VALDOSTA, Georgia — Georgia Trend recently announced its inaugural Georgia 500, a comprehensive list of the state’s most influential leaders, each one working in their local community to positively impact economic and community development.
“The Georgia 500 has never been done, and we chose to take this on because leadership is an important part of the Georgia Trend brand,” Ben Young, Georgia Trend editor-in-chief, notes inside the 184-page special publication. He recognized the reader investment in Georgia Trend’s new project and shared that “many nominations” across 21 different categories were received for the first edition of Georgia 500.
“It’s inspiring to see how so many leaders are working to make Georgia the great state it is,” he adds.
Georgia Trend’s Georgia 500 list includes several VSU alumni.
“One of the greatest legacies for any university is to have alumni making an impact, and we are incredibly proud of the many Valdosta State University graduates among the Georgia 500,” says Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president of VSU. “They are affecting change in their communities and in our state.”
Dr. Jermaine Whirl, president of Augusta Technical College, is recognized in the Georgia 500 Education category. He earned a Doctor of Education in Leadership from VSU in 2015.
Larry Hanson, executive director and chief executive officer of the Georgia Municipal Association, is recognized in the Georgia 500 Economic Development category. He earned a Bachelor of General Studies from VSU in 1995.
Shannon James, president and chief executive officer of Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, is recognized in the Georgia 500 Economic Development category. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management in 2004 and a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing in 2005 and was recently honored with the Harley Langdale Jr. College of Business Administration’s 2022 Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Brian Marlowe, president and chief executive officer of the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce and Tift County Development Authority, is recognized in the Georgia 500 Economic Development category. He was named deputy commissioner for rural Georgia and leader of Governor Brian Kemp’s Rural Strike Team in 2020. He works closely with VSU’s Center for South Georgia Regional Impact to help Georgia’s rural communities develop a roadmap for long-term economic success. He earned a Master of Public Administration from VSU in 1991.
Dave Wills, executive director of Association County Commissioners of Georgia, is recognized in the Georgia 500 Economic Development category. He earned a Master of Public Administration from VSU in 2007.
Carvajal is recognized in the Georgia 500 Education category. He assumed the role of Blazer Nation’s 10th leader in 2017.
“Valdosta State University has a more-than-$400-million impact annually in South Georgia, and we are proud to provide career-ready graduates, continuing education opportunities, and unique partnerships in our community, region, and state,” he says. “As the leader of this incredible institution, it is an honor to be included in Georgia Trend’s inaugural list of the Georgia 500.”
Carvajal’s major accomplishments during his first five years at the helm of VSU include launching the Online College for Career Advancement and the Center for South Georgia Regional Impact.
VSU’s Online College for Career Advancement is an effort to meet the unique needs of nontraditional learners who want to earn a college degree. It builds upon lessons learned from well-known national online providers to create a best-in-class option in Georgia — at a lower cost — and offers students enhanced access to academic coaches, dedicated tutors, writing and tech support, and more. Students can choose from eight high demand programs.
The Center for South Georgia Regional Impact supports VSU’s desire to positively impact regional progress. The center works with community leaders in the university’s 41-county service area to identify issues they want to confront and then connects those community leaders to VSU faculty, staff, and students with the knowledge and skills needed to develop solutions and accelerate progress toward a better tomorrow.
Carvajal serves the community as co-chair of One Valdosta-Lowndes, a group of local leaders working together to create a community and economic development strategy based on the needs and ambitions of the people who call Valdosta and Lowndes County home.
Former VSU Athletics staffer Kirby Smart, head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, is recognized in the Georgia 500 Arts, Entertainment, and Sports category. He served the Blazer football team as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in 2001 and defensive backs coach in 2000.
Visit https://tinyurl.com/Georgia500Blazers to learn more about these top Blazers and the rest of the inaugural Georgia 500 honorees.