VALDOSTA -- With her small-town upbringing and warm manner of speaking, Georgia Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Laura Meadows was well received Thursday at the Second Annual Lakeland-Lanier Chamber of Commerce Banquet.

Addressing an audience of more than 100 business and community leaders at Lanier County High School, Meadows presented an overview of the many ways her department assists cities and counties across Georgia to encourage growth and development.

"We assist you in building your community so you can do the things you want to do at the local level," she said. "I am so proud to speak to a young, new Chamber. In the last two years, you've accomplished so much to be proud of."

Meadows encouraged the community leadership to decide what projects they want to pursue and then contact her department for help with finding the financial resources to fund them. She also commended the Chamber for implementing a Leadership Lanier class so well and so quickly, and she said her staff uses Lakeland as the poster community for starting a leadership program.

The Lakeland-Lanier Chamber was founded less than two years ago, and under the direction of Ruth May has grown to nearly 200 members and implemented numerous programs in the community.

Outgoing Chamber president Michael Miller listed some of the Chamber's achievements, including the implementation of a Yard of the Month program, a partnership with the Valdosta Chamber's Drugs Don't Work program, forming committees to assist with community issues, working to revitalize downtown, founding the leadership program, implementing school programs, and producing materials for use at area Welcome Centers to entice visitors to the area.

Miller and Director Judy Mullis presented Achievement Awards to students, area businesses and community leaders for outstanding accomplishments in the past year. Plaques were awarded to Lanier County High School students Amanda Suggs and Greg McCoggle; George P. (Jody) Hamm; Milltown Restaurant; the Lanier County Board of Education; and Sirmans Hardware.

Miller was awarded a gavel plaque for his leadership in the Chamber's inaugural year and passed the torch to incoming 2003 Chamber President Mary Carol Greene.

The 2003 Chamber Board of Directors are Elvin Andrews, Earl Boyett, Dwayne Culpepper, Dana Giddens, Gene Haskins, Suzanne Mathis, Wendy Moore, Judy Mullis, Dub Music, Franklin Patten, David Pike, Rev. Willie Roberson, Nell Roquemore, Jason Shaw, Helen Strickland, and Jay Jay Strickland. The ex-officio members are Mayor Betty Chadwick, Larry Lee, Denise Mathis, Dr. Mark Petersen, Rep. Jay Shaw, and Albert Studstill.

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris, please call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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