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Economy big on small businesses
Speaker forsees them leading way
Max Burns, dean of the Mike Cottrell School of Business at North Georgia College & State University, was the keynote speaker at the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Awards Luncheon. - photo by Jim Dean

Awards at a glance

Annual honors presented during the chamber Small Business Awards Luncheon included:

• Chamber volunteer member -- Steve Bloom

• Minority business -- Sonny Rincon of Georgia Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Association Inc.

• Corporate member -- Northside-Hospital Forsyth

• Business leader -- Bruce Longmore of Lenny's Sub Shop and Torri Westmoreland of Wraps by In-Depth

• International business -- Hansgrohe

• Heritage Award -- Brandywine Printing

• 2009 Chairman's Award -- Jack Murphy and Mark Hamilton

• 2010 Chairman's Award -- Russ Wheeler and Nicolas Grohe, both of Hansgrohe

The keynote speaker at the local chamber of commerce's Small Business Awards Luncheon offered a candid assessment of the economy.

"The economy is good, bad and ugly right now and we all know it," said Max Burns, dean of the Mike Cottrell School of Business at North Georgia College & State University.

Oil and the housing market are two factors with major bearing on the current situation, he said, adding that unrest in the Middle East likely will drive the cost of oil higher.

Burns was a late addition to the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce event, which drew more than 100 people Thursday to Polo Golf & Country Club.

He replaced Mary Ellen McClanahan of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, who was unable to attend due to a last-minute health concern.

Burns noted oil hit the $101 per barrel mark late last week. He recalled how in June 2008 it rose to $138 per barrel, the highest in recent years, and pushing pump prices to about $4 per gallon.

"The economy runs on energy, all forms of energy," said Burns, noting that it has become unstable again due to the oil price situation.

"We're going to have to find alternatives since we're still heavily dependent on foreign oil ... We have a love affair with the automobile, but we're going to have to change our habits over the next decade or so."

Burns also addressed the state of the housing market, which is "getting better, we think."

He noted that never before in history "has owning a house been a liability," but values likely will decrease over time and people won't be able to sell their homes.

However, he said, the market is showing some positive signs, including reduced inventory.

"Over the past couple years, people have bought some great values," he said. "The bottom line is we're beginning to dig ourselves out of that inventory situation."

Burns also briefly spoke about the Dahlonega-based college, thanking local leaders for pursuing a satellite campus in Forsyth County.

The site was approved by the Georgia Board of Regents earlier this month, and Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and NGCSU President David Potter have signed a letter of intent.

The campus, which will be on a 70-acre site on Pilgrim Mill Road, is scheduled to be complete within 12 to 18 months. The college currently offers an MBA program in Cumming City Hall.

Before concluding, Burns also gave his "top 10 reasons to love small businesses."

Among them: 99.7 of employees work for small businesses and they produce 97 percent of the nation's exports.

In addition, small businesses are expected to produce 75 percent of the net new jobs over the next few years.

"Are small businesses important? Well, duh," he said. "They're why your community is growing and why we're here today."

Some of Forsyth's top small businesses were honored during the luncheon Thursday.

Sonny Rincon of Georgia Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Association Inc. was named the chamber's top minority business of the year.

The firm works to assist minority- and women-owned companies looking to work with transportation department subcontractors.

Bruce Longmore of Lenny's Sub Shop and Torri Westmoreland of Wraps by In-Depth shared the business leader of the year award.

New this year, the heritage award went to Brandywine Printing.

Voted on by the chamber's members, it honors a business with a long history in the county. Brandywine has been family-owned and operated for more than 25 years.

A few large business awards were also recognized, including Northside Hospital-Forsyth and Hansgrohe.