);
Connect with us

Business

Taking Care of Business

Published

on

SWGC and PCBA
SWGC Chairman Weare Gratwick (left) and PCBA's President Lisa Proctor

Local groups help businesses come and grow

With more than 2,300 businesses, including some of metro Atlanta’s top firms and the regional headquarters of national and international companies, the Peachtree Corners/Norcross area is in the top 10 economic engines in metro Atlanta.

So says the chairman of the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce (SWGC), one of two local organizations devoted to keep that engine roaring. SWGC works to build a healthy economy and improve quality of life in the tri-cities area of Peachtree Corners, Berkeley Lake and Norcross.

“The chamber was founded on the ABC’s,” SWGC Chairman Weare Gratwick said. “Advocate, Build and Connect.”

The other organization, the Peachtree Corners Business Association (PCBA), was launched with five key initiatives, including giving businesses a unified voice and making it easier for the business community to interact with the city, said Lisa Proctor, the group’s president and executive founding member. Most of Peachtree Corners’ businesses are small, with 50 employees or less, Proctor said.

“We realize they don’t have all the resources the Fortune 500 companies have, so we are building networking and member opportunities that will bring those resources in,” she said. “We are trying to build real relationships, rather than just that drive-by networking event.”

Both of these organizations began in 2012, the same year Peachtree Corners was incorporated. The city born of technology says its robust business community is one of the reasons it can offer a full-service government that charges no property taxes — residential or commercial.

PCBA and SWGC are working to keep it that way.

Jason West, program manager of the Gwinnett County Environmental Heritage Center, as Button Gwinnett in celebration of the county’s bicentennial, spoke at First Friday at the Hilton with SWGC members. (Photo by SWGC member Bruce Johnson)

Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce

SWGC Chairman Weare Gratwick is regional president-Atlanta of Colony Bank and Mayor Pro Tem on the Peachtree Corners City Council. He’s been a city resident for 24 years.

Except for its paid director of sales and member services, Beth Coffey, the chamber is a volunteer organization with currently about 170 member companies.

Its 23-member Board of Directors meets quarterly. A dozen of those members serve on an executive committee that meets monthly with Gratwick and Coffey.

The chairman is especially proud of the group’s continuity of leadership. Every one of its past chairs, who serve one-year terms, has remained involved on a past chairs board.

SWGC promotes area businesses, represents them at government meetings and brings them together in a variety of ways.

Weekly Connect Over Coffee meetings are informal networking sessions where businesses can learn about each other.

“First Friday Breakfast” meetings usually draw about 50 to 100 people and feature speakers that have included Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks; Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash; and Jason West, program manager of the Gwinnett County Environmental Heritage Center, who spoke to the chamber as Button Gwinnett in celebration of the county’s bicentennial.

July’s First Friday will be a Mayors’ Panel, featuring the mayors of all three cities in the SWGC region.

Twice a year the chamber provides a leadership program “for business owners and lower- or mid-level rising stars” in small to mid-sized companies, Gratwick said. “We want to fill those gaps where companies may not provide those services directly,” he said.

SWGC provides an avenue for volunteering, supports community programs and has aided a variety of school programs such as, along with PCBA, the Rotary Club of Peachtree Corners’ Career Exploration Night for high school seniors.

Through its Project Curb Appeal, the chamber has taken on two medians on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard — from Holcomb Bridge Road to Paul Duke STEM High School — for more maintenance and beautification than the county can provide.

“We would like to expand that program north on Peachtree Industrial through Berkeley Lake,” Gratwick said. “We’re filling needs in business and the community and helping support our local schools.”

PCBA Board and Committee members, from left, include Jeff Fairchild, Siobhan Seidner, Laura McMichael, Sharon Knox-Tucker, Lisa Proctor, Allison Reinert, Janice Crosby, Maria Chininis and Darrell Creedon.
(Courtesy of Peachtree
Corners Business Association)

Peachtree Corners Business Association

PCBA President Lisa Proctor is the president and CEO of executive search and consulting services firm Sanford Rose Associates — Lake Lanier Islands. She’s lived in Peachtree Corners for more than 25 years.

PCBA is all-volunteer, with about 200 member companies and 575 company representative members across metro Atlanta. In addition to connecting its members, the group recommends member businesses to others and seeks to promote integrity — all through networking meetings, social events, member education and a speaker series.

