The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce held its 90th annual banquet last Thursday night at Rivertown Community Church with hundreds in attendance. Executive Director Tiffany Garling welcomed everyone and turned to Dr. Michael Bennet for the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance.
Garling then recognized elected officials attending the meeting, the Chamber Ambassadors, Michael Smith and the team at Artistic Designs, Paul Smith, Angie Cozart, and the RCC staff for their work preparing for the banquet. She thanked the sponsors who made it all possible.
The awards began with the recognition of the individuals who had completed all the requirements of Leadership Jackson County Program and qualified for Graduation as the Class of 2017. Those are Will Arroyo, Jeffrey Basford, Dr. David Bouvin, Candace Croft, Wilanne Daniels, Rhondan Gray, Amy Hill, Rachel Holloway, Kenny Keith, Nikki Mayberry, Nichole Mayo, Lindsy Milton, Marc Tomlinson, and Nichole Ussery.
The next award was the leadership award and those nominees were Dr. Sarah Clemmons, Chipola College, Mr. Ernie Padgett, Jackson County Board of County Commissioners, and Mr. Rick Pettis, David Melvin.
Garling said, “The recipient of the Jackson County Excellence in Leadership Award should be an individual whose ideas, vision and hard work, thru leadership roles in their profession or with civic activities, achieved significant, tangible benefits to the community and improved the quality of life for the people in Jackson County within the past year”.
The recipient of the Leadership Jackson County Excellence in Leadership Award was Mr. Rick Pettis.
Rick was nominated for his loyalty and dedication to Jackson County. His vision and leadership is always apparent in his efforts to promote economic development within the County. As a certified planner, his vast knowledge of economics, land use and development plays a vital role in lobbying for major developers to locate here. Over the past year, Rick has assisted in promoting the AL/FLA Mega-Site in Campbellton. His vision is to attract key developers to the County in order for locals to be able to pursue careers, not just jobs. Rick is a person of character and is most deserving of this honor.
The next award was presented by outgoing Chairman Darwin Gilmore for the Arthur L. Kimbrough Board Member of the Year Award. This award is presented to the board member who has exhibited excellent leadership qualities as well as going above and beyond to advance the mission of the Chamber. This year’s award went to Gene Strickland. In 2017, Gene served as Chair of the Government Affairs Committee helping to revitalize the important advocacy efforts of the Chamber. Gene’s efforts have helped create a solid legislative agenda and strengthen relationships with state and federal officials.
The final award was presented by past chair Shareta Wright for the Citizen of the Year Award. Those nominated were Raymond and Barbara O’Quinn, Ronstance Pittman, Jane Powell, and Keith Williams.
Wright said of the recipient, “The individual selected for the Citizen of the Year Award this year led the effort to protect Jackson County’s water supply by preventing the installation of a Waste Water Deep Well Injection System at the Waste Management treatment facility near Campbellton. They effectively called out the issue, made it public, organized numerous citizen meetings and community forums, engaged the media, prompted political involvement at the municipal, county, and state level, and navigated/negotiated the process over many months to a successful conclusion satisfactory to both citizens at large and local/county government. Hundreds of citizens from virtually every community in Jackson County showed up and let their voice be heard because of their efforts.
Also, over the past year this individual has been very involved with activities surrounding the West End of Marianna. This individual has been part of the initial committee established to address economic and community development for the West End. They helped identify specific projects, and development types that were needed and should be targeted. This individual has been one of the only citizens that follow up and monitor the status of the American Planners Association development plan for the West End Corridor Project, development of a Master Plan for Penn Avenue, from Highway 90 South to Interstate 10.
This year’s Citizen of the Year is Ronstance Pittman.
The keynote speaker was introduced by David Melvin. A native of Wisconsin, Mike Schmitz has been widely known and admired in the Wiregrass region as a successful businessman and active community leader for 40 years. In 1978, Schmitz founded Mike Schmitz Automotive Group and has since been named by TIME Magazine as one of the top 50 Auto Dealers in the United States. In addition to this honor, his successful business conglomerate has won numerous awards including the 2012 and 2016 Mercedes-Benz Best of the Best Award which was awarded to Mercedes-Benz of Dothan.
Prior to being elected Chairman of the Dothan City Board of Education in 2017, Mike Schmitz served as Mayor of Dothan, AL for eight years – winning the mayoral election with an historic margin of 86 percent of the voters in virtually every demographic. As Mayor, Schmitz worked tirelessly for the region’s economic development and is proud that the ﬁscal strength of the city continues even after his time in oﬃce. As a result of sound ﬁnancial management, Standard and Poor’s gave Dothan one of its highest ratings for bonds for a city of its size, indicating that the City of Dothan is ﬁnancially solid. Under Schmitz’s tenure, 3,000 jobs and $500 million in private industrial development has come to Dothan. He credits the community for all the accomplishments he has achieved.
Adopted at age ﬁve, Chairman Schmitz also has a passion for child advocacy, as evidenced by many of his personal endeavors such as leading a city-wide campaign against illiteracy, assisting in building parks in a disadvantaged section of town, and providing funding for numerous organizations, including the Exchange Center for Child Abuse Prevention.
A 20-year competitor in the Ironman Triathlon, Schmitz combined his love for ﬁtness and public service in 2006, when he bicycled cross-country over 3,000 miles from the Paciﬁc to Atlantic to raise $100,000 for the Wiregrass Children’s Home. He was joined by three other former Chamber of Commerce Chairmen for this incredible endeavor. Schmitz and his son, Mike Schmitz Jr., recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and in 2015 the two hiked the El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) - a 500-mile trek over the Pyrenees mountains.
In 2015, Schmitz was inducted into the Dothan Business Hall of Fame. He has also been the recipient of numerous service awards including the Freedom Friend Award from the NAACP, the Alabama Education Association’s Public Servant Award, the Dothan Fire Department’s Community Partnership Award, the United Christian Fellowship Good Samaritan Award, the Paul Harris Fellow Award presented by the Dothan-Houston County Rotary, and he has been a member of Leadership Alabama. He also served as Chairman of the Wiregrass Area United Way.