The Marion County Development Partnership, after enduring last year's dire impact of the Covid pandemic, hosted its annual banquet last week to recognize the achievements of our local business community.
Lori Watts, president and executive director of the MCDP, welcomed the anxious guests and honorees who gathered Thursday night at the Marion County BusinessPlex for the special event that was as unexpectedly forfeited last year due to the social distancing restrictions.
Despite not having the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the event last year, Watts praised the entire Columbia and Marion County business community for its resilience and not simply caving-in to the many pressures that could have resulted in a more devastating situation.
In her opening address, Watts expressed her personal, and the MCDP's, appreciation for all the volunteers, leadership and overall support that helped this community dodge a major fiscal hurdle during 2020.
Watts also attributed much the economic stability and success to the involvement of local government officials, including the City of Columbia, Marion County Supervisors, Senator Angela Hill and Senator Ken Morgan.
She also noted the vital importance of having special partnerships with Pearl River Valley Electric Power Association, Mississippi Power and Cooperative Energy.
"Our individual members are vital to our success," Watts said. "But partnering together and collaboration are also valuable commodities and responsible for our success."
Included among last year's economic statistics was the unemployment report that indicated the area jobless rate dropped from 11.4% in April to 6% in November 2020.
The annual Experience Columbia holiday extravaganza was also credited for another year in helping to boost the local economy, as more and more outside retail dollars find their way to local merchants.
Assisting in the announcement and presentation of the 2020 awards were Donovan McComb, on the Marion County Economic Development District Board, and Robin Sanderson, on the MCDP Board of Directors.
The 2020 Business of the Year Award was presented to Jim and Jacqueline Reagan, owners and operators of St. James Lighting.
After a humble beginning in 2008, St. James Lighting started with only a couple of employees in a small shop on Honey Alley. By 2014, they had grown to eight employees and relocated to a larger facility, followed by additional expansions that now employs approximately 49 workers in a building in excess of 25,000 square feet that was formerly part of Orleans Furniture on Hwy 13 N.
The award was also a tribute to the Reagan's continued success, that includes a projected 10-15% increase in production which has been a win-win for their company as well as the local economy and job force.
The other 2020 award recipients of the night included:
"You Make A Difference Award" -- Mickey and Beverly Webb.
"Rock Star Award" -- Ben Whatley (RedRover IT).
"Spirit of Giving Award" -- Mike Lowery (Walmart).
"Heart of Entrepreneurship Award" -- Kayla Thomas (Cook & Fortenberry Drugs).
"Resiliency Award" -- Paris Schepemaker (Second Street Bean).
"Maurice Dantin Leadership Award" -- Mrs. Donald Hales.
Since last year's awards banquet was canceled, Watts announced that the MCDP unanimously selected the entire panel of ambassadors to be honored as "Ambassadors of the Year."
This year's promotional motto, is, "Columbia & Marion County Open For Business." “So be on the lookout for these signs, stickers and literature as we approach the end of the first fiscal quarter of 2021. Remember to shop local and we all win!” n