Chamber's Night of Honors

It was a night to remember for some local business owners and members of the community, as the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce held its 57th Annual Banquet & Awards Presentation at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel Atlanta Airport, in College Park.

Walking away with two of the top awards given annually at the event were two operations that may have been surprising choices to some: The Oakwood Cafe, at the Atlanta Farmers' Market in Forest Park, captured the 2010 Small Business of the Year Award; the 2010 Business of the Year Award went to the Clayton County Water Authority.

"We're extremely excited about receiving the award from the Chamber," said Kasey Carpenter, co-owner of the Oakwood Cafe. "We've been a part of the Chamber since we started [business in Forest Park] about five years [ago]."

"We are very honored," said Michael Thomas, general manager of the Clayton County Water Authority. "We put a lot of effort into being part of the community,"

Several others were honored with awards as the audience sometimes greeted the announcements of the winners with oohs and aahs, making the event more a celebration of what the county has to offer its residents and others.

"Today, just again, showed what a strong community we have in Clayton County," said Yulonda Beauford, president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce. "We have great businesses, and our Clayton County elected officials, coming together to celebrate Clayton County."

Other award winners were:

• Cathy Ratti, regional director of the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services –– The Carl G. Rhodenizer Community Service Award, which is given to an "outstanding leader in the county, who is committed and dedicated to its business community and its citizens."

• Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt –– The Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented to an individual who is a "distinguished leader in Clayton County and is recognized as a lifelong supporter of the chamber."

• Bess Garrett, of the Tommy Nobis Center, in Marietta –– The Chamber Partner of the Year Award, which recognizes an "individual who has gone above and beyond to serve the chamber."

• Rhonda Burnough, community relations liaison for Clayton County Public Schools –– The Chairman's Award, which honors a person "who volunteers their time and effort to the chamber, and is based on overall service."

"It is very humbling, because this man [Carl Rhodenizer]," said Ratti, of the former Clayton County Commissioner for whom the community service award is named, "has been my role model for many years. Carl was never just a politician, he truly had his heart and soul in the community, in this county."

The annual event, which is considered a highlight of the year for businesses in the area, saw stiff competition in the various categories

The Oakwood Cafe received the small business award, according to officials, because it prioritizes customer service and community involvement, and because of its consistency in reinventing itself, creating relationships in the county and region, in order to make it a destination of choice.

The Water Authority, the business of the year, was cited as being an "industry leader, and peers from all over the nation, and the world, visit to learn more about their processes." It was also lauded as being efficient, customer-focused, and cost-effective for its customers.

Several county leaders were in the audience, and their presence showed the importance of the annual gathering to the community. Those leaders included:

Grant Wainscott, director of the Clayton County Department of Economic Development; Tim Hynes, president of Clayton State University; Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, and Rev. Mike Glanton, president of the Clayton County Ministers' Conference.

Wainscott said the banquet is a great way for businesses to network, and said his office used the networking opportunity to introduce movie scouts and crews to the county's business community, which could draw more movie and television production work to the county.

Riverdale Mayor Wynn-Dixon said the event allows her to catch up with business leaders, officials and colleagues, and also allows her to advertise Riverdale's development. "This kind of event solidifies us ... that we are bonding and are coming together, said Wynn-Dixon.

Rev. Glanton added that the banquet triggers positive relationships among key players. "It's always great to see the folks come together," he said.