By Joel Hall
Hundreds gathered at the Georgia International Convention Center Thursday to celebrate the business achievements of Clayton County women, during the Chamber of Commerce's annual Women in Business Luncheon.
For the third year in a row, leaders and businesswomen united in solidarity, encouraging young, female entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams.
Crystal Black, chair of the Chamber's Women in Business Council, said it is important for businesswomen to support each other, as many have to balance the roles of caring for children and competing in male-dominated fields.
"There are not many programs that I know of that can gather 200 women to share their lives ... their stories," said Black. "It's an opportunity for us to see that we can still do all of the juggling and still be successful. I'm sure that there are several women that will get a spark and be inspired to be successful, too."
In addition to having guest speakers, the chamber honored Sabrina Crawford, co-owner of Heritage Cadillac Saab in Morrow, as its 2008 Business Woman of the Year.
Finalists for this year's award also included Dorothy Cochran, director of WORKTEC in Jonesboro, and Linda Miller, clerk of the Clayton County Superior and Magistrate courts.
In March of this year, Heritage Cadillac Saab also received the award for Large Business of the Year at the Chamber's 54th Annual Banquet.
"To get both of these in such a short period of time is just overwhelming," said Crawford. "It's almost hard to believe."
Crawford, whose parents had no money for college upon her graduation from high school, worked her way up the ladder of the car-sales industry. Starting as a cashier, Crawford became an office manager, a controller, a chief financial officer, and finally co-owner of a dealership, all while raising four children.
"I was determined that I wouldn't live the type of life my parents lived," said Crawford. She said the luncheon represents "that women have come a long way in business."
Clayton County Magistrate Court Chief Judge Daphne Walker -- last year's Business Woman of the Year -- was there to help give Crawford the award.
"It's good to be recognized by your peers, especially by other women, when you are working in a predominately male field," said Walker. "The Women in Business Council has been a tremendous part of my success from the support I get from the women involved."
Lesley Hatfield, founder and CEO of NiteSweatz, a line of temperature-regulating pajamas for women, was the luncheon's keynote speaker. She offered words of encouragement to other female entrepreneurs.
"We all have a $1 million idea," said Hatfield. "What's keeping you from taking that step?
"A lot of time, it's just taking that first leap of faith," said Hatfield. "If you do something you love, the money will come."