By Joel Hall
Hundreds of people from various sectors of the community gathered at Arts Clayton on Wednesday to welcome Yulonda Beauford as the new president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.
Local business leaders, school board members, and politicians honored Beauford, who assumed leadership of the business-and community-boosting organization in August.
Prior to being appointed president and CEO, Beauford served as the chamber's vice president, for three years. She passed up an offer to take the top position earlier this year, but stepped in after former president and CEO, Lacey Ekberg, tendered her resignation at the end of July.
Geoff Fulton, chairman of the chamber's board of directors, said of her ascension to the CEO's job: "It's about damn time."
"I'm pleased that she took [the job]," said Fulton. "Yulonda is very plugged into the community. She is known and respected ... She already has a good vision about where we need to go."
In the wake of the Clayton County Public School System losing its accreditation, and the economic uncertainties that may follow, Fulton believes Beauford is ready for the challenge of leading the chamber, "because she knows all of the players.
"She's always talking to local businesses to try to find creative ways to promote them, even when local businesses are tightening their belts," said Fulton.
John Thompson, corrective superintendent of Clayton County Schools, echoed Fulton's sentiments, and said that Beauford will be a valuable partner in helping the county regain its accreditation.
"I really think Clayton County, as a whole, needs to have an air of stability, and she brings that to the chamber," said Thompson. "She has always offered an olive branch to the school district. She was one of the first people to offer me support when I came in. As superintendent of the schools, I am looking forward to working with her," said Thompson.
State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) praised Beauford's ability to organize, build alliances, and accomplish goals. "She is the type of leader who, once she has taken control [of a task], you can count it done," said Seay. "She has already done so much work behind the scenes. I think she is going to do fantastic."
Shane Short, former president and CEO of the Clayton Chamber, and current president and CEO of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, traveled over an hour and a half on Wednesday to show his support of Beauford.
Short said there is "no doubt" in his mind that Beauford is the best person for the position. "Yulonda is a very intelligent individual and very detailed," said Short. "She can foresee issues and problems before they are here, often being able to avoid them. Not only do they have a skilled individual, they have someone that knows and loves the community," he said.
Prior to working for the Clayton chamber, Beauford had 11 years of experience in management positions for chambers in Miami, Fla., and Hampton Roads, Va. She said she feels comfortable in her new role, and is "humbled" by the wide-spread community support.
"I'm excited about having the opportunity to step into this leadership role at this time," she said. "It's critical for the person who is in there to call on the relationships that we already have. We are going to have to reunite as a county and a business community to face these challenges that we have.
"The love is just overwhelming and we are going to carry this enthusiasm into making Clayton County into the best place to live, work, and play for our citizens and businesses."