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Rusty Slade completes South GeorgiaLEADS

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April 2021 (Moultrie) – South Georgia recognized 32 committed leaders who are dedicated to the economic success and welfare of the region last week with the graduation of the most recent class of South GeorgiaLEADS. The 2020-2021 class represents 14 counties of the 21-county region and are united in a shared desire to the future growth of Southwest Georgia.

article decorative imageAmong this group of graduates is Rusty Slade, EVP Chief Information Officer of Planters First Bank. Slade has dedicated 20+ years to Planters First Bank. Slade resides in Cordele with his wife, Maribeth, who is also employed with Planters First Bank. They have five children. Slade is active in the local community with membership on varies committees including: Crisp County Power Commission, Crisp County IDC, Crisp County IDA, Cordele Main Street, Crisp County Young Farmers, South GA Tech Advisory Board, and Kiwanis.commitee members

Sustaining Sponsor, Georgia Power Company, and Presenting Sponsor, Electric Cities of Georgia (ECG), invested in the fifth cohort of South GeorgiaLEADS (SGL) throughout a unique year marked by programmatic changes and innovation in response to COVID-19. SGL Board Chair Barbara Grogan shares, “As always, the graduates of South GeorgiaLEADS are impressive, encouraging and engaged leaders of South Georgia. The 2020-2021 class even more so, as they navigated during a national pandemic, showing perseverance and commitment to participation in LEADS. They completed the coursework and gained as much insight as possible to further their individual communities and the region.”

Launched in 2016, South GeorgiaLEADS is an eight-month leadership experience that links regional site visits and issue awareness to relevant leadership development content within the framework of the South GeorgiaLEADS priorities. Since that time, the program has partnered with Valdosta State University’s (VSU) Center for South Georgia Regional Impact as the administrative home to SGL, serving both organizations’ objectives of furthering growth and progress across the region.

Facilitated by the faculty from the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia, SGL emphasizes regional priorities throughout the program, each session directly linking leadership skills training to issues of critical importance to South Georgia—regional identity and influence, workforce and economic development, and collective visioning and planning.

“This year’s participants faced challenges that allowed them to immediately utilize the leadership skills they learned to adapt and thrive throughout an unprecedented year,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute. “Over the last five years, South GeorgiaLEADS has set the standard for developing leaders with the skills and regional perspective to address issues and take advantages of opportunities in south Georgia. We appreciate our partnership and look forward to the future.”

The South GeorgiaLEADS Board of Directors is proud to announce this year’s graduating class, click here to see full list.

Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president at Valdosta State University (VSU) describes the partnership with South GeorgiaLEADS and its importance to VSU’s mission, “Developing and supporting our future leaders is one of the most important things we do at Valdosta State University. To that end VSU created the Center for South Georgia Regional Impact in 2018 and through the Center, VSU has become the administrative home for South GeorgiaLEADS. As South Georgia’s flagship university, Valdosta State remains committed to being a key contributor for economic awareness, growth, and development in South Georgia.”

Carvajal continues, congratulating this year’s LEADS class, “Being a strategic partner with South GeorgiaLEADS underscores VSU’s commitment to being a regional leader. Congratulations to this year’s graduates, and we look forward to seeing the impact you have on our region for years to come.”

The South GeorgiaLEADS graduation was held at The Lee Council House in Americus on Tuesday, April 13, sponsored by Georgia Power Company and hosted by the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation and New Horizons Habitat for Humanity.

Lisa Smith, West Region Vice President for Georgia Power Company, served as the keynote speaker at graduation. Delivering a thought-provoking message, Smith congratulated and challenged the graduates of South GeorgiaLEADS. Encouraging graduates to “…focus on true collaboration by not accepting the way things have always been.” Smith continued, “If a tradition is good and right then hang on to it, if it isn’t, let it go…move on from just being present to actively engaging and shaping your own narrative.”

Three of this year’s graduates are doing just that—Whitney Brannen (Grady County), Michael Smith (Lowndes County), and Tom Sullivan (Dougherty County) have all stepped forward to serve as the newest members of the South GeorgiaLEADS Board of Directors.

Rolling off the Board of Directors after multiple years of service are: Alyssa Blakley (Grady County), Grant Buckley (Crisp County), Paige Gilchrist (Mitchell County), Sandra Giles (Tift County), Karen Rackley (Worth County), Matt Reed (Dougherty County), and Matt Seale (Irwin County).

Grogan continues, “As Chairman, I am grateful for South GeorgiaLEADS, the work the entire board has done, and continues to do, to ensure sustainability and growth in the region, our sponsors, and most importantly the graduates who take time from their busy lives to be committed.”

Sharing her appreciation for the efforts of the Board, Grogan concludes, “Working with host communities, the board creates unique sessions each year that combine leadership training from UGA’s Fanning Institute with real life examples in our communities. SGL is a true example of a board of directors combining numerous partners to bring success to Southwest Georgia. None of this would be possible without the dedicated board members who give of their time, and I am grateful for them all!”

Current membersCurrent members of the board include Mary Beth Brownlee (Lowndes County), Jennifer Carter (VSU), Lisa Davis (Lee County), Mesha Davis (Coffee County), Jason Dunn (Ben Hill County), Anna Ford (Colquitt County), Lori Gadson (Sumter County), Barbara Grogan (Colquitt County), M. Jay Hall (Tift County), Darrell Moore (VSU), Rachael Oliver (Sumter County), Patrick Pearson (Lowndes County), and Rebecca White (Randolph County).

Sponsors of the 2020-2021 program included: Georgia Power Company, Electric Cities of Georgia, AT&T, CTSI, Inc., Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Chamber of Commerce, Fitzgerald & Ben Hill County Development Authority, Georgia CEO, Georgia’s Rural Center at ABAC, Leadership Worth, Lee County Chamber of Commerce, Locate South Georgia, Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority, New Horizons Habitat for Humanity, Ocilla-Irwin County Chamber of Commerce, One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, Southern Regional Technical College, Sylvester-Worth County Chamber of Commerce, Tift County Development Authority, Tift Regional Medical Center Foundation, and the Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority.

For more information about South GeorgiaLEADS, please visit; or contact South GeorgiaLEADS Chair Barbara Grogan at 229.921.1457; or


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