The Statesboro Bulloch Chamber of Commerce on Thursday saluted Darron Burnette, a leader in creating the Blue Mile plan for the revitalization of South Main Street, as 2017 Statesboro-Bulloch Business Leader of the Year.
In April, the plan won Statesboro a $1 million third-place national prize in the America’s Best Communities competition, bringing the community’s total winnings from that contest to $1,165,000. Burnette is regional CEO of the banking company Synovus for Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida and was previously president and CEO of Sea Island Bank, now a Synovus location.
The Chamber of Commerce also honored another Blue Mile landmark financial institution, AgSouth Farm Credit, as 2017 Business of the Year.
Burnette is active in community service in many ways besides the Blue Mile effort, as Bruce Yawn, a past Business Leader of the Year recipient, explained in announcing this year’s award.
“His love for this community and his passionate desire to make it better by his service far exceeds his desire to make life easier for himself. …,” said Yawn, who added, “Our recipient today can squeeze 28 hours out of every 24-hour day.”
A past chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Burnette has also served as secretary for the Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation, treasurer for the Ogeechee Technical College Foundation, president of both the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro and the Optimist Club and division chairman for the United Way. He has been a board member for East Georgia Regional Medical Center, the Statesboro Police Foundation, Forest Heights Country Club, the Coastal Georgia Alzheimer’s Association, Keep Bulloch Beautiful and Bulloch Academy.
Burnette and his wife attend Statesboro First Baptist Church, where they previously taught a children’s Sunday school class. He is also a member of the Rotary Club of Statesboro.
“As co-chair of two annual fundraising events, the Miriam Burnette Striking Out Alzheimer’s Softball Tournament and Rockin’ Out Alzheimer’s, he has helped raise over $250,000 over the past few years for the cause of Alzheimer’s research,” Yawn reported.
The softball tournament was named in honor of Burnette’s mother, who died in 2012.
Burnette and another past chamber chair, Keely Fennell, founded the committee for the revitalization of South Main Street several years ago and have continued to lead it. Operating as an independent community group, it was renamed the Blue Mile Committee, and after this year’s contest win, a Blue Mile Foundation was formed to apply the prize money to redevelopment projects.
His chosen home
Burnette, now 51, grew up in Lilburn near Atlanta and first came to Statesboro in 1984 as a student at Georgia Southern University, where he attained a Bachelor of Business Administration with an emphasis in banking. He is also an honor graduate of the Georgia Banking School at the University of Georgia.
But he met his wife, Kim Dixon Burnette, a Statesboro native, when they were Georgia Southern students. They have been married 28 years and have two daughters, Cortney and Caroline.
“I’m at a loss for words, and those who know me very well know that doesn’t happen very often, right?” Burnette said, with emotion, when he came to front of the room.
“But I am so blessed to be part of this community,” he said. “The Lord brought me here many years ago to be a student at Georgia Southern, and I was blessed to meet my wife, and about 24 years ago had the opportunity to move back to Statesboro – I encouraged her to move back – and I’ve been just fortunate to have surrounded myself with just wonderful folks.”
He was previously recognized locally in 2008 with a Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Award and by Synovus in 2011 the William B. Turner Humanitarian Award.
The Business of the Year was chosen from four Businesses of the Quarter. These were recognized by the chamber for projecting a positive appearance, exemplifying quality, and providing a good work environment, said Bob Mikell, the chamber’s incoming first vice chair.
Chick-fil-A, Anderson’s General Store, Servpro of Statesboro and AgSouth Farm Credit were 2017’s quarterly award recipients.
“These businesses also display creativity and imagination in management and customer service and they support the community through the time and the talents of their employees,” Mikell said.
The Business of the Year, he added, “played a key role in Statesboro and the Blue Mile project finishing in the top three in the America’s Best Communities competition.” AgSouth Farm Credit, which already had its central headquarters in Statesboro, announced in 2016 that it was consolidating its regional offices, which included two in South Carolina, to Statesboro as well, with a major expansion of its buildings here.
“This expansion has resulted in the removal of two abandoned warehouses in favor of a corporate campus with park-like greenspace, with 20 new jobs and the potential for many more, to our downtown,” Mikell said.
The three-acre complex also falls within the downtown Tax Allocation District, where growth in property tax revenue will go to redevelopment, Mikell noted.
“It’s a great honor to be acknowledged in the presence of such fine peers and such fine businesses that have been awarded during the year,” said AgSouth CEO Pat Calhoun. “And I would just like to say that on behalf of our board and our 250 employees – by the way, 65 of which are here in Statesboro and a few more coming – we very much appreciate the acknowledgement and receiving this award.
“So thank you very much and we’ll continue doing what we can to support Statesboro-Bulloch,” he said.
Chamber’s 96th year
Incoming 2018 Chamber of Commerce Chair Trish Tootle presented the Committee of the Year award to the organization’s Ambassadors Committee, led by Christa Mallard and Alex Grovenstein. The committee, expanded from five to 25 volunteers, visited over 500 chamber members in 2017, Tootle said.
Members, employees and guests filled the banquet hall of the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center at Georgia Southern University over lunch for the chamber’s 96th annual meeting. Outgoing 2017 Chair Per Holtze passed the gavel to Tootle.
Laura Marsh, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents member from Statesboro, spoke to the group about Armstrong State University’s consolidation into Georgia Southern, which takes effect Jan. 1. Although Georgia Southern will now have campuses in Savannah and Hinesville as well, the university will still be headquartered in Statesboro and is expected to grow on all three campuses, Marsh said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.