For those that have not heard, Chamber President, Roddie Anne Blackwell, is celebrating her 40th anniversary at the Chamber of Commerce this year as well as announcing her retirement at the end of 2020. She began with the Chamber in 1980, less than a year after the Chamber was founded and has been a guiding force ever since.
Over the past 40 years, Roddie Anne has raised the Chamber like one of her own children. She has been the cornerstone of the organization and has grown it into what it is today. She will be quick to tell you that it was a team effort and she had a big one. She has seen the Chamber through 5 different locations, growth in membership, countless fundraisers, community events, and endless economic and community development projects.
For the first 7 years of the Chamber, Roddie Anne was the only employee until she hired her first part-time employee in 1987. In 2005, the two full-time positions of Membership Manager and Tourism & Special Events Coordinator were created. “I never felt alone in this job,” said Roddie Anne. “I have always thought of the Chamber as a team. I have had great employees and amazing Board Members over the years that supported the Chamber in so many ways.”
During her time with the Chamber she has acquired many certifications in her role. She graduated from Chamber Institute (a 6-year program at UGA), the Economic Development Institute at Ga. Tech, numerous Leadership Development courses, and her latest was as a Georgia Certified Chamber Executive (currently only 24 in the state). She sits or has sat on numerous boards including the Central Georgia Technical College board, Tri-County EMC Foundation, the Plaza Arts Center, the Downtown Development Authority and the Eatonton Main Street Board. She has also served on numerous state and regional boards, including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Association board, holding officer’s positions on all she served on.
When asked what Chamber projects she is most proud of she said “Which category? Business & Leadership Development? Tourism? or Economic Development? (as she worked for the Putnam Development Authority for over 15 years)”
She created Leadership Putnam in 1990 as a way to grow and develop future leaders in the community. This July, the program graduated its 25th class pushing the total number of graduates to well over 500. Participants in the program learn about the community as well as develop their own personal leadership style. This 3-month-long program is so empowering and inspires the students to get out and do more in their communities following graduation. Each class is charged with a project which will make a difference in our community; The Plaza Arts Center being one of them which housed the Chamber for 13 years before its recent move to Marion Street. “I am so proud of the Leadership Program,” said Roddie Anne, “It feels good knowing that you are giving back to the community by training up a new generation of leaders.”
The Putnam Campus of CGTC was opened in 2002. At the time, the Putnam Development Authority contracted with the Chamber and Roddie Anne doubled as its director. When she saw that there was an issue with student’s transcripts being transferred from technical schools as they were called then to other colleges and universities, she worked to solve this problem as well as to create a space where Putnam County residents would have a local facility to further work force skills and higher education. She served on the Board of the Technical College and through grant funding and donations from local industries and businesses; she solidified more than $500,000 to build the Putnam Campus of CGTC. President Dr. Mel Palmer said, when she asked what I needed to put a campus in Putnam County and I told her to build me a building, she said ok, and she did to my surprise. Since then, the Chamber has been a huge supporter of the technical college and offers a $1,000 scholarship to a CGTC student every year.
She was a founding member of Georgia’s Antebellum Trail and Georgia’s Lake Country marketing associations. Ga’s Antebellum Trail was Georgia’s first organized and state recognized Trail and has been the model that many associations have followed since. It has been promoted worldwide and brings in many international tourists each year. And of course, everyone recognizes the reference to “Lake Country” on the weather reports on the Atlanta TV stations. In 2018 she was honored with the “Lifetime Achievement” award for her work in the field of tourism by the Historic Heartland Travel Association.
Being part of the team of the Putnam Development Authority allowed her to help recruit and negotiate for many industries and businesses that have come to Putnam County. She commented that confidentially was one of the most important aspects of the game and the citizens didn’t always realize that. Just a few of the larger projects were Hanes/Sara Lee Knit Products, Haband, Gro Tech, Perky Cap, Ingles, Wal Mart, Hylite Windows, the development of the Rock Eagle Technology Park, and numerous small businesses creating thousands of jobs.
The Chamber has also seen many fun events and programs that were designed to engage members and allow them to network with their business colleagues. These have included everything from Mystery Dinner Theater events to the infamous Sweet Tee Off Golf Tournament. Roddie Anne’s favorite event though is the Annual Awards Banquet because she likes to recognize others in the community who are making an impact.
Roddie Anne and the Chamber of Commerce are one in the same. She has done an outstanding job of raising up an organization that is well known and respected in the region. In fact, she received the “Legacy Award” from the Georgia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (GACCE) in 2016. This is the highest award that can be received by a Chamber Executive and is given to someone who has served the Chamber for many years producing high quality work in their community. Roddie Anne is the longest serving Chamber Executive in Georgia.
When she isn’t at the Chamber, which isn’t very often, you can find her in her garden or enjoying outdoor activities. She also enjoys spending time with her grandchildren.
Eatonton and Putnam County should be proud to have such a dedicated servant in the community who has a true passion for small business. Thank you Roddie Anne for your 40 years of service!