After a brief hiatus, the Small Business of the Year award was resurrected for this year's annual meeting bringing excitement and anticipation to the business community. A panel was formed from the Small Business Council to make the final decision. Business names were excluded in applications as the panel compared accomplishments to a set of predetermined criteria.
The winning selection was Eagle Sportz, an on-site event apparel merchandising business based out of White. Traveling to events across the country in mobile production trailers, Eagle Sportz has grown drastically since its formation in 2006.
"We just have an incredibly wonderful staff. We're on the road a lot traveling to events," said Tony Bolick of Eagle Sportz. "We cover an average right now of about 40 events a weekend and that could be in Minneapolis, it could be in Cape Cod, it could be in Texas, it could be in Florida and our logistical work is just amazing.
"We're at the verge of franchising right now because we cannot be everywhere that people want us to be. Right now we're probably turning down an average of 20 to 30 events a week in addition to the 40 that we already do."
Despite a difficult economy, Eagle Sportz, with leadership from owner and President Vicki Smith, has maintained an impressive record during its four year life span. The company has expanded dedicated crews to six states throughout the Southeast while traveling to events as far as Alaska and California. Sales revenue has increased each year and payroll has more than tripled as full-time employees have gone from three to 20.
Also awarded Thursday night were recipients of the Community Service Award, Parnick Jennings; the Ambassador of the Year Award, Sarah Tonsmeire, and Chairman's Award, Gene Lee.
Two historical Bartow County residents were inducted into the Bartow Business Hall of Fame joining a growing list of influential individuals selected by a panel of business leaders and local historians. Inductees for 2011 were developer of Summer Hill and mercantile business owner John J. Howard, 1816-1891; and Leon Lewis, 1915-1991, an innovator of scientific farming practices named to Progressive Farmer Magazine's Master Farm Family in 1955.
Although official duties were transferred to the 2011 chairman at the outset of the year, the ceremonial passing of the gavel was conferred at the annual meeting. Outgoing Chairman Connie Smith addressed the crowd Thursday with her State of the Chamber outlining the community's future.
"We are proud to announce that your chamber is in good financial shape," Smith said. "The chamber's vision is to advance the most prosperous business environment in the region but there is still a lot of work to do.
"There is, however, a bright future ahead. Bartow County is poised for an economic explosion unlike anything we have ever seen before and the Chamber of Commerce is ready to lead the charge."
The chamber welcomed 79 new members in 2010, holding 47 ribbon cuttings and eight Business After Hours events in addition to numerous committee offerings for chamber members and the public including the Small Business Council, the Government Affairs Committee, Bartow Executive Women, Leadership Bartow and Youth Leadership.
Receiving the gavel from Smith was Fred Kittle, 2011 chamber chairman. Accepting the position, Kittle spoke to audience members about the year ahead, new programs and the strength of community support.
"I always feel blessed and honored with the way this community comes together," Kittle said. "I think we're going to do very well. We'll do like we always do, we'll stick together as a community."
Guest speaker at the annual meeting was Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens. Sworn in on Jan. 10 as Georgia's 53 attorney general, Olens is a Cobb County resident and brought a message of cooperation not just among counties but across the country.
"The economy is global, we're not competing with one another," Olens said, adding that a well educated work force will make the difference in global competition. "Chattahoochee Tech., Georgia Highlands and Kennesaw State -- that's how we'll win."
Within the county, Olens bragged on local leadership and the cohesion between municipalities, government entities and the business community.