Chamber ‘all ears’ for Great Wolf
New award honors Tom Hall
By Jennifer Shrader
Photos by Alicia B. Hill | Daily News
On a night that celebrated one of the last projects former LaGrange City Manager Tom Hall worked on, the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce took another step to make sure his legacy in town is secured.
At its annual meeting and awards banquet, chamber leaders announced the creation of the Tom Hall Innovation Award and named its first recipient, Bobby Carmichael.
Carmichael was surprised but happy with the honor.
“Tom and I understood each other,” Carmichael said after receiving the award. “He had a financial background similar to mine.”
Other city and county leaders agreed Carmichael was the perfect first recipient.
“Bobby’s lasting legacy is evident to anyone who travels downtown LaGrange,” said Mayor Jim Thornton in a video message.
Chamber leaders said its board of directors established the award to recognize those individuals or businesses that drive innovation through creative thinking and problem solving as well as take risks to propel economic development through their innovation.
An identical award was presented to Hall’s wife, Gina.
Hall started his career in public service in LaGrange in 1985. He left LaGrange for a short tenure in Morrow before returning in 1994, serving as city manager and becoming a valued chamber partner until his untimely death last year, chamber leaders said.
“He’s known around the country for his innovation,” Thornton said.
Carmichael, who has been President & CEO of Commercial Bank & Trust in LaGrange since 1991, was named executive director of the Downtown LaGrange Development Authority and Development Authority of LaGrange in 2011.
This year’s Jane Fryer award also carried special meaning. The award, named for the former president of the chamber, was created in 2008 and presented Thursday night to the family of Randy Jackson, the former chief administrative officer of Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, who died last year.
Jackson was goal-oriented and results driven, chamber leaders said. At the age of 23, he aspired to reach a vice presidential level in his career, and he certainly surpassed that goal. First acquainted with Troup County when he was employed by Alcan Products, he was selected in 2007 as the first American for Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia. Rising to chief administrative officer, he helped establish Kia’s presence in Georgia and led the company’s substantial growth by cultivating a workforce, managing its expansion and serving as a liaison to both foreign investors and local and state government.
Developing a top quality workforce at Kia was Randy’s job; creating a regional workforce of tomorrow became his passion, chamber leaders said.
“Randy wouldn’t quit until the college and career academy got out of the ground,” said former Troup County Commission Chairman Ricky Wolfe in a video message.
John Asbell, incoming chamber board president and longtime Thinc Academy supporter, said three of his children attend classes there.
“I live out Randy’s vision every day,” he said.
The award was posthumously presented to Jackson’s wife, Deborah.
Trae Long was the recipient of the Ida Tarver Jones Volunteer of the Year award. Long was recognized for spearheading the revitalization of the chamber’s networking group and young professionals group, serving as chairman of both organizations, as well as serving as secretary/treasurer of Leadership Troup
The Otto Korth Diplomat of the Year is Richard Ennis, who chamber leaders said embodied the welcoming spirit of Korth, dedicating countless hours to attending special events, mentoring new members and thanking existing ones.
Prior to the awards, those who attended the annual chamber event heard from Keith Furnas, general manager of Great Wolf Lodge. The lodge, under construction at Interstate 85 and Whitesville Road, will open in May 2018 and is about a month ahead of schedule. To celebrate the lodge’s arrival in LaGrange, Great Wolf brought furry wolf ears for everyone to wear during the evening’s festivities, which included a red carpet and photos before the dinner and a giant wolf-ear selfie as the meal got underway.
“The truth is I wear these every day,” Furnas joked. His are usually “tricked out” and attached to a construction helmet. He also let the crowd in on the fact that the ears provided Thursday night were the company’s standard ears; they also have versions for spring, Halloween, Christmas and other events.
Furnas said the company is excited to be building the LaGrange facility.
“We’re opening a Great Wolf lodge in Colorado Springs, Colo., and it won’t hold a candle to what we have coming here in LaGrange,” he said.
The resort will include a 95,000 square foot water park and a 40,000 square foot dry park with an arcade and other features.
“We’ve never spent more time on the preparation and design of one of our facilities,” he said.
Furnas also was pleased to see LaGrange’s reaction to the company.
“I’m blown away by tonight,” he said.