Column: Gwinnett Chamber rejoins the RBC — boosting its regional engagement

By Maria Saporta
Friday, October 15, 2010

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce has rejoined the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta after a four-year absence.

Because the Gwinnett Chamber is one of the largest business organizations in the region, if not the state, the coalition had been working hard to bring Gwinnett back into the fold.

Terry Lawler, the relatively new executive director of the RBC, said that getting Gwinnett to rejoin the coalition had been one of his top priorities. He worked closely with the Gwinnett Chamber during the 2010 legislative session, when they were able to reach a “comfort level” with each other. “We found out that by working together, we could cover a whole lot more ground,” Lawler said. “It was of mutual benefit for them to rejoin the RBC.”

Jim Maran, president of the Gwinnett Chamber, said his organization had seen a shift at the RBC.

“We think it’s important now that the RBC has been restructured and is truly a regional program,” Maran said. “With all the major issues we have — water, education and transportation — we wanted to make sure we were engaged with all the other counties. We need the business community to get behind these issues.”

Since its origins, the coalition has had to delicately dance around the sometimes tense relationships between the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the other county-focused business organizations. Because the Metro Atlanta Chamber is the largest business group in the region, the other county chambers wanted to be sure they had a balanced voice in the coalition.

In addition to Gwinnett and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the coalition has 13 other members. Now the only chamber in the 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission that currently is not a member of the RBC is the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce.

As Lawler said: “I’m reaching out to them to fill that gap.”

Philanthropists honored

One of the top honors in Atlanta — Philanthropist of the Year — will be given to Shouky and Doris Shaheen, considered to be two of Georgia’s most generous citizens.

The Shaheens, who made their wealth by developing office and distribution centers throughout metro Atlanta, have supported numerous nonprofit causes. One of the most notable investments was the Doris Shaheen Breast Health Center at Piedmont Hospital. Shouky Shaheen made the gift in honor of his wife, a 20-year cancer survivor, on their 43rd wedding anniversary.

The Shaheens also have supported Open Hand, the Lamar Dodd School of Art at The University of Georgia, Shorter University and the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Atlanta.

Larry Gellerstedt III, president and CEO of Cousins Properties Inc., will be honored as the 2010 Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year. He is the third member of his family to receive that award. His father, Lawrence Gellerstedt Jr., won it in 1987; and his mother, Mary Gellerstedt, won it in 1990.

Larry Gellerstedt is being honored for his support of Agnes Scott College, the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Metro Atlanta YMCA, Fernbank Museum of Natural History and the Woodruff Arts Center, to name a few. Gellerstedt also served as chairman of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and co-chaired its $200 million capital campaign committee.

Barbarella Diaz, vice president of community affairs of Diaz Foods, will be given the inaugural Philanthropic Leader of Tomorrow Award aimed at spotlighting the next generation of philanthropists.

The awards will be given by the Greater Atlanta chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals on National Philanthropy Day on Nov. 9. The lunch will take place at the Georgia Aquarium.

Big Splash postponed

Speaking of the Georgia Aquarium, the Big Splash event planned for November as a way of introducing the new Dolphin Theater to Atlanta has been postponed until spring.

The Big Splash is a fundraiser for the Marcus Autism Institute, which is now part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

In an e-mail announcing the postponement, Neil Bradley of Children’s said that the “aquarium determined our aquatic friends need additional training.” Bradley added: “Ultimately the show will go on.”

Cartoon Network: Stop Bullying

The Atlanta-based Boys and Girls Club of America has found a natural ally with the Cartoon Network, which is part of Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System Inc.

Stuart Snyder, president and chief operating officer of TBS’s Animation, Young Adults & Kids Media, serves on BGCA’s national board. He also has been the force behind the “Stop Bullying, Speak Up” marketing campaign that was launched on the Cartoon Network. “There are 160,000 kids each day who don’t go to school because of bullying,” Snyder said. “And 75 percent of kids said they have witnessed or know about bullying.”

The best way to combat bullying is through the children. “We want to empower kids and give them the tools to speak up,” Snyder said. “Hopefully, we can move that needle.”

Snyder also chaired the annual Southeast Chairman’s dinner for BGCA on Oct. 14 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. The emcee was Sherri Shepherd, host of “The View,” and the presenter was tennis star Anna Kournikova, who is the Cartoon Network’s Fitness Ambassador.

Wal-Mart CEO in Atlanta

Make no mistake. Mike Duke, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is proud of his Georgia ties.

Duke spoke of his experience as CEO of one of the world’s largest companies during Georgia Tech’s College of Management Impact Speaker Series on Oct. 6. “It’s always great to be back at Tech,” Duke said. “This is special to be here. It’s also special to be this close to home.”

Duke grew up in Fayette County’s Peachtree City. “I left here in 1978, but it’s still home,” he said. “My mother still lives in the house where I grew up.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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