Steven Carse, CEO of King of Pops, was the featured speaker at a PCBA event. From left are Lisa Proctor, Sharon Knox-Tucker, Steven Carse, Allison Reinert and Darrell Creedon. (Courtesy of Peachtree Corners Business Association.)

One recent speaker was Steven Carse who co-founded the King of Pops frozen treats business with his brother Nick in 2010 after he was laid off from his corporate job during the Great Recession.

PCBA also supports community activities and charitable organizations.
“We’re not a civic organization, but this is a great way for a lot of us to be involved with our community,” Proctor said. “At least once a month we hand out a check to one of our local scholarship recipients or local 501C3s that need support.”

PCBA keeps metrics on membership trends, including why businesses close or move out of the city. “We’re not going to solve every problem in the world, but … we want the group to be accessible and for companies to feel comfortable, so we understand the resources they need,” Proctor said.

One of those problems led to a new program called the PCBA Lunch Club, which was launched in May. Proctor knows of one restaurant whose owner said sales dropped by more than $3,000 a week after the city’s new Town Center opened in April, with Farm Burger, Marlow’s Tavern and Firebirds Wood Fired Grill among its current and “opening soon” tenants.

Through the Lunch Club, PCBA member restaurants are filling empty seats by offering discounts to fellow PCBA members and their guests, Proctor said.

“We have to be Switzerland,” Proctor said. “We cannot play favorites with any of the businesses.

“Everyone’s so excited about the new Town Center, and that’s good,” she said. “We’re making sure that we are listening to the established restaurants and (working on) what we can do to encourage people not to forget them.” ■

Continue Reading

Business

The Colorful Woven Threads that Make Up the Fabric of Our City: Part 5, Joe Sawyer

Published

on

Joe and Kimberly Sawyer

Gwinnett County is getting more and more culturally and racially diverse. Remember the old adage ‘Variety is the spice of life’? In today’s climate of social unrest and world-wide protests for racial justice, we should move towards healing by getting to know our neighbors and broaching some delicate conversations. It can be scary and cathartic — and it can be a little heartbreaking, too.

The heartbeat of Peachtree Corners is strong because of the amazing people who live and work here. I reached out to some from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their accounts will have you shouting, Vive la différence!

No matter what their jobs, ages, political leanings, religious beliefs, ethnicity or color of their skin, each one has essentially come to the same conclusion with regard to moving forward through the turmoil that has been unleashed in the wake of George Floyd’s death. It’s a focus not on what divides us, but on what can bring us all together. It’s the inevitable acquiescence to an aphorism anyone can support — love is always the answer.

Joe Sawyer

As the city is building a physical pedestrian bridge over Peachtree Parkway, resident of 25 years and equity warrior, President and Cofounder of Bridges Peachtree Corners Joe Sawyer has been launching intensive volunteer efforts to build metaphorical bridges between races and social classes in the city. “I guess you can say it’s about black and white; we’re trying to bring equality up to where it needs to be,” he shared.

Joseph Sawyer, President of Bridges Peachtree Corners, delivering meals to police officers with the organization he also co-founded.

Bridges is a non-profit funded by grants and generous donations from the community. The board is made up of a diverse group who share Sawyer’s mission to close the gap between the affluent and the less affluent parts of town. They’ve been working on racial diversity and economic disparity since 2013.

Through school counselors, they identify needs at Peachtree Elementary and other area schools, assisting in any way they can — from electric pencil sharpeners in the classroom to Christmas dinners for families. They’re currently partnering with xfinity to provide internet access so children can do their schoolwork at home during the pandemic.

Affectionately known as Preacher Man, Sawyer would love to help more areas of the city reach their potential. He espouses the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Project , the city’s plan to revamp the area, and hopes it will get underway soon. “We’ve done the easy part, the Forum and Town Center area. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and do the hard part,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer comes clean

This is a man who will “tell it like it is.” He is refreshingly unafraid to level with you. Sawyer attends Life Center Apostolic Church in Dunwoody. His faith shines through in everything he touches, including his company name of 20 years, Alpha Omega Carpet Cleaning, inspired by the book of Revelation.

Since many are home with more time than usual on their hands, the pandemic has Sawyer busier than ever. “I build relationships with my customers. By the time I leave their house, I’m their friend,” he said. He also prides himself on his effective carpet cleaning services, which avoid harsh chemicals, as he is a cancer survivor.

