Chris Johnson of Piper Fire Protection accepts the 2013 Citizen of the Year award from chairwoman Debra Jones during the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce’s 61st annual awards breakfast Sept. 20.
CLEARWATER – Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce’s 61st annual meeting and awards breakfast celebrated not only the business leaders who support it, but the successes of the organization as a whole.
“This is the most dynamic chamber in the county – we all know that – and I think we’re going to make it even better this year,” said Largo Mayor Pat Gerard as she welcomed the audience at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort to “greater Largo.”
In particular, 2013 marks the end of a three-year strategic plan focused on four initiatives: membership, financial viability, workforce and economic development and regionalism, outgoing chairwoman Debra Jones of Regions Bank explained.
The year saw successes in all four categories. A membership campaign run by an outside firm saw 50 new businesses join the chamber within 48 hours, and the chamber hired Kathy Pabst Robshaw as its membership director, she said. Financially, the organization was able to clear its debt and post a surplus. Its economic development committee continued to pursue pro-business initiatives with the help of state and local partnerships.
In its third year branded as the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, the organization formally known as the Largo Chamber of Commerce saw a new website launch, Jones said.
“In all, I’m very pleased to say that it’s been a good year for the your chamber,” Jones said. “We have much to take pride in. I’m confident that with your continuing support, we will have many more successes to celebrate as the years unfold.”
During the program, Jones announced three community awards. She gave Gerard the Silver Hammer Award in honor of the newly completed Highland Recreation Center. Woody Brown, owner of Main Street Chiropractic and a Largo commissioner, was named the Mac Norcross Small Business Leader of the Year.
Brown, “who embodies the spirit of this honor through his commitment to family business, our chamber and the community,” first joined the chamber after opening his business in May 2002, Jones said. More recently, he invested in Largo’s West Bay Drive Redevelopment area by purchasing and renovating a vacant building across the street from his leased shop last year. He and his wife, Jenny, also bought a home in the West Bay district.
Jones also named the 2013 Citizen of the Year: Chris Johnson of Piper Fire Protection. She described the Largo High School graduate as a “homeboy done good.”
Johnson helped his father’s fire sprinkler venture grow from four employees and two service trucks to a business of 130 employees, 70 vehicles and $11 million in annual revenues, serving Fortune 500 companies as a national industry leader, she said.
Aside from his company’s successes, the father of six children is involved in the community, as a youth soccer coach and referee coordinator and as a board member for the church Grace Christian Fellowship.
“Chris is truly a man of many talents who strongly believes in giving back,” Jones said. “He is a forward thinking multitasker, gifted with the ability to see what could be rather than what is. He is compassionate and humble, preferring to set out the chairs, rather than sit.”
Johnson said he was “quite literally shocked” when he opened the letter that told him he would receive the award.
“It feels odd to receive an award to for doing things you love to do,” he said.
He thanked his business team, whom he called his best friends, his “six awesome kids” and his wife Kim, “the most patient wife a man could ever hope for.” He gave much credit for his success to his father, Terry Johnson.
“Dad, you are the example of how to be a great boss, husband and father,” he said. “I pray that I will have the legacy of self-sacrifice you have modeled for our family and friends.”
Chamber President Tom Morrissette also handed out several awards. Scott Lake of the financial planning firm R.S. Williams and Associates was named the ambassador of the year. Jim England of England Brothers Construction was named committee chairman of the year for his oversight of the economic development committee. Regions Bank, a sponsor of many of the chamber’s events, was honored as the business member of the year.
Morrissette gave Rick Donohue of Hampton Inn and Suites in Largo the President’s Award in thanks for his time and service to the chamber.
“His enthusiasm, insight and loyalty to the organization are truly second to none,” Morrissette said. “He’s one of those rare and endearing people who make us in the nonprofit sector ecstatic with four simple words, ‘How can I help?’”
The ceremony also honored Jones’ effort as the outgoing head of the board.
“Debra assumed her role as chairman during an economic downturn but set tough goals of achieving renewed growth, vitality and influence,” said her successor Dr. James Rivenbark of Diagnostic Clinic. “The results speak for themselves. Membership is up; financially, we are doing well, and the chamber is seen as bringing value to its members.”
Morrissette added his compliments with roses, thanking Jones for bringing her “rosy smile” into the office.
For more information about the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, visit www.centralchamber.biz or call 584-2321.