Chamber honors its shining stars

Brent Christensen, president and chief executive of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, welcomes the audience to the 2012 Toast to Business, held at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, in Gainesville, on Friday. The Toast to Business is put on by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and recognizes businesses in the community through a series of awards. At left is Thomas McIntosh, the outgoing chairman of the GACC.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 20, 2012 at 11:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 at 11:04 p.m.

At the end of Friday's festivities, Chamber of Commerce leaders raised champagne glasses in honor of a new business moving to Gainesville, a life of distinction, top volunteers and the outgoing and incoming chairmen.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce's 2012 Toast to Business had the feel of an Academy Awards presentation, with staff in evening wear introducing videos about the honorees at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

The Chamber welcomed the executive team of Silver Airways, which announced Thursday it is moving its maintenance facility to Gainesville and expects to create 100 jobs.

Silver Airways officials credited the Chamber, city officials and airport officials for working closely to bring them to Gainesville.

The life of distinction belonged to E.T. York, winner of the Chamber's Legacy Award. York, who died last year, was noted for many achievements, including improvements to food production in Third World countries and founding UF's Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, as well as successful community fundraising efforts on behalf of the United Way and the Hospice House named in his honor.

His widow, Vam York, accepted the award to a standing ovation.

John Roberts, a member of the Chamber's Innovation Gainesville Invest team, and his team at Community Bank and Trust received the Innovation Award for creating a loan for start-up companies. After starting in December, the bank has one loan in place so far.

Outgoing Chamber Chairman Thomas McIntosh of Prudential Trend Realty presented the first of two chairman's awards to the University of Florida, which he credited for improved relationships with the city of Gainesville to advance the community.

McIntosh also presented an award to Tom Mallini of M&S Bank for leading a fundraising drive for economic development efforts that exceeded its goal during a challenging time.

Volunteer of the year awards went to downtown developer Linda McGurn and UF technology licensing director David Day for leading the Innovation Gainesville economic development plan last year.

Steve Jeppson of Florida Credit Union won the Diplomat of the Year award for representing the Chamber at functions and chairing the diplomat committee for the past two years.

In his closing remarks, McIntosh said Chamber staff came up with a statement of why they do what they do: "Because thriving businesses build a thriving community."

"It's simple. Without a thriving business community, we wouldn't have this fantastic venue in which we all sit this evening," he said. "We wouldn't have a strong nonprofit community that cares for those in need. We wouldn't have the tax revenue needed to fund infrastructure improvements and to preserve our community's natural beauty."

McIntosh passed the gavel and the chairmanship to Mike Gallagher, president and CEO of SantaFe Healthcare, the parent company of AvMed and several senior communities.

Gallagher said he would work with local governments on the Chamber's business agenda, including future infrastructure improvements, and to continue the Innovation Gainesville plan.

The awards ended with the Community Video Challenge from three finalists shown Friday, with the audience voting by smartphone. The winner of the $2,500 contest was Keith Perry, a state representative and owner of a roofing company, who starred in the video with his two daughters showing highlights of Gainesville's economic and cultural amenities.

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