The United Nations

Together with his wife Kimberly of 31 years (who is white), Sawyer has raised his two daughters, now 29 and 23. “She’s my backbone. She keeps me grounded,” he said. His daughters are now raising his five grandkids in Peachtree Corners.

Joseph Sawyer, Owner of Alpha Omega Carpet Cleaning, President and Co-Founder of Bridges Peachtree Corners, on his wedding day 31 years ago.

The Sawyers have two blond, blue-eyed grandchildren and three who are light-skinned black. “I’ve got everybody in my family — we have the United Nations over here,” Sawyer laughed.

In 1992 things were more challenging for biracial couples. Sawyer’s in-laws didn’t allow him into their home until two years after the marriage; now they’re the best of friends, despite many earlier battles. “They had to make sure I was going to take care of their daughter. I think that was one of the biggest issues,” he said. “Mixed marriages are more common now, and more likely to be accepted by both families, but you still have issues with certain people. I just try to keep it real and be myself.”

Sawyer shared a story from his senior year in high school (1982), when he was given an ultimatum: stop dating his white girlfriend or quit the football team. The young lady’s mom called the school because they had published a picture of them in the school magazine.

The girl’s mom had known about their relationship. In fact, they were among the few biracial couples at the time who did not hide it. But when other parents saw the photo, it became a problem. Sawyer elected to pass on what may have been a lucrative career and quit the team.

Sawyer noted that things have changed for the better. “It’s a new generation, we’re improving a whole lot,” he said. He’s unaware of any negative issues experienced by his daughters about being biracial.

While Peachtree Corners is very diverse, Sawyer said he still experiences some people who are prejudiced. During a recent job, a client had left the door open for him. It saddened him to learn that his client’s neighbor reached out to inform her, saying, “There’s a black man in your house.”

“[Racism] is still there, but overall, I think Peachtree Corners is a welcoming community. You might have some people stuck in their ways, but you just have to learn to overlook them. We stopped and we said a prayer for the lady,” Sawyer said.

He believes the cause of divisiveness is that some people don’t want to lose control of what they’ve got. “As long as we feel that one race is better than the other, we’re always going to have a problem. Both communities have work to do. Now is the perfect time for us to work on race relations in America,” Sawyer affirmed.

Preacher Man

When he was little, Sawyer told his dad, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” His father replied, “You don’t want to be like me, son, you want to be like Jesus.”

“So that’s what I try to do. As soon as we realize that we’re all made in God’s image, we’re going to be OK,” he said. “I don’t hate anybody. I try to get along with everybody. Don’t let politicians divide us any more than we’re divided. That’s the biggest problem. We listen to what’s on TV. I don’t need anybody to tell me who I like and who I don’t like.”

“We have to come together,” he continued. “I’m thankful for the friends the Lord has put in my life. We have to change our perception of our neighbors. Not all people of a different race are bad. Be there for your friends.”

Sawyer added that everyone needs to work on racism as a society. “Both the white and black communities have work to do. Now is the perfect time for us to work on race relations in America. The whole world sees what’s going on, politicians fighting over this and that. We don’t have any togetherness,” he said. “Let’s take a stand and let’s be one. We claim to be one nation under God but how can we be under God if we’re at each other’s throats?”

Continue Reading

Business

The Colorful Woven Threads that Make Up the Fabric of Our City: Part 4, Miriam and Ed Carreras

Published

on

Miriam and Eddie Carreras

Gwinnett County is getting more and more culturally and racially diverse. Remember the old adage ‘Variety is the spice of life’? In today’s climate of social unrest and world-wide protests for racial justice, we should move towards healing by getting to know our neighbors and broaching some delicate conversations. It can be scary and cathartic — and it can be a little heartbreaking, too.

The heartbeat of Peachtree Corners is strong because of the amazing people who live and work here. I reached out to some from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their accounts will have you shouting, Vive la différence!

No matter what their jobs, ages, political leanings, religious beliefs, ethnicity or color of their skin, each one has essentially come to the same conclusion with regard to moving forward through the turmoil that has been unleashed in the wake of George Floyd’s death. It’s a focus not on what divides us, but on what can bring us all together. It’s the inevitable acquiescence to an aphorism anyone can support — love is always the answer.

Miriam and Ed Carreras

By pure coincidence, Miriam and Ed Carreras shared a similar history predating their marriage of 48 years. They both left Cuba with their families at a young age, and within five to seven years, they became naturalized U.S. citizens.

