfort each of us through losses of family and friends. The Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the year, Leon Holloway, was presented a piece specially made by Chuck Wells with the GSW Glass Blowing Program.


Business of the Year

Next, the Chamber honored a company that has been a big part of Sumter County’s growth and economic well-being since 1961 — IMERYS Aluminates. The company began as MULCOA and has served the world for many years mining kaolin.

“Their product goes into applications from steelmaking to aluminum refining, from toilets to aerospace (jet engines),” Pinnell said. “With 16 production sites across six countries, spanning Europe, North America, Africa, and China, IMERYS aims for exemplary partnership with the local communities in which it serves.  IMERYS and its employees are committed to helping our community and our schools. IMERYS is very active supporter of the Sumter County Chamber, and each year is involved with the Chamber’s Tailgate Homecoming at South Georgia Technical College.  As a donor to the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, they have been instrumental in the success of Ignite College and Career Academy, recognizing the importance Ignite will have on its future workforce. … They also give of their time and support to the Sumter County Sherriff’s Office and diligently work with the Sumter County Development Authority.”

David Peppers accepted this year “2019 Business of the Year Award” on behalf of IMERYS and all its employees worldwide.


Sparky Reeves Sumter Trustee Award

This award was established four years ago to recognize and honor the lifetime achievements of an individual who helped in the growth of our community — one person at a time. Like this year’s recipient, Sparky Reeves dedicated his career to helping others find their paths in life by giving them opportunity, investing in their futures, and believing in their higher aspirations.

“Building a business that exemplifies those principles in everything they do, the 2019 Sparky Reeves Sumter Trustee Awardee uses his profession, and his life, as a ‘force for good,’ inspiring nearly everyone he meets.

Having a vision and daring to take risks on his dreams —and in others — tonight’s recipient lives his life and invests in his community. Through his business ventures and serving as for South Georgia Technical College  Creating a business model based on the Golden Rule …  2019 Trustee has applied that concept to his business and inspires others to do the same. Rather than solely generating wealth, tonight’s honoree recognizes that business can also be a tool to build relationships that ultimately make the world a better place.”

Pinnell said that South Georgia Technical College’s Vice President for Economic Development, Wally Summers has 45 years of experience in sales, marketing, distribution, relationship development, and management. He has been instrumental in starting five  successful companies.


Non-Profit of the Year Award

“All of Sumter County’s non-profits do so much for our community,” Pinnell said. “The Chamber would like to take this time to recognize one of our long serving non-profits … There are few people in this room who have not been a part of or touched by the work of this long-standing Americus service organization. … This group loves where they live, and they show it by giving of their time and talents. They teach a lifestyle of service and leadership, evident in the continued community service of their members, long after their active time in this organization is fulfilled. At least 60 hours a year, for at least five years and nine months, that’s what these ladies give.  They work in our hospital, our Humane Society, our school system, our nursing and youth homes and have hosted 25 Cowpoke Carnivals for the youth of our community. They are 82 years old and going strong. Please join me in congratulating the Americus Junior Service League as the Inaugural Winner of the Chamber’s “Non-Profit of the Year” Award, accepted tonight by their President, Makenzie Greene.”


One Sumter Visionary Impact Award

Chairman of the One Sumter Board of Directors, Alex Saratsiotis, spoke next. He recapped some of the successes in the community over the previous year such as Pineland Telecommunications’ $2 million investment, and being one of four grant recipients from the Technical College System of Georgia to establish the Ignite College & Career Academy, bringing an additional $3.1 million to Sumter County. He thanked the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the leadership at Sumter County Schools, Superintendent Torrance Choates; SGTC President John Watford of South Georgia Technical College; and Prepsident Neal Weaver ofGeorgia Southwestern State University.

“Each year, the One Sumter board of directors presents to an award to someone in the community who has embodied One Sumter’s mission, demonstrating passionate vision, leadership through service, while also serving as a catalyst for change,” Saratsiotis said. “Throughout the College & Career Academy process, there were so many individuals that provided invaluable leadership to help us keep pushing toward the finish line. However, the person we are recognizing tonight pre-dates all of this — and even pre-dates One Sumter as an organization. This person had a vision for a college and career academy before most of us even knew what one was — much less, to have a vision for something of this scale and possibility!

Sumter County’s journey to achieve a College & Career academy didn’t start in 2015 … It actually began years before, in 2013, with a phone call. Tonight’s recipient made a phone call to Atlanta, contacting the Technical College System of Georgia trying to gather information on how to start a college and career academy in Sumter County because they knew how valuable it would be for our students and our business community. And while it took a while to put all of the pieces together, they never lost sight of their vision — keeping it alive while quietly working toward the day it would become a reality for our community — likely not realizing the magnitude of the partnership that was about to be built to make that vision reality.

“In 2015, the economic development community held in a meeting with those same Technical College System officials from Atlanta, not knowing someone from our school system had already contacted them years before…during that initial information session, they shared with us that yes indeed, ‘someone,’ a teacher from the school system, had made a call years ago, but they couldn’t quite place or remember who it was. It was an exciting moment to be sure — someone in the education community had already had the vision! The only hope was to find that person and hopefully get them engaged.

“As One Sumter officially got off the ground and began working in earnest in late 2015-early 2016, specifically on what was known then as simply ‘workforce development goals,’ Jem Morris tapped Valerie Duff and Kimothy Hadley to help spearhead One Sumter’s workforce development and education efforts — really without knowing what direction it would take. During their first meeting, Mr. Hadley shared his idea that maybe one area we might pursue could be a ‘college and career academy.’ He mentioned making a call to the Technical College System of Georgia a year or two before to find out more information, and how he really thought it was exactly what we needed for Sumter County Schools … setting off a ‘light bulb moment’ when we all realized he was the one who had made the original call, and he was the one who had the original vision of what a college and career academy could do for the students of Sumter County!”

By 2017, they had a team that showed buy-in from the business community, support from the higher education partners, and total commitment from Sumter County Schools.

“So tonight, we honor a vision — and a commitment to that vision, even when it took years for others to understand it, embrace it, and make it a reality…It is my distinct pleasure to present the 2019 One Sumter’s Visionary Impact Award to Mr. Kimothy Hadley, Principal of Americus-Sumter County High School!”


Keynote speaker

Joe M. Turner, a professional speaker, magician, and mentalist, was keynote speaker. Over the last 20 years, his experiences in speaking and performance have taken him to six continents where he shares his amazing skills and insights with millions of people worldwide, including television appearances on Good Morning America, Nightline, CNN Headline News, CNN Chile, and even a featured spot on a nationally televised network magic special in Europe. He is known as the “Chief Impossibility Officer” because of his “magic in the message.”