Originally created 03/27/04

Event's efforts pay off in area



No one wants a repeat of last year's Masters Tournament washout when downpours canceled Monday's practice round.

Except maybe Woody Merry.

That's the day the co-chairman of the Augusta Showcase won over Holland Powell and convinced the Alabama businessman to expand his group benefits company - one that handles insurance policies for other companies - to Augusta.

Mr. Merry turned misfortune to his advantage by spending the day driving Mr. Powell around the city and practicing his best sales pitch. It worked.

The Selma-based Benefit Development Group is now close to signing a lease on office space around Washington Road, said Mr. Powell, who declined to be more specific until the deal was complete. He will send an employee to run the office and expects to hire a few area people for administrative support.

The efforts to recruit Mr. Powell's business are a little atypical and underscore a change in tack for the showcase.

The group, which invites corporate executives to the tournament in the hopes of bringing their business to town, has traditionally targeted big companies with the potential of creating jobs and building new facilities.

The rationale was to get the biggest bang for the buck, as the group spends close to $100,000 on corporate hospitality for the week.

That was the old way of thinking, Mr. Merry said. Today it's about "taking what we can get."

"Mr. Powell is golden and exactly what we want," Mr. Merry said. "I'm in sales, and sales is all about referrals. His businesses is all over the country. That's how we get recognized and get noticed."

Mr. Powell's group manages insurance and benefits claims for small and medium-sized companies in 42 states. Companies such as Wick Communications and Boone Newspapers outsource their group employee plans to his outfit, which sells a variety of insurance packages and represents the workers when there are disputes.

The move to Augusta marks the first time Mr. Powell has branched outside Alabama since he founded the firm 20 years ago.

Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or matthew.mogul@augustachronicle.com.