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Posted: January 12, 2017 10:03 p.m.

Chamber hosts record-breaking night

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Jack Moon, of McMichael Construction, is honored with the Spirit of Excellence Award.

With a record turnout, the Covington Newton Chamber of Commerce celebrated a record year during its 2017 Annual Meeting Thursday night at the Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center.

Dishing out awards

Taking home the R.O. Arnold award was Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. Johnson said he was completely surprised and honored to receive the award.

Infinity Network Solutions, represented by CEO Robert Betzel, claimed the Dick James Small Business of the Year award. Infinity Network Solutions was applauded for its innovation and dedication to empowering its employees.

Jack Moon, of McMichael Construction, was honored with the Spirit of Excellence Award.

“He truly takes being a Chamber Ambassador to heard and rarely misses an event of the opportunity to invite someone to a chamber function, Chamber President Ralph Staffins said.

Capping off the night, Founder and Chairman of Three Ring Studios – a multi-platform production studio under construction in Covington – Rahim Charania made history as the first-ever guest speaker to receive the Deal of the Year Award.

Newton’s year of film

Charania expressed his plans to continue to grow Newton County’s reputation as the “Hollywood of the South” through Three Ring Studios.

“While this may be the year of film, this great chamber, the City of Covington and Newton County have already racked up over 40 years of experience in how to cater to this growing industry so as to maximize its economic impact,” he said. “TV and film production was taking place here long before any other region in Georgia and the reputation it gained helped it in many ways to facilitate the environment we see here today.”

In 2016 the film industry in the state had a total economic impact of more than $7 billion.

“While the City of Covington has been able to capture a respectable portion of these dollars, with the development of Three Ring Studios a new level of production and development will take place less than 20 miles from here,” Charania said. “When complete, Three Ring Studios will be one of the largest film and TV production campuses in Georgia.”

The plan for Three Ring Studios consists of three campuses with more than 600,000 square feet of sound stage space, more than 250,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of support and work space. It will also house Georgia’s first post-production and game development campus and provide space for the educational and development of the next generation of professionals. When complete, the facility will house more than 1,700 people working on site with different productions.

“All of this could only have been accomplished with the visionary mindset with which the City of Covington, Newton County and the Covington Newton Chamber of Commerce operate,” he said.

Charania said Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston’s vision for 0 percent unemployment has stuck with him the most.

“I remember how he passionately shared with me his belief that if you give a person an opportunity to learn and better themselves, you will not only help them but create a better community,” he said.

Charania said he has a vision for Newton County. His vision includes 0 percent unemployment by creating an opportunity for everyone who wants to work and growing a place when the quality of life is matched by the quality of education.

Setting the bar

2016 was a year of growth for the Covington Newton Chamber of Commerce, Bill Loeble, past chamber chair, said.

Reaching beyond its membership goal of 600, the chamber stands at 618 members, which represents 20,000+ employees in and around Newton County. The chamber saw a growth of 15 percent with an 87 percent retention rate.

Also seeing an increase were the tourism numbers, with an 11 percent increase in 2016 with almost 35,000 visitors from 48 states and 32 countries coming the chamber office. Tourists spent more than $125 million in 2016 in the county, which helped support 1,140 jobs with a payroll of more than $23 million.

The Chamber also hosted more than 1,000 people at its Taste of Newton event, marking the largest crowd in history.

The Chamber welcomed new businesses to the community with 31 ribbon cuttings in 2016. 

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