Clayton Chamber of Commerce presents awards

Approximately 500 Clayton County business people, government officials, and county residents came together Saturday, for the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's 56th Annual Banquet and Awards Presentation.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport came away with the Business of the Year award, and Tara Vending, Inc., won the Small Business of the Year award.

"The first thing it [the banquet] does is bring the business people of the county together, to really ground the one-ness of vision, which is necessary to get us through these trying economic times," said Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell. "And the county is happy to be part of that business vision of the future."

Crystal Black, director of member services for the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, said the banquet served as "another opportunity for us to recognize those businesses that are excelling in the community."

According to Mike Vigil, 2009 chairman of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Hartsfield-Jackson received the Business of the Year award because of its significant impact and commitment to the county, and its support of the chamber.

"The airport, its fundamental mission is economic development," said Mario Diaz, deputy general manager of the Department of Aviation at Hartsfield-Jackson.

According to Vigil, Hartsfield-Jackson continues to be innovative in the aviation industry. In December, the airport opened a 67.5-acre Rental Car Center and the ATL SkyTrain, which transports passengers from the airport to the Rental Car Center in approximately five minutes.

Diaz said the airport has an economic impact of about $23.5 billion annually, and that "Clayton County receives a good percentage of that."

The Small Business of the Year award was presented to Tara Vending, Inc., a supplier of vending products, office coffee services, water services and corporate catering.

Yulonda Beauford, president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, said the judges, who were past winners of the award, were in search of a business in the community that demonstrated growth, innovation and community involvement.

"I am very proud to receive this award," said Ben Massengale, owner and president of Tara Vending. "I've been doing this now for 28 years. This couldn't have been possible without my employees. I have the best group of employees."

"According to Coca-Cola South Metro Operations, this business has increased volume for 2009 in excess of 19 percent, while 99 percent of other vendors and customers have seen sales drop by 10 percent in 2009," Dee Dee Digby, of previous Small Business of the Year award recipient Destiny Organics, said in introducing Tara Vending.

Other awards presented Saturday included Chamber Partner of the Year, which went to Bess Garrett of the Georgia Department of Labor; the Chairman's Award, which went to Sabrina Crawford, co-owner of Heritage Cadillac Saab in Morrow; the Carl G. Rhodenizer Community Service Award, which was presented to Linda Summerlin, executive director of Arts Clayton; and the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was given to the Rev. Charles W. Grant, executive director of the Clayton County Community Services Authority.

According to Beauford, the Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to a distinguished leader in the county who is acknowledged as a superior and lifelong supporter of the chamber. The award is presented with a lifetime membership to the business organization.

"Talk about this being a surprise," Grant said. "Is my face red?"

Vigil passed the gavel to Bonnie Wilson of Sutherland's Foodservice, the new chairperson of the board of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, Beauford said.

Wilson said the board has many plans for 2010, such as expanding the Chamber's Women in Business Council program, continuing to promote the positive aspects of Clayton County and revamping the chamber's Education Committee by having its members collaborate closely with Clayton County Public Schools and Clayton State University.

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley also joined the chamber's 2010 Board of Directors.

"Having Dr. Heatley in the board will allow us [the Chamber] to be able to know, first hand, the need of our school system, so we can better appropriate the partnerships with the schools," Beauford said.