The inaugural class of Locate South Georgia LEADS graduated last week in Albany-Dougherty County at the Flint RiverQuarium 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 Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Georgia J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, 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:

County Name Title
Ben Hill Jason Dunn Executive Director, Fitzgerald & Ben Hill Development Authority
Berrien Jill Wise Director, Nashville Main Street
Berrien Hayden Hancock Producer, Atwater & Houston Insurance Agency
Coffee Mackenzie Bennett Marketing Director, Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Authority
Coffee Jeff Hennesy Owner, Hennesy Insurance Agency
Colquitt John Mark Mobley Vice President, Mobley Gin Company
Colquitt Tommie Beth Willis President, Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce
Colquitt Dug Schwalls Director of Sales, Southern Valley
Crisp Briley Edwards Vice President/Commercial Lender, Colony Bank
Crisp Anna Hurt Regional Representative, Georgia Department of Economic Development
Dougherty Rob Collins CEO, NEOS Technologies, Inc.
Dougherty William Hancock President, Webb Properties, Inc.
Dougherty Mary Ligon Owner, Mary Ligon, etc./Leadership Albany
Dougherty Matt Reed President & CEO, Georgia CEO
Grady Betsy McGriff Archway Professional, Grady County Archway Partnership, The University of Georgia
Lee Lisa Davis Vice President, Lee County Chamber of Commerce & Development Authority
Lee Darrel Finnicum Owner, Finnicum Motor Company
Lee Donna Ford K-5 Curriculum Director, Lee County Board of Education
Lee Jennifer Johnston CFO/COO, Horizon Community Solutions
Lowndes Thomas Simpson Employment Consultant, Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency
Mitchell Paige Gilchrist Executive Director, Mitchell County Development Authority
Mitchell Jennifer Burnum Executive Director, Camilla Chamber of Commerce
Randolph Sheri Michaels Director of Communications & Marketing, Andrew College
Sumter Barbara Grogan Executive Director, Sumter County Payroll Development Authority
Sumter Bill Harris, Jr. Owner, Café Campesino Coffee Roastery
Sumter Jem Morris Area Manager, Georgia Power Company
Sumter Richard Peck Sergeant, Georgia State Patrol
Tift Brian Atwater Part Owner, Atwater & Houston Insurance Agency
Gift Sandra Giles Director of Rural Studies, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
Worth Kim Gilman CEO, Phoebe Worth Medical Center
Worth Karen Rackley Executive Director, Sylvester-Worth County Economic Development Authority & Chamber of Commerce
Worth 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.