After a 20-year career as a microbiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Miriam is now a Realtor with RE/MAX Prestige. “I guess, given my name and former clients, I get quite a few referrals from Spanish-speaking buyers. I would say most of my clients right now are Hispanic,” she said. Hispanics, who can identify as any race, make up 15.2% of the population in Peachtree Corners.

Miriam Carreras, realtor and longtime resident of Peachtree Corners, hails from Cuba.

Miriam works in residential real estate, both on listings — people selling their homes — as well as helping buyers find their dream homes. Being bilingual, she is a huge asset to the community. She is able to help English and Spanish speakers navigate the sometimes-challenging waters of real estate.

A home is one of the biggest and most important investments a family will ever make, and Miriam is happy to provide her clients with excellent customer service, every step of the way.

Ed was an attorney with The Coca Cola Company for about 20 years. He retired from the company in 2003 and joined a law firm. He retired from the firm in February of this year. “We were supposed to travel, and now we’re homebound because of COVID-19,” he said.

As an attorney, much of his work was international. “I dealt with a number of countries, like Japan, countries in Europe, in Latin America, and so on,” Ed shared.

Ed Carreras, retired attorney, enjoys the diversity in Peachtree Corners – he loves the great selections of different cuisines available in local restaurants.

He served on the Board of Goodwill of North Georgia for a number of years and was Chair of the Board for two years. “Goodwill had a significant relationship with the Hispanic community. One of the things I got involved in was developing a robust system for their strategic plan,” Ed said.

In studying the projection of population changes, he and his fellow board members identified the important growth of the Hispanic community and the need for more Hispanic contacts and people with language skills in the organization.

A home in Peachtree Corners

The Carreras family built their home in Neely Farm in 1998. Both are happy with the amount of diversity in Peachtree Corners. “I think there is a good mix of people. You see a nice diversity of cultures represented here,” Ed said. “My experience is more in the restaurants since I like eating. We’ve gone to a lot of different types.”

“I think there’s pretty good diversity,” Miriam added. “Even in our subdivision, we’re diverse.”

They haven’t had any negative experiences because of their ethnicity in recent years. As a teenager, Ed recalled an incident at a restaurant in Miami. His family was speaking Spanish, and a man at a nearby table addressed them, saying, “Go back to Cuba!”

“My father was surprised. He turned around and in perfect English said, “I’m sorry, does it bother you if we speak Spanish?” The guy ended up apologizing,” Ed remembered. “I was 13 or 15 at the time. It stuck in my mind because my father handled it so perfectly. The guy said, “You speak English very well.” My father said, “Yes, I was educated in the United States. I went to an Ivy League school.” The guy just kept shrinking.”

Ed said that everyone carries prejudices based on faulty stereotypes. “From my own experience, the best way to eliminate prejudice is to be made aware that the stereotype supporting the prejudice is not correct,” he explained. “Anything that helps an individual realize that the stereotype is wrong should help in reducing prejudice.”            

“Education highlighting non-stereotypical members of a group could help,” Ed suggested, “as well as the promotion of events that bring members of diverse groups together in a social setting.”

Continue Reading

Business

The Colorful Woven Threads that Make Up the Fabric of Our City: Part 3, Maurie Ladson

Published

on

Gwinnett County is getting more and more culturally and racially diverse. Remember the old adage ‘Variety is the spice of life’? In today’s climate of social unrest and world-wide protests for racial justice, we should move towards healing by getting to know our neighbors and broaching some delicate conversations. It can be scary and cathartic — and it can be a little heartbreaking, too.

The heartbeat of Peachtree Corners is strong because of the amazing people who live and work here. I reached out to some from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their accounts will have you shouting, Vive la différence!

No matter what their jobs, ages, political leanings, religious beliefs, ethnicity or color of their skin, each one has essentially come to the same conclusion with regard to moving forward through the turmoil that has been unleashed in the wake of George Floyd’s death. It’s a focus not on what divides us, but on what can bring us all together. It’s the inevitable acquiescence to an aphorism anyone can support — love is always the answer.

Maurie Ladson

Maurie Ladson is a Program Director at Corners Outreach, an organization providing a multigenerational approach to helping underserved children with specialized tutoring. Parents are given assistance with career paths, workshops, unemployment and anything they may need to navigate in the education system. Their goal is to achieve a 100% high school graduation rate among the students they serve.

