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Chamber honors Fennell as Business Leader of Year
Also salutes Briggs & Stratton as local engine plant expands
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Keely Fennell finds herself at the center of attention after being named Business Leader of the Year during the 97th Statesboro Bulloch Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon at the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center Wednesday. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

The Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting Wednesday honored Keely NeSmith Fennell, co-owner of NeSmith Construction and president of the Blue Mile Foundation Inc., as 2018 Business Leader of the Year.

But she didn’t want the moment to be all about her.

“I don’t want the spotlight, and I really want it to be the fact that it’s a good time to be in Statesboro because we’re all working together, and I like working with a lot of folks that have the same mission, to make Statesboro better, and that’s what I’ve found,” Fennell said after the luncheon. “Everybody’s got a talent, and we all put them together to try to move Statesboro forward.”

Announcing the award, Chamber President Phyllis Thompson predicted that the time-conscious builder who was being honored wouldn’t want the ceremony to take long. Meal and presentations, the luncheon event in the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center was finished within 90 minutes.

“If you want a job done right, and especially if you if want it done pronto, this year’s recipient is the person to have on your team, a dynamic leader who just makes things happen,” Thompson said.

Fennell and her brother, Kyle NeSmith, own and operate NeSmith Construction & Land Development, which was founded by their father, Donald NeSmith, now retired. The firm has just four employees, including the owners, but works with about 75 subcontractors, Fennell said in an interview.

After graduating first from Statesboro High School and then from Georgia Southern University with a degree in business management, she went directly to work with the family business in 1990.

For the past six years, Fennell has led in the campaign to revitalize the South Main Street corridor, now known as the Blue Mile, from the GSU campus to downtown Statesboro. She and last year’s Business Leader honoree, Darron Burnette, both past Chamber of Commerce presidents, organized the independent South Main Revitalization Committee in 2012.

That group evolved into the Blue Mile Committee, which they co-chaired. Its revitalization plan won Statesboro the $1 million third prize in the April 2017 final round of the corporate-sponsored America’s Best Communities competition. The nonprofit Blue Mile Foundation, with Fennell as its president, was incorporated last year to oversee the money’s use in furthering redevelopment.

“In the time she spent on the Blue Mile alone, she could have built multiple neighborhoods for the benefit of the family business,” Thompson said. “Instead, she has chosen to build a legacy project for her hometown and for everybody who will ever walk through it from this day forward.”

Meanwhile, Fennell, also a past president of the Home Builders Association of Statesboro, continues to serve on the State Licensing Board for Residential and General Contractors, to which she was first appointed eight years ago by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Other organizations she volunteers with include the Statesboro Service League and the Boys and Girls Club of Bulloch County. She is a past Bulloch Academy board member and parent volunteer and an active supporter of Georgia Southern athletics. She and her husband, Bo Fennell, have been married 25 years and have a daughter, Powell, and son, Charlie, both now in college.

 

Briggs & Stratton

2018’s Business of the Year plaque went to a manufacturer, Briggs & Stratton.

Introducing the award, Michelle Lank, who chairs the chamber’s Business and Workforce Committee, noted that the committee salutes a business each quarter. The four Business of the Quarter honorees this year were Mal-Ad Promotions, GH Tool & Mold, Chandler Roofing and Briggs & Stratton.

“Each of these businesses displays creativity in management and customer service and they support the community through the time and talent of their employees,” Lank said.

But Gov. Nathan Deal visited the Statesboro location of the Business of the Year in May to congratulate the company and its employees on an expansion, she added. Deal and Briggs & Stratton Briggs & Stratton Corporation CEO Todd Teske spoke at the plant to celebrate the addition of a line for building Vanguard V-Twin engines.

These engines were previously produced in Japan, but Briggs is moving production to the United States, specifically to the factory here and one in Auburn, Alabama. Since the Statesboro plant opened it 1995, it has manufactured more than 21 million small engines. But this is the first time the factory, which has been Briggs’ highest-volume facility for assembling single-cylinder engines, will make two-cylinder engines.

“For us as a community, that meant not only 100 new jobs here at the honoree’s plant, but also increases in jobs and production at another of our businesses of quarter, at GH Tool and Mold,” Lank noted.

Briggs & Stratton Plant Manager James Suchovsky accepted the award on behalf of the company.

“Thank you. We very much appreciate this award,” he said. “For companies to be successful, it really takes two things, or three, if you add drive to it. The first one is you have to have a strong team.”

He asked other Briggs employees who were there to stand, and noted that several had arrived with the expansion. About 50-60 people have been hired in the past few months, about half of the total being added, and the rest should be hired in the next six months, Suchovsky said. He mentioned that the new line will be starting up Monday.

“Besides having a great team, the other thing that it takes is a really strong community that supports you, and I do consider this community as family,” Suchovsky said. “You’ve all been here anytime we needed anything.”

 

Emergency Training

Chris Gohagan, the chamber’s first-vice chair for 2019, presented a new award, Most-Engaged Small Business, to Felicia Willis-Washington. Her one-person company, Emergency Training, offers CPR and first-aid training. The selection was made using a scoring system for the number of times small-business members log into the chamber’s member portal, attend events and participate in committees.

Before receiving the award, Willis-Washington was also a featured speaker, talking about how chamber programs and events have helped her get the word out about her business.

The Chamber Committee of the Year award went to the Special Events and Fundraising Committee, chaired by Mandy Fortune and Karen Mobley.

Wednesday’s meeting was the local Chamber of Commerce’s 97th annual. The chamber now has about 600 organizational and individual members. It added 58 members this year, said 2018 Chamber Chair Trish Tootle.

Tootle recapped the year and now transitions to past chair, also an active position on the chamber’s executive committee. 2019 Chair Bob Mikell thanked Tootle and others and predicted more success for the community ahead.

 

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.