Class of 2015
For the first time since 1998, Leadership Georgia Program will be visiting Statesboro and Bulloch County the weekend of September 17th – 19th. Community organizers, directors of non-profit organizations, business pacesetters, and key government officials, making-up a class list of 63 leaders from across the state, will spend two days touring the area under the direction of Program Chair Team Eric and Mollie Cohen of Whigham, GA.
The theme of this year’s program is “Georgia on the Rise,” which the 2015 LG Class began in January on a five-city tour of some of the state’s most progressive communities to learn more about important issues affecting the state.
The communities on this year’s list include:
Brasstown Valley – January 29 – 31 – “Emerge”
Thomasville – March 12 - 14 – “Promote”
Jekyll Island – April 30 – May 2 – “Expand”
Statesboro – September 17 – 19 – “Grow”
Atlanta – November 19 – 21 – “Advance”
With the theme, “Grow,” this year’s LG Class will be here to observe not only how Bulloch is progressive in agriculture, but also how Bulloch manages to be progressive in many other areas of economic development including tourism, downtown re-development, sports, and education.
“Bulloch County has a large number of Leadership Georgia graduates, more than most counties in the state,” stated Benjy Thompson, Executive Director of the Bulloch County Development Authority. “We have hosted Leadership Georgia a couple of times in the past, so Bulloch County has a long association with the program,” he said.
The concept of a leadership development program for Georgia was first introduced back in 1971 at a Georgia Chamber of Commerce meeting. Several key business leaders including Pat Pattillo, then-president of the Georgia Chamber, business leader Jim Lientz, Sr., Rogers Wade of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and community visionary J.W. Fanning, discussed the idea of such a program during an informal conversation. J.W. Fanning, whose name graces the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia, served as the program’s longtime advisor and guiding hand.
Unlike other leadership programs across the country, the Leadership Georgia Program includes not only candidates for leadership training, but their spouses or significant others as well. An inclusive aspect attributed to Fanning’s wife, Cora Lee. She believed participants often performed community service with the aid of their spouses or significant others and should be allowed to go through the leadership program together.
Most LG alumni become involved in chairing programs for later classes as couples. Eric and Mollie Cohen, who chair the Statesboro visit, are graduates of the LG Class of 2014. Thompson, and wife Delaine, were 2005 graduates and later Program Chairs. Lori and Tim Durden of Statesboro, who are helping with the Bulloch County tour, are LG graduates and were Program chairs in 2010. With spouses, significant others, and guests, the visiting group doubles to 120 participants. Add in the other LG alumni and volunteers and the number of visiting leaders rises to 180.
After LG leadership made it known to local graduates that a visit to Bulloch County was possible, the alumni group invited the Cohen’s for several site visits to get an overview of the community and to schedule stops for the two-day visit this fall.
“They will be staying overnight while Statesboro is hosting the class,” said Heidi Jeffers, Executive Director of the Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have assisted planners in preparing a fantastic tour of the area. We’ll be showcasing some of our local farms and Agri-tourism attractions like Hunter Cattle Company. The group will visit a livestock show at an area high school produced by FFA students. There will be visits to the Main Street Farmers Market and the Wildlife Education Center at Georgia Southern. Of course, while they are here we want them to see some Georgia Southern football,” she added. “A great group of local Leadership Georgia alumni have come together to assist Eric and Mollie Cohen in planning the events.”
“Insurance Commissioner Gary Black will also be visiting Statesboro to address the group during a mini Ag-Expo,” she stated.
Several other Statesboro leaders joined in the advance planning of the Statesboro visit including former Georgia Southern President Dr. Brooks Keel and Russell Keen, former Vice President of External Affairs for the University.
“To have a program focused on Statesboro-Bulloch County, agriculture and economic development not only speaks to the leadership and strong sense of community that we enjoy but it showcases all of the wonderful business, economies, and industries and people that make us unique and special. The opportunity to showcase our community to this group is something we should all be excited about because it helps advance our efforts in economic development and leadership throughout the state,” said Keen.
It also has lasting benefits for LG Class members. “Being chosen for a LG class is a great acknowledgement of one’s career up to that point and it’s a jumping off point for future opportunities in leadership,” said Thompson. “You develop not only a better understanding of issues affecting the whole state, you also develop a network of impressive people forging relationships that will stay with you the rest of your life.”
Having more than 3,000 Georgia Leaders participate in the statewide program over the past three-plus decades, and creating a strong network of alumni fulfills the original vision and mission of J.W. Fanning and his team of co-founders. Still affiliated with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the organization has graduated numerous highly influential leaders in Georgia and the U.S.
The LG organization describes selection and participation in Leadership Georgia as an honor, “but with this honor comes an obligation to use one’s full talent, ideas and energy to build a better Georgia for all its citizens.” For more information, please visit www.leadershipgeorgia.com.