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Julie Langham, of Augusta Technical College, and Bob Kepshire, of University McDuffie Hospital, listen to Cosby Johnson’s presentation.

Representatives of the local business community learned more about how the chamber can better represent them during last week’s 2021 Chamber Champion Luncheon.

The event, which is in its first year, was held at First United Methodist Church last Wednesday and featured several key speakers.

“It was a way of thanking our corporate sponsors for investing at that level in the chamber. So, that was one of the first reasons and the second was to gain input on how we could better serve their needs and the business community of McDuffie County,” said Debbie Jones, executive director of the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce. “What we wanted to do is hear from them first hand how we can better serve them.”

Cosby Johnson, Georgia Chamber of Commerce vice president of government affairs, and Ralph Staffins, president of the Brunswick Golden Isles chamber, talked of how the chamber can be an advocate for businesses and keep them informed on governmental topics impacting business. Staffins knows the Thomson area well and previously served as the director of Forward McDuffie. Johnson is based in Brunswick, where he works closely with Staffins, but also spends a great deal of time in Atlanta and at the state capital.

“One thing that really stands out for the chamber is to be advocating on our members behalf. We don’t want to just, as the chamber staff, be the ones to develop those issues. It has to come from our membership,” explained Jones.

To provide an example of how this all works, Jones chose to bring Staffins and Johnson in after hearing then address the topic at a conference.

“Ralph’s chamber, they really focus heavily on the government affairs side,” Jones explained. “We are heavy on the workforce development side, but we do want to make sure that we are pushing issues that are important to us and that is why I brought Ralph in.”

Part of the luncheon program was dedicated to information gathering in connection with a project underway through the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Jones said the chamber, through the help of Worksource East Central Georgia’s LaTunya Goodwin, was approved for a grant. That grant has allowed the partnership between the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which was represented at the luncheon by Rebecca McIver.

As part of McIver’s program at the luncheon, she conducted a survey of those in attendance that will help in her efforts to create a workforce development plan. Her team will be working in the community for several weeks, which are spaced out over time, and coordinating with a steering committee of business, industry, and education leaders to establish a workforce strategic plan.

“We’ve been fortunate to be able to create some programs that will help us move the needle in our workforce in that high school age, but there is so much more we need to be working on,” Jones said. “That’s why we needed something to give us a road map.”

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