Bay County Chamber of Commerce holds 107th Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony

Chamber Events, Chamber News


Watch the Bay County Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony.

The Bay County Chamber of Commerce held its 2020 Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony on January 24 at Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort. Bay County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO, Carol Roberts, said this event is one of the most important events of the year for the Chamber.

“The Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony is our chance to reflect on all of the accomplishments from the previous year,” said Roberts. “From the winning of the Chamber of the Year for the fourth time, as well as numerous communications awards, to successfully encouraging the Florida Chamber to take a stance against offshore drilling to protect the Gulf Coast Training Range, there are many reasons to celebrate.”

The event began at 5:30 pm with a social and silent auction benefiting Junior Leadership Bay (JLB), a program of the Bay County Chamber Foundation. JLB prepares Bay County’s youth and future business leaders to meet the challenges facing our area through hands-on activities and exciting discussions involving community leaders and motivational speakers.

The main event began at 7:00 pm, where nearly 650 community leaders and numerous elected officials gathered to celebrate the Chamber’s successes of 2019 and to honor the outgoing Chair of the Board, Will Cramer of Bill Cramer Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC. Robert Carroll, Bay County Commissioner and Partner at McNeil Carroll Engineering, served as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening.

Cramer passed the gavel to 2020 Chair, Andrew Rowell of GAC Contracting. In his closing remarks, Cramer stated that his time serving on the Chamber board of directors has been the experience of a lifetime.  

“Thank you for allowing me to serve,” said Cramer. “I’ve been fortunate to build relationships with all of you, our members. We’ve achieved a lot together this year. We exceeded our membership and revenue goals. We won the Great American Defense Community award. We were successful in encouraging the Florida Chamber to take a stance to protect the Gulf Training Range from offshore drilling. We led the county’s economic recovery planning efforts. Also, we won Chamber of the Year for the state of Florida for the fourth time. None of these accomplishments would have happened without our Chamber staff. I couldn’t be prouder of them and everything they do to serve you, our members, and our community”

Also being honored at this event was the outgoing Military Affairs Committee (MAC) Chair, Doug Moore of The Panhandle Group. Moore was the 2018 Chair of the Board of Directors before becoming the 2019 MAC Chairman. Moore officially passed the gavel to Will Cramer who took over as the 2020 MAC Chairman on Thursday, January 16th at the MAC Passing of the Gavel. During the event, Moore commended the work of the local military installations of Bay County stating, had it not been for them, there would be no reason for him to serve as MAC Chair.

“Our local military are the ones to be commended for their service for our country,” said Moore. “Both of our military installations play a vital role not only economically, but also through their individual community involvement and the impact of spouses on our workforce. We appreciate you!”

The first award of the night was the Lauren Merriam Memorial Award, the Chamber’s highest honor. Leon Walters (who was the 2015 recipient of the award), presented the 2019 award to Al McCambry, who was chosen for this award for his heart and love for all that is Bay County. He has served on multiple boards, including Chair of both the Bay County Chamber and Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Economic Development Alliance, United Way and American Red Cross to name a few. Despite holding a number of serious positions, Walters said McCambry was chosen for his sense of humor, a trait considered in earnest each year when a recipient is selected.

The Chairman’s Award, of which has only been awarded on five other occasions, is given only when the Chair of the Board of Directors feels there is someone (or group) that has been especially impactful in a way that is outside the realm of normal operations of impacts in our community. This year, two awards were given.  

Olivia Byrd Cooley was announced as the first 2019 recipient. Will Cramer, 2019 Chairman of the Bay County Board of Directors stated she has dedicated her life to the betterment of the people who live here, particularly our children.

“Olivia has not only been an educator; she has served on advisory or governing boards of Holy Nativity Episcopal School, Jinks Middle School, Bay High School, Gulf Coast Community College, Early Childhood Education, the Early Learning Coalition, ASAP, Bay Health Foundation, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Bay County,” said Cramer. “She approaches every discussion and every decision first with compassion for those they serve.   They are also the first to volunteer both their time and their own money to back up those decisions.”

The second Chairman’s Award was awarded to Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base.  Cramer thanked Col. Laidlaw for saving Tyndall Air Force Base. He stated, “Without Col. Laidlaw’s tireless efforts, there wouldn’t be an investment of 4.7 billion dollars, thousands of jobs, and thousands of airmen and their families into our county.”

Each year the Chamber recognizes an outstanding member with its Member of the Year award. This final award of the evening was given to Dr. John Holdnak, President of Gulf Coast State College. Will Cramer, 2019 Chair of the Bay County Board of Directors, introduced Holdnak as the recipient and stated he was top of mind from the very beginning.

“From our first conversation, this person stood out as a shining star,” said Cramer. “For many years John has been a huge supporter of the Chamber. After Hurricane Michael, the building was inoperable. Chamber staff had moved several times and was facing a third move. John immediately stepped up to the plate and said, ‘Don’t worry, come on over and we will find room for you.’”

Holdnak has served our community in many organizations aimed at bettering the community, including United Way, the Bay EDA, Boy Scouts, Bay Defense Alliance and the boards of Bay County and Panama City Beach Chambers of Commerce.

Wrapping up the evening, 2020 Chairman, Andrew Rowell gave his vision for the organization over the next year. Rowell touched on the aggressive priorities for 2020, stating key objectives for the year include: the 2020 Census, which is critical to our future; Investors Conference in conjunction with NextSite, LLC, and partnering with the EDA and other organizations; housing; contractors and business one stop post disaster center; and lastly, but probably the most important, our visual image. Rowell stated we must support our county and cities’ Code Enforcement departments in cleaning up these abandoned properties.

“We will continue to carry the torch and send the message that Bay County is open for business. We have all pushed, pulled, hammered, cleaned, demoed, dug up, planted, painted and helped our neighbors create our new normal,” stated Rowell.  “I believe we can look forward to a Bay County we are all proud of!”

To learn more about other Bay County Chamber events, visit our events calendar.