Cedric Hill becomes 2016 chamber chairbr>
Posted December 18, 2015
BY TONY ADAMS
The Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce gathered in the historic Liberty Theater Thursday, reflecting on accomplishments in 2015 and laying out thoughts for the organization’s direction in 2016.
The annual meeting, held in the 91-year-old theater on Eighth Avenue, which was originally built to host special events and entertainment within the city’s African-American community, drew an estimated 300 people. It included installation of a new chamber chair, the presentation of three awards and a keynote speech by Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Clark.
First on the agenda was the passing of a ceremonial gavel from Troy Woods, who served as chairman of the chamber’s board in 2015, to Cedric Hill, who said in 2016 he wants to focus on fostering “fellowship and relationship” between the chamber and the community at large.
“We want to make sure that in the years to come that the chamber becomes relative to Columbus, people can relate to the things that are happening with the chamber because it’s relative to what they’re doing everyday,” said Hill, owner and president of Hill-Watson-People’s Funeral Service in Columbus.
Hill, looking out over the audience, called the fact that the chamber was meeting in the theater for the first time, rather than in a more traditional setting, a striking and progressive moment.
“Seeing a group such as this sitting in a venue such as this, the day has come. We are in a new South. We are in a new Columbus. We are in a new era of time, which we should take advantage of in the community,” said Hill, telling the group that inclusiveness is needed moving forward for the chamber to grow its membership base and be more effective.
“We want to know what you’re thinking and you’re feeling,” he said. “We want you to know that you matter to this chamber, you matter to this community and together we can make a difference.”
The organization currently has just over 1,300 members, with about 270 of those members new this year. The chamber’s annual report said its efforts in 2015 yielded 260 new jobs, while retaining 230 more, for a total of $8.7 million in new capital investment.
“To sum it up, 2015 has been a reasonably good year for your chamber,” said Woods, chairman, CEO and president of TSYS, a Columbus-based global credit-card and payments processor.
Looking back over the year, Woods noted it had been 12 months of change. He said the chamber had landed the “total package” with its hiring of Brian Anderson as its new president and CEO, replacing longtime leader Mike Gaymon.
Woods ticked off several “pillars” of performance for the organization, saying a major effort that will continue in 2016 is the Regional Prosperity Initiative, which aims to assess the area’s strengths and weaknesses, then build a strategy to bring people in the community together to accomplish a series of goals.
The outgoing chairman also touched on workforce development and the need for additional strides there, and also developing a steady pipeline of new leadership. He pointed to the chamber’s Young Professionals, with more than 700 members in the program and a heavy volunteer base, as an example of it exceeding expectations.
Just as he had a year ago, Woods also stressed the necessity for the community to maintain its “very strong partnership” with Fort Benning, calling it the “crown jewel” of the city’s economy, with it having an annual economic impact of $5 billion on the region.
The chamber’s Total Resource Campaign helped fuel much of those efforts, he said, with more than $820,000 raised in 2015.
The keynote speaker for the event was Clark, the Georgia chamber chief, who gave a history lesson of sorts on how the Columbus chamber and its business leaders have been major players in the state organization during its 100 years in operation. He mentioned that Kessell Stelling, chairman and CEO of Columbus-based Synovus Financial Corp., parent of Columbus Bank and Trust, will be the Georgia Chamber’s chairman in 2018.
Honors during the meeting included the presentation of the Jim Woodruff Jr. Memorial Award to retired Columbus State University President Frank Brown, who guided the school through a period of dramatic growth, leading to its steady expansion into downtown Columbus — which included a $100 million fund-raising campaign — and creation of its RiverPark Campus. Brown served the university from 1988 to 2008.
The J.R. Allen Young Leader Award was presented to Crystal Pendleton Shahid, a Synovus executive who has made an impact in the community. That includes serving as treasurer for the Muscogee County School District’s 2015 SPLOST campaign, heading the chamber’s Partners in Education Board, working with the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy and sitting on the Midtown Columbus Board. She also was on Georgia Trend magazine’s “40 Under 40” leadership list this year.
The Chair’s Award went to Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president and general counsel at Aflac, a supplemental health and life insurer headquartered in Columbus. Unavailable to attend the event due to business in the nation’s capital, Woods said Boone Tillman had gone “above and beyond the call of duty to support the community and the chamber.”
A series of smaller honors included Tires First being named Outstanding Small Business of the year, PTAP business owner Jason Gamache being chosen Young Entrepreneur of the Year and Uptown Columbus receiving a Visionary Award.
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