Maurie Ladson, Program Director at Corners Academy, lunching with some of her students. Photo courtesy of Ladson.

Ladson clarified underserved as “communities or people living amongst us who don’t have all the necessary resources.” She explained, “They may not be earning a living wage. A lot of them are immigrant families. There’s a challenge with education and the language.”

Elementary, my dear

By focusing on elementary school students, the intention is to prepare them for success in middle school and high school. “Then hopefully, to higher learning, either a four-year education or, sometimes, they prefer to do some kind of trade,” Ladson said.

“We’re not focused on one demographic,” she continued. “We welcome all the children who need assistance. The mix varies. In Norcross and on our DeKalb side, we have a high percentage of Latino children. At our Meadow Creek location, there’s a mix of children — Indian, American, Hispanic.”

The Corners Outreach offices are located in Peachtree Corners. Ladson said that Executive Director Larry Campbell liked the name, “as the goal is to touch “every corner” of the community.” The organization partners with Title 1 schools in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, including Peachtree Corners and the surrounding areas, and helps 450 families/children.

Maurie Ladson leads a Pandemic Emotional well-being session with some kindergarteners and 1st graders through Corners Outreach. 2020 Photo courtesy of Maurie Ladson.

“We work with them during the normal school year; we provide after-school tutoringfor two and a half to three hours. We’re supplementing and enhancing what the school is teaching,” Ladson said. “There’s a big focus on reading comprehension and math. We then provide nine weeks of summer camp which focus on reading, math, games and a craft.”

School principals identify the children in most need. There is also input from counselors, teachers, teacher liaisons, center coordinators and ESOL [English to speakers of other languages] coordinators. “We also have volunteers that play a key role in our success. We’re so thankful,” she said. “Schools like Wesleyan, GAC, Perimeter Church and individuals in our wonderful Peachtree Corners community come out and volunteer their time.”

Masks with a purpose

Due to COVID-19, Corners Outreach was unable to tutor or assist families in person for some time. “We began communication via Zoom, WhatsApp, video chat, telephone calls. There was a big need to assist in setting up Internet. Many of the families didn’t have it,” she continued.

“Our organization was able to place Chromebooks in the community for children to be able to do their homework. It was still challenging because in a lot of cases they’re sharing either a phone or a hot spot. With two to four children in the family of various ages, needing to do homework with one device, that was difficult.”

To help underemployed parents, the organization developed Masks with a Purpose.

After surveying the parents, they found they had 101 mothers with sewing skills that could be used to provide much-needed masks in the community.

“They sew masks and earn a living wage, $4 per mask,” Ladson said. “We launched the Corners Store on June 22 so people can go online and purchase a mask to support our cause.” To purchase a mask, visit cornersoutreach.org. If you don’t need a mask, you can help by giving a donation.

“We’re looking to donate 1,000 masks to farmworkers and 10,000 masks to children in poverty, who can’t afford to buy three or four masks or have the throwaways,” she said. It’s a great cause,” she said. You can donate masks to the effort through their website.

Beauty in all colors

“I’m Mexican American,” Ladson said. “I’ve been in Peachtree Corners for 20 years. My husband is black, dark-skinned African American. People might look at us a little differently. I’m different and I’m good with it.” She and her husband Ron recently celebrated 20 years of marriage.

Having frequented several places of worship over the years, they most recently identify as Protestant and have been attending North End Collective.

Ladson said she witnessed some social injustice in the workplace during her career in banking. A Peruvian teller was the number one salesperson in the bank, exceeding her numbers, yet it was an under-performing white American teller who inexplicably was moved to another location and offered a raise.

“I think in Georgia, Atlanta and in Peachtree Corners, we still have room to grow,” she continued. “I’ve seen a different level of acceptance, if we’re going to call it improvement, absolutely.”

Having been on the receiving end of surprise when people learn she’s of Mexican descent, Ladson wishes people would realize that Mexicans, too, come in all shapes, sizes and colors. “If we just open up our minds a little bit, there’s room for so much beauty and intelligence and so many differences,” she said.

Continue Reading

Subscribe

Peachtree Corners Life

Capitalist Sage

Topics and Categories

Recent Posts

Authors

Trending

Get Weekly Updates!

Get Weekly Updates!

Don't miss out on the latest news, updates, and stories about Peachtree Corners.

Check out our podcasts: Peachtree Corners Life, Capitalist Sage and the Ed Hour

You have Successfully Subscribed!