By Joel Hall
Over drinks, food, and the sounds of calypso, the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce celebrated the business accomplishments of last year, honored distinguished members of the business community, and passed the torch from old officers to new ones.
The chamber's 54th Annual Banquet took place on Saturday night at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel, located at 1900 Sullivan Road in College Park. A steel drum band, playing tunes such as Justin Timberlake's "My Love," welcomed guests as the backbone of the Clayton business community gathered to honor businessmen and women who have made a difference in the county's economy.
Heritage Cadillac-Saab in Morrow was recognized as the 2007 "Business of the Year" and Paragon Systems, Inc. -- a burglar and fire protection agency in Jonesboro -- was recognized as "Small Business of the Year."
Other awards were given to individuals for their service to the chamber or the community in general.
Crystal Black, general manager of VanO'Linda and Associates, was awarded "Chamber Partner of the Year" for the third year in a row. Retired State Rep. William "Bill" Lee was awarded the Carl G. Rhodenizer Community Service Award, and retired Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Stephen E. Boswell was given a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his accomplishments.
Speeches were kept to a minimum, as to give chamber members time to enjoy chocolate cake and take care of business on the dance floor. However, chamber officials expressed satisfaction with being able to grow the organization's membership despite recent economic challenges.
Last year, the council took a stand on several key political issues, such as helping defeat a March 20, 2007 referendum which would have done away with the county's one percent Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), which generates about $30 million a year for the county and $12 among the municipalities. The chamber also hosted its first charity golf tournament in June of last year.
Outgoing Chairman of the Board Cathy Hill said that one of the biggest accomplishments of the chamber last year was the creation of the Women in Business Council.
"I knew it would only take a spark and it would take on a life of its own ... that is exactly what has happened with the Women in Business Council," said Hill.
Before the council was established, "there was no organization in this county that highlighted their contributions," Hill continued. She said the organization has become a means of support and encouragement for female entrepreneurs in the county.
Sabrina Crawford, co-owner of Heritage Cadillac-Saab, said that despite the negative press Clayton County has received in the last few years, the chamber continues to bring new businesses to the county.
"The chamber can continue to be a voice," said Crawford. "They can say we're still a good county and we're going to get through this."
Hill said she hopes that this year the chamber will establish a greater partnership with the Clayton County School System. "Education is so important to the success of all our business," said Hill. "I hope that the chamber develops a stronger partnership with [the school board] and I believe they will."