The Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center’s (CGRDC) Board of Directors celebrated the career and accomplishments of Vernon D. Martin, AICP, Executive Director of the CGRDC on Oct. 11.
Martin’s 39 years of service to coastal Georgia and its governments was commemorated at a reception and dinner held in his honor at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.
Over 150 guests attended the affair honoring Martin, including Rev. Lloyd Dees, of Effingham County, chairman of the CGRDC’s Aging Services Advisory Council. Rev. Dees delivered the invocation and sang a “Pilgrim’s Journey.”
Rincon Mayor Ken Lee, CGRDC board member, also attended the retirement dinner honoring Martin, as did Kim Warnock, who served as a previous chairman for the CGRDC board of directors from 1991-1993.
Throughout the evening, highlights and personal memories from Martin’s career were recalled fondly by a distinguished list of guest speakers. U.S. District Court Judge Anthony A. Alaimo, regional director of the Georgia Economic Development Administration Phil Paradice, executive director of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia Jerry Griffin, immediate past president of the National Association of Development Organizations and executive director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Development Center Dan Bollinger, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission Chick Krautler, and president of the Consumer Brands Division of Rich Products Corporation Jack Kilgore were a few of the guests who honored Martin and his career.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who was unable to attend, sent his congratulations to Martin via video message. Charles Wilson, representing U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah), delivered Kingston’s well wishes and congratulations on Martin’s long career.
Judge Alaimo recalled hiring a young 27-year old Martin in 1971 as the youngest executive director of a regional council in the nation, remembering both the doard of directors’ anxiety but also the recognition of Martin’s “fire in the belly,” for coastal Georgia and his desire for public service.
Judge Alaimo further commented on Martin’s accomplishments stating, “You have become an invaluable, almost irreplaceable public servant, earning a national reputation of excellence, unparalleled in the history of this region. While your vision for this region has not yet been fulfilled, it will remain as an invaluable map for future development.”
Kilgore also recounted Martin’s dedication to local needs and his efforts to save the SeaPak Shrimp Company from closure by applying for an economic development grant. Martin’s work was instrumental in saving approximately 800 jobs for local residents in the process.
Kilgore commented on his delight at having the opportunity to speak at Martin’s retirement dinner, stating, “It gives me an opportunity to share a great story and to honor someone who has contributed immeasurably to our communities and region during his 39-year professional career.”
Telling of an “ESOP fable,” Kilgore recalled the efforts of Martin; Jim Bishop, a local attorney; and Jack Cofer, then-CEO of SeaPak, as they sought a loan from the Economic Development Administration to form an employee stock ownership plan. The group applied for a $5 million grant to save the jobs of SeaPak employees.
However, because the grant could not go directly to the company, Martin created the Coastal Area District Development Authority to receive the funds and, in turn, loan the money to SeaPak Shrimp Company. With these grant funds, the ESOP was able to acquire 51 percent of the newly-created Rich-SeaPak company on behalf of the employees.
The Rich family, who had recently invested in the struggling company, retained 49 percent of the company stock.