CLEARWATER — The Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce held its 68th annual Meeting and Awards Breakfast on Sept. 30 at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. Dozens of area business owners and local officials, including Largo Mayor Woody Brown, commissioners Michael Smith, John Carroll and Donna Holck and Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard, turned out for the first such meeting since the start of the pandemic.

Emceed by chamber president Tom Morrissette, the program featured the installation of incoming board chair Nate Cocco and honored outgoing chair Rob England. The two-hour event was highlighted by the organization and community awards, with Jake Prokop, director of Pinellas Technical College, named Chamber Director of the Year, Denny Lehan of Village Inn named Small Business Leader of the Year and longtime Largo attorney and philanthropist Bruce McManus earning the Citizen of the Year honor.

After receiving a standing ovation, McManus, who helped facilitate the construction of the Central Park Performing Arts Center and is a founding member of the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, stood at the front of the room and said, “Largo is one of the nicest places to live in Florida, and it’s getting nicer every year.”

That kind of positivity was present throughout the event, which was canceled last year due to COVID, as England praised the chamber, its board and members for holding things together during the pandemic.

“On a very positive note, we’ve seen a good resurgence in membership during the past few months,” England said. “Some were businesses we welcomed back from last year but also many new to the organization altogether … and our success during all this chaos reflects the loyalty and support by many of you in this room.”

In his opening remarks, Brown lauded his city’s growth despite the hardships created by the coronavirus crisis. “It’s been a strange couple of years,” Brown said, “but things are happening in Largo.” He cited the spate of new construction, including multiple residential housing developments, as reasons to be optimistic, and recognized the chamber as “an important part of this community.”

After the ceremony concluded, many attendees hung around, mingling and enjoying being back in person.

“We were one of the first chambers to meet by Zoom but you can only do so much over Zoom, and in construction you can’t do it at all,” said England of England Brothers Construction. “So, it was nice to be back together, and Tom did a great job organizing things for us. It’s my last day on the board but the people on this board are fantastic leaders in our community and I’m proud to have served on it for six years, and I’m confident our success will continue with my successor Nate Cocco at the helm.”

Prokop, who is scheduled to be installed as chair at next year’s breakfast, echoed those thoughts.

“The chamber of full of people who truly care about the community,” he said, “so it’s easy working with them and doing great things. It was a tremendous honor to be recognized today by my colleagues and friends. I’m just trying to do the best job I can do for all of them and everyone involved with the chamber.”

On his way out of the dining room, McManus paused for a minute to lavish more love on Largo.

“I’ve enjoyed living in Largo. It’s a very comfortable and progressive place,” McManus said. “With the exception of Sarasota, it’s probably the nicest place to live in Florida.”

After listing several Largo landmarks and attractions, including the botanical gardens, the library, the new high school and the performing arts center, McManus noted, “there’s a lot that Largo has to offer!”