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Chamber of commerce reflects on active year
Annual gala draws large crowd
Tim Perry presents the Charles F. Welch Citizenship Award to Cumming Administrator Gerald Blackburn on Friday during the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Dinner & Celebration at the Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Autumn Vetter

The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Com-merce paused Friday night to celebrate the accomplishments of 2011 during the organization’s 56th Annual Dinner & Celebration.

The black-tie event was held in the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

John Kieffer, 2011 chairman of the board, gave a short overview of the chamber’s successes before passing the gavel to 2012 chairman David Seago.

"We’ve had a remarkable year and we continue to grow," Kieffer told the crowd of about 600. "We’re close to reaching pre-recession membership numbers."

Kieffer said some of the highlights of 2011 included the hiring of a full-time tourism director, Anna Brostrom, who has since created several partnerships to further local tourism.

Other accomplishments, he said, were in the area of economic development.

He said chamber and county leaders worked together to better streamline permitting and zoning processes.

In addition, Randall Toussaint, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, led several business expansion and recruitment initiatives.

"This year, we’ve had nine economic development programs that have created 793 new jobs," Kieffer said. "And we’re on our way to reaching 1,000 by the end of the year."

Kieffer also recognized Jason Mock, director of the organization’s Small Business Services Center, noting that it had seen nearly 320 clients this year.

He also noted the partnership with the Forsyth County school system. In 2011, the chamber and system began the PROPEL initiative, which seeks to make Forsyth a leader in high school graduation rates.

"We continue to work closely with the schools to implement programs that will have long-lasting impacts on our community and our young people," Kieffer said.

Each year the outgoing chairman presents an award to someone who gave strong support during the leader’s term.

This year, Kieffer presented the award to Brian Tam, county commission chairman, for his efforts to bring a spirit of cooperation to the Forsyth and Cumming governments.

After accepting his role as the new chairman of the board, David Seago spoke briefly.

He thanked chamber staff and members for continuing to improve the county.

"We’re generating real results, real jobs and real capital investments," he said.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of this year’s Charles F. Welch Citizenship Award.

"This is one of the most fun jobs I get to do all year," said James McCoy, chamber president and CEO.

The award is presented annually to someone who "takes seriously the responsibility of citizenship and community service," he said.

It honors the memory of the late Charles Welch, a former Cumming city councilman, county commissioner and chamber chairman.

Tim Perry presented the award to Gerald Blackman, Cumming administrator.

Blackman has served as a municipal employee since the early 1970s, when he worked as director of City Park.

In 1985, he was named city administrator.

"Under his leadership, many projects have been completed in the city," Perry said. "Among them: the Cumming Fairgrounds, City Hall and of late, the aquatic center.

"He has served the city for 39 years with honor and integrity."

Blackburn has also served for many years as a Baptist minister in several local churches, including Mayfield, Shady Grove and currently Harmony Grove.

"Thank you for such a high honor," said Blackburn after accepting the award.

Blackburn said he knew Charles Welch, calling him a "great, great individual."

"What a vision he had for Forsyth County, and now his vision has been brought about and we see it in so many things," Blackburn said.