A successful Workforce Summit, a Health and Wellness Forum and a campaign that raised more than $350,000, are some of the accomplishments achieved this year by the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.
These achievements and others, goals for next year and the presentation of awards were part of the chamber's 157th annual meeting held Thursday at Middle Georgia State University and attended by about 300 people.
The Workforce Summit, held in August, demonstrated that by bringing together the business community and workforce partners to find new ways to meet the needs of students and workers, it will create a more vibrant economy, said Dan Slagle, chairman of the Macon Economic Development Commission. Slagle also is director of business services at Cox Business.
The chamber's second year of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, also known as YEA!, was successful, said George Greer, outgoing chamber chairman and a lawyer with Spivey, Pope, Green & Greer. The academy, which was launched in 2016, leads students 11 to 18 through the process of developing business ideas all the way through launching their own companies. This year, YEA! was the only first-year program to win a National Director's Award out of the 100 cities in the U.S. and India in which YEA! operates.
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Looking ahead, the chamber plans to continue to support regionalism by advocating for a transportation special purpose local option sales tax as well as other transportation initiatives important to the business community, said Ron Shipman, incoming chamber chairman. He is the Southwest regional vice president for Georgia Power Co.
Also. the chamber will work with its delegation to advance transportation projects, including the Sardis Church Road extension, the Middle Georgia Regional Airport runway extension and high-speed passenger rail, he said.
The awards presented Thursday include:
The MEDC Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission. This replaces, for one year only, the Economic Development Champion Award. Chamber president Mike Dyer said Topping has supported the mission of the MEDC since 1993 when he began as project manager. Since 1999 he has held his current position.
For more than 20 years, he was "the single point of contact" for economic development in Bibb County. Topping will be leaving MEDC at the end of the year. Over the years, Topping has earned the reputation of having a strong work ethic, uncompromised integrity, strong state and regional relationships with all our economic development partners, Dyer said.
Citizen of the Year Award went to Blake Sullivan, who was instrumental in supporting the Leader in Me program for Bibb County Schools. The criteria for this award includes someone who has worked to enhance the livability and the economic climate of the area.
Robert F. Hatcher Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Pearlie Toliver, who has served on several boards throughout the city and state, including the boards for the Macon Housing Authority, for the Beall's Hill Development Corp., the Macon Arts Alliance, the state board of Georgia Tobacco Commission and the Georgia Student Finance Commission. She holds a life membership with Macon's chamber. She also served on the Bibb County consolidation task force.
Ambassador of the Year was presented to Patty Burns for her outstanding work in engaging new members in chamber activities and encouraging existing members to stay involved.
The Chairman's Award was presented to Rob Betzel, founder and CEO of Infinity Network Solutions. He serves as vice chairman of existing business and industry on the chamber's executive committee. Betzel has been a strong advocate for entrepreneurship in the community and has encouraged the chamber to increase its support of small business.
Charles Jay Fellow Award, which is given in honor of the co-founder of Leadership Macon, and is presented to a member of the 2017 class who demonstrated outstanding community leadership, was presented to Spencer Hawkins. This year's class is building a fitness circuit at Amerson River Park which includes gym-quality fitness equipment along the walking trail.