Not so very long ago, Columbia County was regarded as just a suburban "bedroom" community where citizens spent their time sleeping between trips to earn or spend money in Augusta.
Back then, the county's Chamber of Commerce was little more than an affiliate of Augusta's Metro Chamber, with few incentives to attract new members or offer existing ones.
Boy, have we come a long way. The reason is personified by the honorees at Monday's Columbia County Chamber annual meeting.
In addition to Gerald Jones Volkswagen as Small Business of the Year and CallingPost's Phil Alexander as Entrepreneur of the Year, the Chamber honored two of its hardest-working volunteers: Ambassador of the Year Yvonne Meeks of SRP Federal Credit Union, and Pat Goodwin of MCG as Volunteer of the Year.
One honoree, however, is a perfect example of why the county's chamber has risen to the top: Lifetime Achievement Award-winner George Deuhring. A Sears retiree who chose to settle here and start a second career as a Zaxby's franchisee, Deuhring is a tireless cheerleader for the county and civic and charitable causes.
As past chairman of the Chamber, Deuhring presided over a time of transition. Just as Columbia County was growing and gaining steam, the Chamber was moving from its status as an adjunct to Augusta and into the spotlight as an equal under former Executive Director Gordon Renshaw. Deuhring was an integral part of smoothing the way for current director Karen Chrjapin to move the Chamber to the next level.
And move it, she has. As Chrjapin reported in her state of the Chamber address, membership is up 25 percent, revenues have risen by a whopping 54 percent, and the organization has built up a six-month operating reserve.
It's pure coincidence, but Chrjapin's report was delivered just minutes before President Bush delivered a less-exciting State of the Union message. Perhaps if the business-minded people of Columbia County were in charge, our nation would be in similar financial shape!
Congratulations to all this year's honorees.
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