Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell received the Herb Smith Lifetime Achievement Award on Monday night at the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce's 82nd Annual Dinner.

"Julie and I are proud to be a member of this community," Ransdell said at the event at Sloan Convention Center. The longtime WKU president retires from his post at the end of June.

"This community and the university are intrinsically linked," Ransdell said. The more than 500 in attendance gave him a standing ovation.

Since Ransdell arrived at WKU in 1998, he has shepherded $1 billion in new construction and two capital fundraising campaigns totaling $300 million.

The 2017 chamber board Chairman Robbin Morrison Taylor also received the gavel from 2016 chamber board Chairman Mark Iverson.

Iverson said the chamber partners provide financial support to make things happen in the community. He praised the efforts of Ron Sowell, chairman of the South Central Workforce Development Board and vice president for Med Center Health, for his service on the new regional workforce board.

"You are setting a new standard for workforce delivery," said Iverson, general manager at Bowling Green Municipal Utilities.

Taylor, who is WKU's vice president for public affairs, in separate remarks said the 2017 chamber theme will be "Success, Talent and Innovation."

Ransdell said it was rewarding to see a member of his administrative cabinet at the helm of the chamber.

Taylor said efforts in the workforce arena and assistance for chamber partners will help them achieve business success.

"We are going to focus growing our own world-class talent pool," Taylor said. She said that talent pool will be a key to a bright future in southcentral Kentucky.

"Together, we can do it," she said.

Ron Bunch, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said 15 economic announcements in 2016 led to $500 million in investment and 700 new jobs. That was on the heels of $1 billion in investment in 2015 and just under 1,000 new jobs planned.

Bunch also praised the efforts of November's career exploration program for eighth- and ninth-graders – the SCK Launch Experience. The interactive experience was an opportunity for the students to see potential career paths with activities held at the NCM Motorsports Park, preceded by classroom work on the most sought-after targeted professions in the region.

The local chamber received four Excellence Awards by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Executives, was named one of the top four chambers in the nation by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives and completed the sixth speculative building at the Kentucky Transpark during 2016.

— Follow business reporter Charles A. Mason on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

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Charles Allen Mason is the business reporter for the Daily News. He is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a 1977 graduate of West Virginia University in Morgantown. In his spare time he enjoys reading, music, sports and cooking.

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