Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber banquet caps off successful 2023

Published 11:31 am Friday, January 26, 2024

BROOKHAVEN — The Clubs at Ole Brook dining room was packed for Thursday night’s Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Educators of the Year, First Responder of the Year, Local Ambassador of the Year, Industry of the Year and Business of the Year for 2023 were named.

Outgoing chamber board president Bill Boerner announced the winners while Garrick Combs, executive director of the chamber, recapped the year and looked ahead to 2024.Combs said it was his 10th chamber banquet to be a part of. 

He thanked the crowd for the turnout and expressed the chamber’s appreciation for what they do for the community. 

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“Thank you for making 2023 successful. We had a great year and going into next year will be our 92nd year,” Combs said. “I believe we have the longest contiguous chamber of commerce in the state. We have been in existence for 92 years. In the entire history we are as strong today as we have always been. I take pride in working with y’all. You make it happen. A strong chamber does not work without strong partners.” 

He said everyone plays a vital role in the community and local economy. Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, Lincoln County has seen $300 million in industrial spending projects either completed, in the works or announced projects. 

Combs claimed tourism grew in the past year as supported by the amount of hotel and motel tax generated for the city. He said the tax rate had not changed so it leads him to believe there are three times as many tourists spending time in Brookhaven as they did in the previous year. Jillian Ricceri leads the Brookhaven Tourism Board. 

Brookhaven surpassed McComb and Natchez in sales tax revenue this year, Combs claimed.

“We are the leaders in Southwest Mississippi. One success leads to another,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what 2024 has in store for us.” 

Boerner stepped up to the stage to announce the winners of the chamber’s annual awards but first he took time to reflect on his time in Brookhaven. He first moved to the area in 1966 after growing up in Pensacola, Florida. His father moved the family to take a job at a local paper mill. Boerner returned to Brookhaven in 1975 where he has lived ever since and served as president of the chamber board twice. 

Educators of the year were Brookhaven Academy’s Jennifer Covington, Brookhaven High School’s Roxanne Harper, Mississippi School of the Arts’ Harlie Blauw, Enterprise’s Stephanie Foster and Co-Lin’s Mandy Case.

Covington is a graduate of Brookhaven Academy, Co-Lin Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi. She taught at BA for three years before going home to raise her children. In 2006, she returned to teach at BA and is still teaching in a 21 year career. 

Boerner said Covington finds joy in seeing past students excelling as adults and gets the most pleasure when a student tells her they became a teacher because of Covington. 

Harper is an English teacher at Brookhaven High School. She was recently featured in The Daily Leader for being the school district teacher of the year. 

Blauw works as a psychologist and counselor for Mississippi School of the Arts. She is originally from Austin, Texas and attended Texas Lutheran University, earned a masters from Trinity University and a doctorate from William Carey University. 

Boerner said Blauw serves students at MSA and tries to empower and encourage them. She works to help students “believe in their potential and realize the impact of grief and trauma on students.” Blauw puts together a grief retreat every year which helps area students. In 2023, the camp served 16 students. 

Foster is a graduate of Enterprise Attendance Center and returned to teach at her alma mater. She went to Co-Lin Community College and Belhaven University. Boerner said Foster hopes her greatest contribution is that her students will see Christ in her for God’s glory and not her own. 

Case is an Automation and Technology Instructor at Co-Lin. In the past two years, Case has helped with the Brookhaven School District’s STEM camp. An Ole Brook alumni, Case went to Co-Lin and Louisiana State University. She worked for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and United Parcel Service before going to Co-Lin to teach. Boerner said Case is a member of the United States Tennis Association. 

First Responder of the Year was Chris Davis from Brookhaven Fire Department. He took advanced EMT training in 2022 and graduated in January of 2023. Davis’s wife is on her way to completing the same training. 

Boerner said Davis believes that God puts people where they are needed and everyone should do the best they can and make a difference. 

Ambassador of the Year was Whitney Clark from Lowery, Payne, Leggett and Bellipanni. Clark is a member of Junior Auxiliary, a Chamber Ambassador and serves as the Co-Lin Alumni Association Vice President. She graduated from Mississippi State University and attends Center Street Church of Christ. 

Business of the Year was Tortilla Soup, a restaurant in Brookhaven. Owner Adan Diaz moved to Southwest Mississippi after leaving Florida in 2006. He opened his restaurant in McComb in 2008 and opened the Brookhaven location after. Diaz is known for the phrase “Life is beautiful,” Boerner said. 

Industry of the Year was Reed Capital Investment owned by Bernie Reed. Bernie owned Reed’s Metals before selling the business. He then turned around and started to focus on businesses and rental properties. Boerner said Reed is negotiating with further businesses to come to Brookhaven and his latest venture was Emory Dry Ice. 

Incoming chamber president Angela Furr gaveled in the new year following a brief speech. She thanked Ken Dixon and Mitchell’s Catering for the meal. Furr thanked Carla Snider with Paul Barnett Nissan for helping with the event. Snider is regularly present at Chamber events and ribbon cuttings. 

“I look forward to serving. I’m not a native and grew up in a neighboring county but this feels like home now,” Furr said. “My children go to school here. I’m excited to serve in this role and do what I can.”