The Conway Area Chamber of Commerce is celebrating 125 years in 2016, and on Thursday, the organization recognized its rich history at its annual meeting at the University of Central Arkansas HPER Center.

More than 1,200 members and friends of the chamber gathered for the program that honored individual residents and businesses for service to community.

In a special presentation, those businesses partnering with the chamber for more than 50 years were recognized.

"Our history begins in 1891. Conway was a young cotton town, population 1,207," a video produced by the chamber begins. "The Conway Board of Trade was established by Captain W.W. Martin to help recruit Hendrix College. This organization helped raise $50,000 for the effort, and Hendrix moved to Conway."

From there, the video explained the growth of the city through the faith and perseverance of business and education leaders, drawing growth even through the Great Depression.

As the chamber eventually took shape from these beginnings and businesses planted seeds of technology and job building in Central Arkansas, Conway secured a place in Arkansas and American business history.

Service to community was a highlight, too, as the chamber was instrumental in the funding of Lake Conway in 1947 and in the establishment of the Arkansas Children’s Colony that made its home here in 1957.

Featured speaker John James, CEO of Hayseed Ventures, spoke to the crowd about Arkansas’ and Conway’s emerging roles in the tech economy and the experience of a growing business and investment culture.

"[After my success], I asked myself, ‘How can I help the startup community?’

We have a supreme amount of talent in Arkansas," he said. "It is literally our biggest advantage."

He continued speaking about how young people who have a talent should help shape and forecast a future in business with the faith and mentorship of those who have the capital and insight to lead the way.

"The community should care about start ups because of job creation," he said.

James, 41, has worked in e-commerce for more than two decades, paying for medical school with proceeds from his first e-commerce company founded in his dorm room at the University of Arkansas in 1995.

Prior to funding Hayseed Ventures, he served as the founder and CEO of the state’s most successful tech start up, Country Outfitter and Acumen Brands, raising more than $100 million in venture capital.

Also during the evening, the chamber unveiled separate resolutions to rename its highest honors the Guy Murphy Distinguished Service Award and the Lloyd Westbrook Good Neighbor Award in honor of longtime Conway residents and influencers of business, industry and service to the community.

Westbrook was on hand to receive the honor, while members of the Murphy family accepted the resolution for the late community leader.

The annual meeting awards were presented prior to Thursday’s event in the following categories:

• Guy Murphy Distinguished Service Award: Jerry Adams/Arkansas Research Alliance.

• Lloyd Westbrook Good Neighbor Award: Cheryl Daniels/Conway Public Schools.

• Business Executive of the Year: Dr. Greg Murry/Conway Public Schools.

• Business Executive of the Year: Rhea Lana Riner/Rhea Lana Inc.

• Young Business Leader of the Year: Austin and Ashton Samuelson/Tacos 4 Life.

• Outstanding Nonprofit: Renewal Ranch.

• Outstanding Hospitality: Chili’s Bar and Grill.

• Outstanding Hospitality: Zaza Fine Salad & Wood-Oven Pizza Co.

• Outstanding Retailer: McKinney Tire Pros.

• Outstanding Small Business: Home Instead Senior Care.

• Outstanding Large Business: Incite Rehab.