Illya S. Copeland, former executive director of the Murray County Industrial Development Authority, was honored by the Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA) at its annual awards luncheon on Monday. Copeland, who passed away in July, was recognized for his exceptional and exemplary career and service to GEDA.
Before working in economic development, Copeland owned a mortgage and marketing company in Jacksonville, Florida. He was initiated into economic development with Shelly Zorn, executive director of the Thomasville Payroll Development Authority, whom he often spoke highly of as his mentor. He worked as the community development director/Main Street manager for Ashburn, then moved on to direct the Joint Development Authority of Jeff Davis County, Hazlehurst and Denton, Georgia. It was after that position that an opportunity came available to leave his beloved South Georgia behind and move to the North Georgia mountains. The move offered boundless opportunity for success.
Copeland loved the mountains, but he treasured his new adopted community even more. He took on the role of executive director for the Murray County Industrial Development Authority with great enthusiasm, and he also served as the interim chamber president. It was during this time that he served as a committee chair for the GEDA annual awards. He was more than an economic developer. His focus was always on improving the community. He deeply cared for the communities he lived in, and he volunteered for nonprofit work with families, Special Olympics, community events and assisting with relief efforts after the tornado in Chatsworth.
He always remembered details about people and would bring them up the next time they would see him to ensure they always felt special. He was highly devoted to his family, friends and colleagues. He was a true Southern gentleman and great ambassador for his communities, the state and our profession.
Copeland earned a degree in economic development from the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), which started him on his second career. Later, he worked to help the ABAC Agricultural Museum obtain grant funding.
Pat Merritt, GEDA immediate past chair and vice president for Georgia EMC's Community & Economic Development, received the award on behalf of Copeland’s family from Bert Brantley, deputy chief of staff for governmental affairs at the Office of Gov. Brian Kemp.
Nearly 100 economic developers from around the state attended the ceremony in person and another 30 attended virtually.