Even though it is moving from the mountains of North Carolina to the beaches of South Carolina for its annual fall conference, the Southeast Produce Council is cruising at high altitude as it prepares for the Sept. 26-28 meeting at the Marriott Resort and Spa at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach, SC.
The organization has grown steadily — and remarkably — since its founding in 1999. SPC has become a powerhouse regional organization that helps shape policy and provides substantial return on investment to its more than 800 members.
The September conference will mark the halfway point of President Andrew Scott’s — the Atlanta, GA-based vice president of sales and marketing for Superior Sales, Inc. of Hudsonville, MI — term as president. Scott has held every office in the organization and has witnessed its growth and success firsthand.
“It’s remarkable how much we’ve grown, and a major part of the first year of my presidency has been working on ways to manage that growth without diluting value to our membership,” Scott said. “We’re also very focused on constantly finding new ways to give back to our membership.”
The support the SPC has received for its programs — and especially its February Southern Exposure tradeshow — has given the organization solid financial footing. That allows the council to focus on giving back to members, whether it’s in the form of expanded scholarship programs or bringing big name speakers to the conference table. Legendary college football coach and commentator, Lou Holtz, was the keynote speaker at Southern Exposure 2013. Equally legendary college football coach Bobby Bowden — who won two national championships at Florida State University and holds the NCAA record for most career wins and bowl wins by a Division I coach — will be the featured speaker at this year’s fall conference.
That kind of clout does not come cheap.
“We’re on solid financial ground,” Scott said. “That does allow us to give back to our membership in ways like bringing in terrific speakers with great messages — but it also allows us to give back to our members and our local communities. You’re going to see us investing more in charitable programs, you’re going to see us investing more in outreach programs and scholarships and finding more ways to give back to the southeastern communities we serve.”
Scott gives much of the credit for the increased focus on giving back to SPC to Vice President David Sherrod of Apio, Inc.
“David Sherrod’s been phenomenal,” Scott said. “He’s put a lot of work into growing our charitable programs and outreach. People will see that at the fall conference when we talk about some of the things we’re doing.”
This year alone, SPC awarded $40,000 via its Membership Scholarship Program to members and their families. Another program, the Southeast Top Agricultural Recruits Scholarship (STARS), rewarded three Southeastern college students with grants and ongoing leadership training this year. The James and Theresa Nolan Scholarship is granted annually to a student who displays outstanding ethical credibility. And the Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals (STEP-UPP) provides advanced and ongoing educational opportunities to a select dozen rising young people in the industry.
SPC is also promoting community health initiatives — specifically those that fight childhood obesity and improved nutrition — ranging from support of the Strong for Life program in Atlanta to the poverty fighting Rockin’ Appalachian Mom Project (RAMP) in Appalachia.
Scott is quick to credit the all-volunteer committees that do the bulk of SPC’s heavy lifting.
“Every one of our committee members is dedicated to the same causes SPC represents,” Scott said. “Every person on every committee is absolutely critical to our success — and they do it all for no pay.”
Someone who is getting paid is SPC Executive Director Terry Vorhees, whom Scott cites as “the man who drives this big old bus we’re all on.”
During SPC’s formative years, “Terry worked out of his house and had another full-time job,” Scott recalled. “Now we’ve grown to the point that we actually have two more full-time employees working with Terry at our headquarters in Ellijay, GA.”