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Chamber of Commerce honors Forsyth County small businesses at annual gala
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A student from each of the county's five brick-and-mortar high schools who are in the district's career pathways program won awards at the gala. - photo by Micah Green

2017 Excellence in Business Awards winners

• Overcomer of the Year: Audition Audio & Electronics
• 24/7 Award: Bald Ridge Lodge
• Community Impact Award: Forsyth County Family YMCA
• Franchise of the Year: The Joint Chiropractic
• Nonprofit of the Year: Whispering Hope Women’s Resource and Pregnancy Center
• Entrepreneur of the Year: Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts

SOUTH FORSYTH -- Smooth jazz played in the room as 12 small businesses were honored Thursday evening at the 2017 Excellence in Business Awards Gala, hosted by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.

Seven of the 12 entrepreneurs won various awards at the event, which was held at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College.

The gala, an annual event that honors small businesses that make an impact in the community, was changed from a breakfast to a dinner two years ago, according to Don Kemp, chairman of the Cham-ber’s Business Advancement Resource (BAR) group.

“We do it to honor and recognize all of the business owners across the county who do such a great job all of the time,” he said.

This year, the Chamber had more than two times the turnout than two years ago, a testament to the dinner’s success, Kemp said.

“Small businesses are such an integral part of the fabric of the county. It’s the business owners that are our next door neighbors that we see every day. We go to school with their children — they’re such an important part of the community,” he said.

Small businesses, which have less than 500 employees, make up the majority of the nation’s total business — 99.7 percent. Recent data shows there are 28.8 million small businesses in the U.S.

Small business employees also account for 48 percent of the private workforce, with 56.8 million em-ployees nationwide.

“Successful entrepreneurs share a few things in common,” said Torri Westmoreland, BAR council member. “They are typically confident, self-motivated, tenacious and willing to take risks.”

That describes Bonnie Mauldin, owner and founder of The Mauldin Group: Digital Marketing and PR Services and the 2017 Business of the Year award recipient.

By the time she reached college, Mauldin was on track to become a doctor.

In high school, she worked for an acclaimed researcher in a lab studying leukemia, and in college, she worked in a surgery center, prepping rooms before surgeries.

But, realizing her creative side wasn’t being tapped into, Mauldin switched paths, now owning and running an internet marketing and public relations firm in Forsyth County.

“I did not know I was going to win; I did not expect to win,” Mauldin said. “I just came to congratulate and support all the other finalists. Winning this award means that we’re on the right track.”

Five high school students and one college student also won awards at the event.

The high schoolers, one from each of the county’s five brick-and-mortar high schools, are part of the district’s career pathways program and participate in work-based learning, where they are placed in internship opportunities with local businesses.

Forsyth County Schools Director of College and Career Development Valery Lowe said the five students are the “high flyers” in the school system.

Those honored were: Abigail Henderson, Forsyth Central High School; Hailey Guerrasio, Lambert High School; Katey Smith, North Forsyth High School; Will Bradley, South Forsyth High School; and Trey Barber, West Forsyth High School.

Nick Roth, a student at the University of North Georgia’s Mike Cottrell College of Business, was honored with the 2017 Rising Entrepreneur award.

Roth is founder and operator of Teach All Tech, north Georgia’s “leading technology teacher.”