Now in its 60th year of business, DeWitt Insurance Agency has been named the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce small business of the year.
DeWayne Ladner, the owner and principal, and extended his gratitude to those who founded the firm and the people around him on a daily basis.
“It is a great honor to pick up the torch from a great man, Al DeWitt,” he said. “He was a great business leader in this county. He took me under his wing. It does take a lot to start a business. I’m just glad they picked me as a successor. The agency has grown tremendously and it is because of the people around me every day.
“It’s a great honor and I’m humbled.”
Edgar A. DeWitt Sr. founded the agency in 1956 and his son Al took over in 1978. Al DeWitt died in 1997, and Ladner became the owner and principal on 2002. The agency has quadrupled in since then, and has added offices in Statesboro and in Diamondhead, Miss.
“We have an unbelievable staff, and we are one big family,” Ladner said. “It is just great working with them. There are 14 of us, and I don’t know what I would do without them. God has been a tremendous blessing to our agency. It’s because of Him we are where we are today.”
Chamber Executive Director Rick Lott, who presented the award to Ladner, said small business is the backbone of the county.
“At the core, we’re here to support local business,” he said.
Ivy Eilerman of First Guaranty Mortgage Co. was named the ambassador of the year.
The Chamber marked its 30th year of operation, and outgoing president Yvette Carr said it has been an honor to serve alongside the Chamber staff and board of directors. A survey of Chamber members listed transportation, workforce development and the need for a large meeting venue as the top priorities.
“The Effingham Chamber’s strong, continue presence in our community is a testament to the value we have for advancing business and growing our economy,” she said, “while also promoting, protecting and preserving our heritage, our quality of life and our environment.”
The Chamber will host a business summit Aug. 18 at New Ebenezer Retreat Center, and Georgia Tech will conduct an Industrial Development Authority-sponsored seminar on leadership and organizational effectiveness June 23 at the Effingham College and Career Academy, incoming Chamber president Barbara Prosser said.
Prosser added the Chamber will redefine and repurpose its committees and stress community advancement this year. The Chamber also will reinforce existing membership levels and introduce new levels, along with offering educational programs for business leadership, development and expansion.
“A strong community helps all employers succeed,” she said. “We desire to serve you to carry forward the vision of expansion of your business and your services to your customers (and) work collectively with each employer to address significant community challenges and business needs. A strong and effective Chamber is the leader and change agent of collective action.
“We will leave no member behind,” Prosser added. “We will take strategic steps to ensure awareness of support and opportunities for CEOs in all aspects of Chamber life. We will promote peer connectivity and advocate for public policy for prosperity and economic development. I look forward to my role with each of you to create more economic prosperity in Effingham County.”