Members of the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce recently gave their top award to one of their own and recognized other leaders in the county.
James McCoy, president and CEO of the chamber, was presented the Charles F. Welch Citizenship Award, which presenter Mary Helen McGruder said was the chamber’s “highest honor for civic and community leadership,” on Friday, Dec. 17, at the 2021 Forsyth Chamber Annual Celebration at the Forsyth County Arts and Learning, or FoCAL, Center.
Though involved with helping businesses, sitting on boards across the county and state and working with community partners, McCoy said receiving the award “legitimately is a surprise.”
“It is truly a privilege, and I do not take it for granted, to get to work with and for all of you every day,” McCoy said after receiving the honor. “I came into chamber work by accident, and I am so grateful for that because of the role that I get to get up and play every day in the community with all of you. It’s fun every day, and it’s interesting every day.”
McCoy said his success would not have been possible without the support of chamber staff, the community, community partners and his wife, Melanie.
McGruder said the award is not presented annually and goes “to a community leader who exemplifies those same qualities of service to the community without regard for power or recognition, a commitment to what is best for the community as a whole and a growing and contagious enthusiasm for continuing to strive to make the community a better place.”
She said McCoy was recognized for his efforts to help the local economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, including having a dedicated employee to help with paycheck protection program loans and organizing FoCo Takeout Bingo, where customers would download a bingo card with 25 local restaurants and be eligible for prizes if they visited five.
“James took immediate action last year when it became apparent that our economy was closing and our businesses would suffer,” McGruder said. “He challenged his staff to develop initiatives that focused on our small businesses and helped stabilize our county.”
Along with McCoy’s award, McGruder also showed off one of more than 3,000 shirts with the words “FoCo 4 Frontliners,” which will be given out to all Northside Hospital Forsyth employees, and presented Northside Forsyth Administrator Lynn Jackson with the 2021 Spirit of Care Award.
“The hard and oftentimes dangerous work has just become another part of the job as the health care teams make the decision to keep on working,” Jackson said. “Our teams are willing to put themselves, their family and their future on the line simply because there are people who need us, because we know if we’re not there, there will be nobody to help these patients in some of their darkest days.”
Scott Hutchinson, who served as the chamber’s chair this year, said 2021 was a busy year for the chamber, which had been named a finalist for Chamber of the Year for a second-straight year.
“The chamber developed several educational opportunities for our members this year, including programs like the Business Success Series and the Business Excel program, which provided insights on business advancement topics like attracting capital, analytics analysis and strategic planning,” Hutchinson said.
Derek Brooks will take over as the chamber’s chair in 2022, and he told those in attendance the chamber board had already agreed to support a 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax for transportation projects, or T-SPLOST.
“There’s an option available to us that can create the kind of resources that we need and really make an impact, and that is T-SPLOST,” Brooks said. “T-SPLOST would generate $52 million a year if the county stayed the same size and didn’t grow. That money would solely go to transportation improvements. When we leverage that money with state and possibly federal funds, the opportunity to transform the face of transportation in Forsyth County is phenomenal.”
Brooks said 2022 will also bring new actions for workforce development, which he said the chamber had been involved with for “quite some time” but the last two years had brought new challenges.
“In 2022, the chamber’s FoCo Works initiative will launch a series of innovative strategies like a career-ready training program for our high school seniors, customized recruitment services for businesses and a community-wide workforce collaborative,” he said.
Brooks said the chamber would have a new director of workforce development and work to create internships with local businesses in the coming year.
Before winning his own award, McCoy presented Doug Jenkins, of Georgia Power, the 2021 Spirit of Forsyth Award as he prepares to leave the county and become the company’s new vice president in the Columbus area.
“Wow, James did not tell me about this when he asked me to come up, but I’ll tell you what, my greatest honor has been being a citizen of Forsyth County for the last 16, 17 years,” Jenkins said. “My family has grown up here. We’ve enjoyed the tremendous school system, tremendous parks and recreation, and it’s been just a fantastic place to live, work and play. That’s from somebody who raised a family here.”