Macon chamber celebrates successes, hands out awards at annual meeting

lmorris@macon.comDecember 5, 2013 

About 225 people gathered Thursday for the 153rd annual meeting of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce to celebrate its successes and to recognize various business leaders.

“We have been focused on expanding our regional efforts through supporting the consolidation transition of Macon-Bibb, working with Robins Air Force Base as they faced job furloughs and sequestration ... and working on a collaborative initiative to develop a truly comprehensive strategy to support economic development and community improvement,” Starr Purdue, chairwoman of the chamber, said at the meeting at Middle Georgia State College in Macon.

Other accomplishments this year by the chamber and the Macon Economic Development Commission noted during the event include:

• Near completion of the first phase of the Interstate 16-Interstate 75 interchange improvements.

• Community hostings of the delegations from India and Uganda, and the Japanese consul general.

• Middle Georgia Printing Cooperative’s announcement of a $1.5 million investment with 20-30 employees.

• Go Green’s commitment to a $12 million investment that would create 100 jobs.

• Kumho Tire’s recommitment to build its plant on 150 acres in the Sofkee Industrial Park with plans to hire more than 300 workers.

• Paper manufacturer Aspen Products’ announcement it will open a new facility, creating more than 200 jobs and investing $13 million into the project.

Robbo Hatcher, chairman of the Macon Economic Development Commission, said an ongoing project to develop a comprehensive strategy supporting economic development is coming along well and should be completed soon. The endeavor will shape “our success as a community for years to come,” he said.

Also during the meeting, Purdue handed over the gavel to Jason Delves as the incoming chamber chairman. Delves is president of BLC Hardwood Flooring LLC in Macon.

Awards given to community leaders

The event also was a time to recognize those who have significantly contributed to the community. The awards and winners are:

• Robert F. Hatcher Award: State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon.

• Citizen of the Year: Mercer University President Bill Underwood.

• Chairman’s Award: Robbo Hatcher, CEO of H2 Capital Inc., a private investment firm.

• Ambassador Award: Donna Hamrick of the Merchants Credit Bureau in Macon.

Chris Sheridan, the 2010 recipient of the Citizen of the Year award, introduced Underwood as this year’s recipient.

“It took the selection committee a 10th of a nanosecond to select this year’s award winner,” Sheridan said. “(Underwood) was an overwhelming choice. He wants to serve, he wants no credit. ... He is a thorough and clear thinker of the highest order ... and he fosters excellence in every endeavor.”

Sheridan mentioned several programs Underwood has been involved with, including one that brought water to a village in Uganda and a current program that provides prosthetic legs to amputees in Vietnam.

Locally, Underwood is involved in several community projects, serves as a member of the Macon-Bibb County consolidation team and helped bring back Mercer University’s football program, Sheridan said.

Underwood was clearly surprised by the award.

“The only reason they got me here is because they lied to me,” he said, adding he thought he was going to say a few words about someone else.

Lynn Farmer, director of Leadership Macon, introduced Randall as the winner of the Robert F. Hatcher Award, saying Randall “demonstrated the ability to inspire people to work together in spite of their varying agendas, and to work across party, and to work across race and across differences in beliefs.”

The shortest acceptance speech went to Randall, who gasped when she realized she had won the award. As she was handed the crystal vase award, she said, “I can’t believe it. Thank you.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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