Effingham County Chamber of Commerce
2020 Annual Report
Hiring of New CEO
As the new year began, the chamber’s national search for a new chief executive had just ended with the selection of Andy Cripps. Cripps, right, arrived with more than 15 years of experience as a chamber of commerce executive. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Public Relations and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Institute for Organization Management.
In announcing the selection, Board Chairman Joe Marchese said, “Andy's chamber experience and communication skills will be a great asset to this chamber, and we are very pleased to have him on board to be a part of the exciting future of Effingham County.”
New Board Members
The chamber also welcomed two new members to the Board of Directors. Brett Bennett, former Springfield City Manager and owner of Laurel Street Consulting, and Swann Seiler, External Affairs Manager for Georgia Power Company, joined the board in January.
Effingham Day at the Capitol
Effingham County was well represented for Effingham Day at the Capitol in February. Nearly 80 people went to Atlanta to talk to the Georgia Department of Transportation about road projects, including the Effingham Parkway. After a lively reception at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and a grab-and-go-breakfast at the capitol Tuesday morning, we convened for a luncheon where we heard from representatives with Georgia Department of Revenue, Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr and even Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan.
Most interesting was a talk by Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. We could hardly have known then the crucial and challenging role she would play in the coming year.
A Night in Effingham
With rumblings of the coming COVID-19 pandemic in the background, the chamber held its 10th Annual Taste of Effingham on March 13 at Local on Laurel in Springfield. Advance tickets for the event sold out early. New for 2020 was a Downtown Street Party on Laurel Street with live music by the party band, Flashback and food trucks, beverages, and hand sanitizer stations provided. A strong crowd enjoyed a beautiful evening at what was the chamber’s last large public event of the year. Tremendous thanks to James Carlson and Carlson Premier Events, and the hard-working Special Events Committee.
Becky Shea Retires
At the end of March, we wished our longtime Office Manager and Membership Coordinator Becky Shea a happy belated retirement. She had postponed retirement nearly a year to help the chamber through the transition to a new CEO, and now can enjoy more time with family and friends.
Passing of Jack Hill
Also in March, Effingham County and all of Georgia lost a leader and friend with the sudden passing of Sen. Jack Hill. Hill was sworn into the Georgia Senate in 1991. A retired grocer, he was the longtime chairman of the Senate budget committee. Hill's death was met with an outpouring of tributes from his legislative colleagues and others who knew and worked with him.
Chamber Helps Businesses Overcome Economic Impact of COVID-19
The chamber worked to help its members and keep them informed during the pandemic with promotions, an online Coronavirus Resource Center and frequent updates about relief programs and safety guidelines for businesses, coming from state and national agencies. To aid in reopening, we also uploaded signs business managers can print to show consumers they are following health guidelines, and how they can help keep each other safe.
The Leadership Effingham Class of 2020 was among the first chamber group to experience the effects of the pandemic. The class’s final two sessions had to be postponed, then cancelled due to the coronavirus. The class—Tina Browning, Alison Bruton, Elaine Burke, Victoria Glover, Susan T. Hertzog, Dulcia C. Gore King, Matt Kuykendall, PE, Quent Mikeal, John Myers, and Brandi Zimlich—have received their graduation plaques and will be able to attend the missed sessions with the next Leadership class.
Restaurants were among the businesses most affected by the COVID pandemic. The chamber sponsored two Takeout Tuesday promotions in April and May to help drive businesses to struggling eateries. It also offered residents a map of chamber member businesses where they can pick up takeout food.
Planning for TSPLOST
In April, the chamber began coordinating regular Zoom meetings of county and city officials with the goal of putting a referendum before the county’s voters, either in November or in March 2021, establishing a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Tax, or TSPLOST. The chamber board supported a TSPLOST, believing the county had a critical need for stable funding for road repairs and improvements. These meetings helped the municipalities overcome issues and address projects that crossed jurisdictions.
Online Election Forums
With vital elections to fill Jack Hill’s senate seat and seats on the Board of Education, the chamber and the Effingham Herald held live online forums on May 14. The forums, moderated by Effingham Herald Editor Mark Lastinger, streamed live on Facebook and posted on the chamber's YouTube page.
