By Maria Jose Subiria
A roller coaster of emotions was apparent as entrepreneurs, politicians and community leaders gathered Saturday night for the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's 55th Annual Banquet and Awards Presentation.
The festivities included dinner, a variety of awards, raffle prizes and live music.
"This is a great way to get the community together, by gathering all businesses, and it gives us a time to talk about all the business issues," said Ron Shipman, region manager for Georgia Power, leading sponsor of the event.
Before the night was done, the prestigious, 2008 Business of the Year Award, would be presented to Clayton State University, which began its existence as a junior college in 1969 and grew to become the vibrant university it is today.
The evolution was from community school to four-year college, with university status being achieved in recent years.
"It has just been a couple of years since its progression, which has developed rather fast," said Thomas Harden, CSU's longtime president, who will be leaving the community in June to become chancellor of a university in Wisconsin.
"Clayton State is very outstanding, because of its commitment of quality and staff, who are so good and work so hard," Harden said.
Harden accepted the award from last year's Business of the Year winner, Sabrina Crawford owner of Heritage Cadillac Saab. "Clayton State has made a bigger impact in the community this year," Crawford said.
The Small Business of the Year award for 2008 was given to Destiny Produce, reported to be the only certified, organic store in the state of Georgia. The company promotes organic agriculture and educates the public about the advantages of organic agriculture. It also seeks to take care of the environment through recycling.
"We are making great strides in making a better world," said Dee Dee Digby, owner of Destiny Produce. "We are recycling 95 percent of what we have."
Although community and business leaders often seek to lure large businesses to their communities, Digby pointed out that small business, such as Destiny Produce, can have a great impact on a community because of its stewarship of the evironment and its dependability.
"What we are most proud of is supporting local producers in Clayton County, and that is making a great difference that will go along way," Digby said.
Paragon Systems Incorporated, a business that concentrates on security service management, was last year's small business winner.
Another key accolade, the Carl G. Rhodenizer Community Service Award, was presented to State Rep. Mike Glanton, who is the chairman of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation. Glanton has helped raise more than $15,000 for the Clayton County Grass Roots Leadership Institute. The institute seeks to educate community members on leadership roles, and prepares them to claim an active role in Clayton County.
"I do what I do, because I have a love for the community, and it's always a blessing," Glanton said.
The celebration was hosted by Yulonda Beauford, president and CEO of the Clayton Chamber, and Geoff Fulton, of Fulton and Kozak, LLC, who was chairman of the board of the chamber for 2008.
Fulton passed the chairman's gavel to Mike Vigil, of Allan Vigil Ford-Lincoln Mercury, who will lead the board in 2009.