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Suwanee Business Alliance mixes networking, charity, punch lines

Staff Photo: John Bohn The Suwanee Business  Alliance holds it's monthly meeting at Squeaky's Car Wash Wednesday evening in Suwanee.

Staff Photo: John Bohn The Suwanee Business Alliance holds it's monthly meeting at Squeaky's Car Wash Wednesday evening in Suwanee.

SUWANEE -- The one-liners sound more appropriate for a comedy club than a typical business networking group.

But that's the atmosphere its members enjoy.

President Ed Szczesniak and one board member, John Lehmberg, could be compared to any classic comedic duo. The difference is shortly after their punch lines, they usually present a giant check to a local charity.

The Suwanee Business Alliance, founded in 1999, has more than 200 members and meets monthly for cocktails and snacks. It rotates meetings at members' businesses so owners can spotlight their business. The non-profit group helps its members network with other businesses, and supports local charities.

Its only fundraising event of the year is April 24, the 11th annual golf outing at Hamilton Mill Golf Course in Dacula.

While that is the group's only fundraising event, Szczesniak said members often supplement the organization's donation to a given charity with a personal contribution. For example, last Christmas the group loaded two pickup trucks for Toys for Tots.

"We do not ask or require anyone to do this, it just happens," Szczesniak said.

In its existence, the group has donated more than $55,000 to at least 25 local charities.

Member Julie Perdue, who owns Main Street Photography, said the group has a serious business structure, but members are friendly, and welcome visitors openly.

"Nobody is a snob," said Perdue, who has been a member for about seven years. "You can walk in there and not know a soul, and people will come up to you and introduce themselves. