Charting the Course for Success
Young professionals between the ages of 25 and 35 are expected to have more influence on the future of economic roles and lifestyles than many generations that have come before them. Cities across the country are vying to retain and import a generation that is thought to be green, highly-educated and one that is radically transforming work environments and social networks. Most business development experts agree that cities that create a landscape and culture that cultivate young professionals will be at a competitive advantage in terms of business attraction and quality workforce.
The Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Augusta Magazine, is pleased to announce and showcase 10 of Augusta’s most outstanding young professionals. The young professionals featured in this article entered into a competitive nomination process in March and have emerged as this year’s most promising and rising stars. We salute the achievements of these outstanding individuals and look forward to watching their dreams unfold.
To further recognize these individuals, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce will submit a nomination on their behalf to the 2012 Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40 competition. Recipients will also be honored at the Chamber’s Member Economic Luncheon on June 14. The luncheon will include a presentation and recognition by Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, a former Georgia Trend 40 Under 40 honoree.
Two past 10 in 10 winners have gone on to be recognized in Georgia Trend Magazine’s 40 under 40. Rebekah Henry, executive director of the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, was chosen in 2010, and Shizuo Z Kuwahara, music director for the Symphony Orchestra Augusta (SOA), was selected in 2011.
—Sue Parr, president
Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce
Summer Finley Bell
Company: Serotta Maddocks Evans CPAs
Position: Senior Accountant
From general tax questions to specific department of revenue battles, Summer Finley Bell is diligent in her quest to get the right answers for her clients. The Augusta State University graduate is a senior accountant with Serotta Maddocks Evans CPAs, assisting businesses and individuals with tax planning and preparation, and overseeing all payroll and property tax returns for clients. As a certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Bell is a special asset to the company when clients need QuickBooks consulting and trouble-shooting support. She is so proficient in the program that she has, for the past three years, been teaching the QuickBooks classes that the firm offers. Over the next five years, Bell’s goals are to earn a promotion to manager and increase her level of work to include preparing more complex returns, conducting reviews of work prepared by others and training coworkers. By building solid relationships with her clients and being involved in the community, Bell hopes to become a partner with the firm and prove just how far young professionals can go. Outside of work, Bell uses her dollars and cents savvy to serve as treasurer for the Augusta Ballet, helping the organization efficiently operate on point.
Robert F. Bennett
Company: Augusta Economic Development Authority
Position: Project Manager
Robert F. Bennett is putting more dollar signs in front of the city’s name thanks to his success in turning the heads of big companies. As a project manager with the Augusta Economic Development Authority, Bennett has played a crucial role in the recruitment and expansion of more than 2,200 new jobs and 600 million dollars in capital investment, attracting companies such as Starbucks, Rockwood Pigments, Convergent ERS and Rural Sourcing Inc. to the area. Before moving to Augusta, he was a key stimulator of economic growth in Greenwood, S.C., where, in just two years, he helped recruit 1,300 jobs and more than 100 million dollars. A soon-to-be graduate of the Hull College of Business at Augusta State University, Bennett seizes opportunity and makes an impact wherever he goes—and fortunately, he’s not done with Augusta. His professional goals over the next five years include serving the community through continued commitment to targeted industry research and economic development and through his support of local arts groups, like Symphony Orchestra Augusta, which he believes are major contributors to the quality of life in Augusta.
Brian S. Coursey
Company: Hull Barrett, PC
Position: Associate Attorney
Experience has quickly built upon experience for this Top 10 in 10 young professional. Brian S. Coursey began his career as a certified public accountant and then seamlessly segued into law, where his expertise in accounting and tax planning has made him an integral part of the transactional group at Hull Barrett, PC. As an attorney with this well-respected firm, Coursey handles general business and corporate matters while also practicing in the areas of non-profit and tax-exempt organizations law. Over the next five years, he intends to expand his legal practice and maintain the firm’s high standards, including promoting civility in all cases and serving the local community. To this end, Coursey wants to give back to his hometown through public service with the various non-profit organizations he currently supports. One such group is the Community Foundation for the CSRA, which acts as a catalyst in helping focus local philanthropy on pressing and changing needs and maintains the charitable intent of donors. Coursey is also president of the board of directors for the Family Counseling Center of the CSRA and an executive board member of the Georgia-Carolina Counsel of the Boy Scouts of America.
Company: Elliott Davis
Position: Audit Senior Manager
Sometimes the summer intern takes everyone by surprise. Elizabeth Finch first worked at Elliott Davis during an internship—now she is an audit senior manager with the firm, which is considered one of the largest accounting tax and consulting services firms in the Southeast, ranking among the top 50 CPA firms in the U.S. The University of Georgia cum laude graduate works with closely held businesses and their owners, non-profits such as United Way of the CSRA and First Tee of Augusta, and SEC reporting companies. Her job responsibilities also include championing the firm-wide Elliott Davis recruiting efforts at Georgia Southern University and working with the firm’s coaching program to help guide and encourage career development among younger staff. Regarding the next five to 10 years, Finch envisions significant and attainable professional growth, with goals of becoming an audit shareholder with Elliott Davis, serving on the advisory council for the Georgia Southern University School of Accounting and joining the Elliott Davis Women in Leadership steering committee. In the community, Finch has volunteered her time for Wesley United Methodist Church, the Morris Museum of Art and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Company: Herrera Systems, LLC
Position: Founder/Owner of Herrera Systems, LLC
Entrepreneurship is a classic form of the American dream. While earning his B.S. in advertising from the University of Florida, Jason Herrera founded Herrera Systems, LLC, the umbrella company in which he operates three primary businesses. The first, Superior Academy, is Evans’s fastest growing martial arts/salsa dance/fitness academy, where Herrera teaches, manages advertising and trains staff. LearnToLive, his second venture, is an online corporate health/wellness/nutrition/personal safety program designed to help companies save money, avoid liability lawsuits and increase employee productivity and well-being. Lastly, Herrera manages GlobalMambo, an online salsa dance academy for people too shy or time-strapped to attend a class. Over the next five years, Herrera, who recently received his MBA from the University of Florida, plans to grow Herrera Systems, LLC, to a 10 million-dollar per year company and start his own foundation—the W.G. Legacy Foundation—to sponsor charitable causes ranging from animal shelters to cancer research. Although Herrera is focused on rising to the unique challenges of self-employment, he shares his martial arts talents through volunteering as an instructor at Augusta Preparatory Day School and Euchee Creek Elementary School.
Company: NBC 26 News
Position: Morning News Anchor and Executive Producer
Reliability and accuracy are what Augustans can look forward to when they wake up with Liz Hill, morning news anchor and executive producer for NBC 26 Today. She writes, proofreads and edits stories for the two-hour (5 to 7 a.m.) newscast and produces and anchors live cut-ins every half hour during the Today Show from 7 to 11 a.m. In addition to the news, Hill reports a bimonthly segment called 26 Women to Watch in which she profiles local women who are positively influencing the community. Within the year, she will have her master’s degree in strategic public relations from the George Washington University School of Political Management. Upon graduation she says she might consider becoming involved with local politics or working as a public relations specialist for a local or state political candidate or elected official. Although Hill is flourishing in her media career and her master’s degree program, she ensures time for volunteer work. Currently, she serves as chair of the board for Red Shoe Society (Ronald McDonald House Charities of Augusta) and she is a board member of the American Red Cross Leadership Society and Junior League of Augusta.
JaMia R. Jennings
Company: Georgia Department of Public Works (Fort Gordon)
Position: Architect/Project Manager
JaMia R. Jennings is on a Department of Defense (DOD) mission to design. A recipient of the Southern Region Architect Award, Jennings is an architect and project manager with the engineering design branch of the Georgia Department of Public Works at Fort Gordon. Here she designs new facilities and renovates buildings to meet mission essential requirements set forth in DOD military standards and specifications. Managing projects from schematic design through construction, Jennings has brought Fort Gordon a historical renovation of its library, ammunition distribution facilities at ranges and After Action review classrooms for soldiers. Jennings hopes to combine her passion for career and community by developing a mentorship program for school-aged children and design professionals who would encourage the young participants to develop their creative skills and pursue education past high school. In addition, she plans to continue her involvement in the planning of downtown Augusta developments and South Augusta’s revitalization. Jennings also has an entrepreneurial spirit and wants to start a design firm that would champion outside-of-the-box architecture to bring visual appeal to a variety of interior and exterior environments.
Jenna Blackwell Matson
Company: Shepard, Plunkett, Hamilton and Boudreaux, LLP
Position: Associate Attorney
Jenna Blackwell Matson is eager to argue a case before the Georgia Supreme Court and/or the Georgia Court of Appeals. It is every lawyer’s duty, she says, to expand the body of case law that guides the day-to-day practice of law. Matson is certainly on her way to this goal due to her experience, achievements and dedication to her community. A graduate of the Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law, Matson is an associate attorney at Shepard, Plunkett, Hamilton and Boudreaux, LLP, where she practices bankruptcy, adoption and family law, and general civil litigation. Her colleagues have commented on her keen ability to find solutions, advocate for her clients and negotiate with opposing parties. Outside of the firm, Matson’s passion for the legal system does not dwindle, as she strives to increase awareness of her profession through her involvement in civic organizations. For the past two years, Matson has served on the Augusta Bar Association’s Law Day committee to coordinate events that promote public knowledge of law. She is also at the helm of an effort to breathe life back into the Augusta Chapter of the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers, which plans to soon host a membership drive and luncheon featuring a panel of female judges from Augusta.
Lynthia Ross Owens
Company: U.S. House of Representatives
Position: District Director for Congressman John Barrow
To be a leader is to have the gumption to speak up and the tact to check argumentativeness. This is the style of leadership that Congressman John Barrow values and sees alive in his district director Lynthia Ross Owens, who manages operations and workflow of five district offices, including Augusta, for the representative for Georgia’s 12th congressional district. She is also tasked with building, maintaining and restoring relationships with elected officials, civic groups, community leaders, special constituent groups and social service agencies throughout the 12th congressional district and the state of Georgia. Owens anticipates her continued work in public service while transitioning to self-employment. Currently she is a partner in a small business that is starting in Augusta, with plans to expand to other markets within five years. In tandem with developing professionally, Owens is developing scholastically, having recently completed coursework for a Ph.D. in political science. She also realizes personal growth is specially enhanced by that philanthropic piece and serves as a Salvation Army women’s auxiliary member and volunteer in the hospitality and bridge ministry at New Hope Worship Center.
John Paul Stout
Company: City of Augusta
Position: Sustainable Development Manager
One of Augusta’s biggest fans is John Paul Stout, who sees our city as having a bevy of resources that other regions can only dream of. It is his goal to help Augusta and the CSRA realize their full potential through progressive development that utilizes institutions of higher education, major economic engines, natural resources and strong workforce. Currently he is the sustainable development manager for the City of Augusta and is responsible for the implementation of a 1.8 million dollar Department of Transportation and Department of Housing and Urban Development grant focused on development along the 15th Street corridor. Promoting sustainable development initiatives citywide, Stout has been collaborating with several organizations to build an urban farming presence in Augusta and with the University Hospital Foundation to develop a healthcare clinic. In addition to his duties with the city, he is also a cofounder of Standards to the Core, an educational consulting firm that specializes in providing school districts with the tools to implement the common core state standards. As a champion of positive change and leadership for the area, Stout serves on the planning committees for the annual father-daughter gala and Augusta Living Green Day 2012.