Skip Mounts looked out at the audience packed inside Tipsy McSway’s on Wednesday morning and saw many familiar faces.
The downtown eatery and bar opened early, as it has every first Wednesday of the month for the last three years, to host the local meeting for One Million Cups, a national initiative that aims to create entrepreneurial ecosystems that can transform communities.
Mounts brought the One Million Cups program to Brunswick in 2016 to spark conversations on entrepreneurship. Many people, he said, asked him after the first meetings what he would do when ideas ran out after six months. But three years later, big ideas continue to flow and to take shape across the community.
“We try to celebrate each first Wednesday with entrepreneurship, and we’ve had entrepreneurs from all sorts of places who do all sorts of things,” said Mounts on Wednesday, at the celebration of One Million Cups’ third anniversary in Brunswick. “Today we want to sort of focus our celebration on entrepreneurship downtown.”
Susan Bates, owner of Tipsy McSway’s, was honored with a plaque thanking her for her leadership and hospitality.
Mounts also invited several entrepreneurs who are bringing more life to downtown Brunswick to speak at the meeting.
Crawford Perkins, who recently opened SoGlo Guitar Gallery on Gloucester Street, said he’s bought fully into the energy of downtown, and his store aims to offer not only a product but a unique buying experience.
“You think we sell guitars,” Perkins said. “But we don’t sell guitars. We sell dreams, and we sell happiness.”
SoGlo Guitar Gallery has used the power of social media to put itself solidly on the map and bring in customers. Perkins also drew on his long career in the music instrument industry to create the special vibe offered in his store and to ensure the store offers quality customer service.
“You’ve got to feel like a rock star when you’re sitting there,” he said.
Erik Vonk, owner of Richland Rum, shared stories of the company’s success since opening a distillery in Brunswick last year. Richland Rum’s Single Estate Virgin Coastal Georgia rum, produced locally, won a Good Food Award in a contest with entrants from across the globe. Richland Rum was also named the best American rum by Forbes Magazine in December.
“Thank you all for being such a warm, welcoming community,” Vonk said.
The owners of Silver Bluff Brewing Co., whose brewery is taking shape on the other side of Newcastle Street, also provided updates on their plans for the official opening. The brewery exists now in the form of about 40 steel beams towering over downtown Brunswick.
“We’ve been working on this for so long — we’ve owned the property since March of 2017 — and to actually be able to point to something and say ‘Look this is where it’s going to be,’ and have a picture, it’s very gratifying,” said Chris Moline, one of the company’s cofounders.
One Million Cups meetings have offered a space to bounce around ideas and get reinvigorated by the entrepreneurial spirit of Brunswick, Moline said.
“The feeling and the energy that we have in this room and downtown, we’ve been feeling this for so long, since we first moved here,” he said.
Mounts, the dean of the business school at the College of Coastal Georgia, said the One Million Cups program has made a noticeable difference in the Golden Isles.
“If you go to some place that looks like there’s no hope, you’ll find an entrepreneur,” Mounts said. “And when all is said and done, when all is written on the history of Brunswick, I think people today sort of feel like we have turned a corner and we’re starting to get up.”
Michelle Johnston stepped onto a college campus for the first time as a freshman and never wanted to leave a campus again.
Johnston, who today serves as the president of College of Coastal Georgia, has done a fairly good job at maintaining that wish. She has studied on and worked for many college campuses in her more than 20-year career and has worked her way up the ranks of leadership.
“I started on a college campus … those many years ago when I started as a freshman. I never wanted to leave campus,” Johnston said. “And I think it’s just about that idea of continuing to grow and learn.”
Her experiences in leadership were discussed Wednesday at the college’s Coastal Conversation on Leadership event. Reg Murphy, the Brown Family executive in residence for the college’s school of business, served as the interviewer.
The ongoing Coastal Conversation series brings in leaders in the Golden Isles who can share their experiences in an informal discussion setting with students and other community members.
“It’s our chance to sit and just simply talk to one another,” said Skip Mounts, dean of the business school at the college and one of the event’s organizers.
Johnston joined the Coastal Georgia administration in July 2018. She previously served as the president of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College.
She has worked for 10 years as a faculty member at colleges and universities and more than 20 years in administration.
After Johnston received her Ph.D. in educational leadership from Mississippi State University, she went on to earn a post doc in marketing and management from the University of Florida.
In that program, she saw firsthand how her fellow postdoctoral scholars held on strongly to a desire to continue learning.
“I was with a lot of people who they had their doctorates, they were in incredible careers, they were going down paths that were exciting, but they were still looking to learn and to continue to grow,” Johnston said.
She also shared her plans to continue helping the college grow and improve. Before coming to Coastal Georgia, Johnston said she was impressed by the successes the college has seen so far, including significant enrollment growth and the construction of most campus buildings in just a few years.
“It was really remarkable to see the kinds of things that have happened at the College of Coastal Georgia that just about haven’t happened anywhere in the country,” she said.
Her focus for initiatives at the college center on improving student success.
Johnston wants to see the graduation rate improve and to ensure academic programs at the college are of high quality.
“What we know is that nationwide students that start a college degree, six years later only 50 percent of them have completed it …. So we have to do a lot better on that,” Johnston said. “That’s what I want us to focus on in terms of our time, our energies, our passions.”
Johnston said she hopes to continue building on the college’s successes so that students will benefit.
“We have so many things here to be proud of,” she said.
The Brunswick City Commission unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with Glynn County on Wednesday to pay for a study to resolve ongoing flooding problems in the College Park area.
The city will pay one third of the cost for the study, with the county paying the remainder of the cost because two thirds of the water comes from county property.
The county still has to approve the agreement before an engineering firm proceeds with the design of the project, which should take about eight months, said Garrow Alberson, city engineer.
After the vote to approve the agreement with the county, commissioners also discussed the contract with EMC Engineering Services to conduct the study.
“EMT is ready to go as soon as we sign this agreement,” Alberson told commissioners.
Residents in the College Park area may see some flooding relief while the study is conducted. Alberson said there are some plans for improvements to provide immediate, short-term relief for residents.
City officials approved renewing the city’s general liability and property insurance policy, which will cost about $317,000. It’s an increase of about $25,000 over last year’s rate, with costs spread across the spectrum of areas of government protected.
An agreement with the Georgia Department of Corrections to provide inmate work details was also renewed at the meeting. The city agreed to hire three work details and pay $39,500 for each one.
The inmate work crews range from four to seven workers to provide a variety of services for the city and save taxpayers thousands a year for the labor.