Locate South GeorgiaLEADS Graduates First Class of Leaders Dedicated to Impact and Growth

March 23, 2017


By Mary Beth Bass

The inaugural class of Locate South GeorgiaLEADS presented by Electric Cities of Georgia graduated last week in Albany-Dougherty County at the Flint RiverQuarium Thursday night on March 16, following an eight-month leadership development experience that covered seven visits to South Georgia communities to better understand the economic and growth needs of the region. The graduation ceremony, sponsored by the Georgia Power Company, was hosted by the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission and members of Locate South Georgia. Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Clark served as the keynote speaker and was joined by Jonathan Sangster, of Georgia Power, who delivered the “Leadership Charge,” on behalf of the Georgia Allies. Director of the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia, Dr. Matt Bishop offered leadership lessons to the graduates upon their commission.

With 32 participants representing 21 counties across South Georgia, Locate South GeorgiaLEADS (LSGL) graduates were asked to personally commit to playing an active role in the future success and growth of South Georgia in the months and years to come. With several participants sharing ways they have already engaged in their home communities as a result of their participation in LSGL, the regional leadership program is already demonstrating results across the region. Touting a “historic regional alliance,” Locate South GeorgiaLEADS’ greatest impact may be in the strength of relationships and networks established to address issues such as broadband and telecommunications infrastructure, future growth and planning around workforce development and transportation needs, as well as regional marketing and brand awareness.

LSGL represents a partnership between the regional economic development initiative Locate South Georgia, the state’s premier business organization, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia, to identify and develop regional leaders who can elevate the awareness of regional issues of importance across South Georgia—both within their hometown communities, as well as to elected officials across the region and State.

Graduates of the inaugural program had the opportunity to further develop their individual leadership skills while engaging in discussions of regional importance around economic development, identify and influence of the region, workforce development, and community growth challenges that are both unique and relevant to South Georgia.

The largest regional leadership program in the State, South Georgia is raising the bar for leadership, economic development and civic engagement for existing leaders.

Graduates of the 2016-2017 Locate South GeorgiaLEADS class are as follows:




Ben Hill

Jason Dunn

Executive Director, Fitzgerald & Ben Hill Development Authority


Jill Wise

Director, Nashville Main Street


Hayden Hancock

Producer, Atwater & Houston Insurance Agency


Mackenzie Bennett

Marketing Director, Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Authority


Jeff Hennesy

Owner, Hennesy Insurance Agency


John Mark Mobley

Vice President, Mobley Gin Company


Tommie Beth Willis

President, Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce


Dug Schwalls

Director of Sales, Southern Valley


Briley Edwards

Vice President/Commercial Lender, Colony Bank


Anna Hurt

Regional Representative, Georgia Department of Economic Development


Rob Collins

CEO, NEOS Technologies, Inc.


William Hancock

President, Webb Properties, Inc.


Mary Ligon

Owner, Mary Ligon, etc./Leadership Albany


Matt Reed

President & CEO, Georgia CEO


Betsy McGriff

Archway Professional, Grady County Archway Partnership, The University of Georgia


Lisa Davis

Vice President, Lee County Chamber of Commerce & Development Authority


Darrel Finnicum

Owner, Finnicum Motor Company


Donna Ford

K-5 Curriculum Director, Lee County Board of Education


Jennifer Johnston

CFO/COO, Horizon Community Solutions


Thomas Simpson

Employment Consultant, Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency


Paige Gilchrist

Executive Director, Mitchell County Development Authority


Jennifer Burnum

Executive Director, Camilla Chamber of Commerce


Sheri Michaels

Director of Communications & Marketing, Andrew College


Barbara Grogan

Executive Director, Sumter County Payroll Development Authority


Bill Harris, Jr.

Owner, Café Campesino Coffee Roastery


Jem Morris

Area Manager, Georgia Power Company


Richard Peck

Sergeant, Georgia State Patrol


Brian Atwater

Part Owner, Atwater & Houston Insurance Agency


Sandra Giles

Director of Rural Studies, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College


Kim Gilman

CEO, Phoebe Worth Medical Center


Karen Rackley

Executive Director, Sylvester-Worth County Economic Development Authority & Chamber of Commerce


Karon Willis

Supervising U.S. Probation Officer, U.S. Probation Office

LSGL links regional site visits and issue awareness to relevant leadership development content within the framework of the Locate South GeorgiaLEADS priorities. Emphasizing regional priorities throughout the program, each session directly links leadership skills training to issues of critical importance to South Georgia:

Regional Identity & Influence

Includes creating a regional brand and identity for South Georgia that is recognized internally as well as externally, enhancing both perception and influence of the region across the State.

Workforce Development

Includes the strategic alignment of public and private sectors—business, industry, and educational partners—to address key workforce development needs and challenges; and to increase the economic viability of South Georgia.

Collective Visioning & Planning

Includes developing leaders who understand the changing South Georgia economy and culture; and recognize why it is essential to both think and act within a global context, working collaboratively to ensure the region’s success.

Sponsors of the inaugural program include: Electric Cities of Georgia, Mitchell EMC, Georgia Power Company, Georgia CEO, Colony Bank, Sumter County Payroll Development Authority, ASH Foundation of Douglas-Coffee County, One Sumter Economic Development, Inc., and Leadership Worth, Sylvester-Worth County Chamber of Commerce.

Recruitment for the second year of Locate South GeorgiaLEADS will officially open in June of this year, with the program targeted to launch in August 2017. Interested applicants may contact their local Chambers of Commerce or Economic Development Authorities, as well as Locate South GeorgiaLEADS Program Coordinator Mary Beth Bass. For more information about LSGL, to participate, or to sponsor a program, please contact Bass, Executive Director, One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, Inc., at 229.815.1669; or at marybeth@onesumter.org.

Grady County Archway Professional Betsy McGriff was among the graduates

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