Chamber Cancels In-Person Events
In June, with the pandemic growing, the board of directors decided not to hold any large in-person public gatherings until further notice. The chamber postponed and then cancelled plans for its annual awards ceremony due to the pandemic, as well as the annual Effingham County Job Fair and the Community Leadership Retreat.
“The health of our members and friends is our top priority during this unprecedented time,” said Chamber CEO Andy Cripps. “We all miss gathering and engaging at chamber events, and we look forward to doing so again when public health guidelines allow.”
New Board Leadership
Ryan Thompson, left, took over July 1 as the new Chairman of the chamber's board of directors for 2020-21. Thompson, a Principal and Landscape Architecture Department Manager at Thomas & Hutton, has served on the chamber's board since 2017, and as Vice-Chairman since July 2019.
Dr. Fran Baker-Witt, right, Chief Executive Officer of Effingham Health System, was elected Vice-Chairman for 2020-21. Brett Bennett, owner of Laurel Street Consulting and then-interim City Manager in Guyton, was chosen to be Secretary/Treasurer. Joe Marchese of Joe Marchese Construction became the board's Immediate Past Chairman.
To help businesses hurt by the economic effects of the COVID-19 epidemic, the chamber launched a new tourism ad campaign. The campaign, “Effingham County: Feels Like Home,” is designed to attract visitors from surrounding counties to enjoy nature, history, and recreation in Effingham, and patronize local businesses.
Print ads appeared in regional lifestyle magazines, along with online and social media ads targeting residents within 40 miles of the county with specific interests. The campaign is funded through hotel occupancy taxes collected in Effingham County.
Community Guide and Membership Directory Returns
After a one-year hiatus, the new Effingham County 2020 Community Guide and Business Directory arrived in August, included in the Effingham Herald. Our thanks to the Herald and its staff for such an attractive and informative guide to our county, and to the advertisers who made the publication possible.
Board Planning Retreat
The chamber's board of directors, right, held its annual planning retreat in August at the Herald Center. The meeting resulted in an ambitious Plan of Work for the coming year. Initiatives include developing a new Member Retention Plan, and a tiered membership system allowing members to choose a package of marketing benefits.
Chamber Campaigns for TSPLOST
Each of Effingham’s three cities approved an intergovernmental agreement and project lists for the TSPLOST in July, and the Effingham County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution calling for a referendum on the November 3 election ballot. The chamber began to promote the referendum by launching an informational web page with answers to frequently asked questions, and highlights of the county and city project lists. It also placed advertising in print and on billboards, produced a Voter’s Guide, a video, and an informational postcard. The campaign was supported by donations by Thomas and Hutton, Hussey Gay Bell, and Effingham Magazine.
Welcome Chelsie Fernald
We welcomed Chelsie Fernald, left, as the chamber's Office Assistant in August. Chelsie, a Springfield resident, has prior experience as an administrative assistant and holds a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice-Criminal Psychology from Liberty University in Virginia. She has since taken on responsibility for membership outreach as Membership Services Coordinator.
In November, Effingham County voters approved a new county-level TSPLOST by a 59% to 41% margin. The one-cent sales tax will begin being collected in April 2021 and is expected to provide up to $45 million over five years.
Priorities for 2021
To round out the year, the Government Affairs Committee sought community input in formulating its Legislative Priorities for 2021. The committee sought input on local, state, or federal issues affecting business in Effingham County. The committee also decided to adapt the format of Effingham Day at the Capitol to be an in-person event here in Effingham in the spring with our state legislators, and in-person or virtual participation by top-level State of Georgia officials.
Bright Outlook Ahead
We are grateful for the ongoing support of our members during a challenging year. We are honored to have played such an active role in helping Effingham County businesses survive, thrive, and grow in 2020. Because of you, the chamber has come through the year on firm footing, with a stable, growing membership, and well prepared to serve the business community in 2021.
We understand the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. But we recognize that some of the value of membership comes from in-person networking, legislative and workforce development events that had to be cancelled in 2021. We will resume these events as soon as we can do so safely, following official health guidelines.