By Billy Corriher
The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, at its ceremony honoring its Small Business of the Year on Thursday, stressed the significance of business' investment in the still-struggling local economy and their contributions to the community.
This year's award recipient, Dee Patel of Country Inn and Suites, was commended not only for the company's financial success, but also factors like employee retention and its contributions to the community. Patel's company is active in community organizations like Arts Clayton, Habitat for Humanity and the Rotary Club.
Patel said her business, which was opened by her family six years ago, has continued to flourish despite the recent tough economy because of the hard work of her family and support from the public.
Patel's involvement in the community is indicative of the reciprocal relationship businesses should have with the community, said Mick Fleming, president of the American Chamber of Commerce.
The business community should work with local governments and organizations to ensure the growth and success of Clayton County, Fleming said.
"You are here to be stewards, not just passengers," he said.
And with almost 9,000 people still looking for work in Clayton County, small businesses are playing an even more important role in the success of the community, Fleming said.
"Small businesses create all the new jobs," he said.
Grant Wainscott, the chamber's vice president of community development, tries to ensure that small businesses continue contributing to the community by giving them advice on long-term growth. Most small businesses do not survive the first few years, he said, especially in the tough economic climate of recent years.
"The problem with many entrepreneurs is that their business is not fully funded," Wainscott said, adding that they do not have the money to stay open if their business is struggling.
Joe Lewis, owner of D'bo's Buffalo Wings n' Things in Riverdale, said his business only started a few years ago but has managed to stay afloat by building a loyal customer base.
"As soon as we opened in 2001, a lot of people started losing jobs," Lewis said. "But we've did alright."
Lewis has received advice and support from the Chamber of Commerce, which Fleming said is vital to a small business' success.
After the award ceremony, the chamber hosted a trade show that provided information to local businesses on employment services, investments and job training.
Fleming said entrepreneurs need the chamber for education and providing an avenue for networking.
With support from the chamber and contributions to the community, small businesses can contribute a great deal to the area's prosperity, Fleming said.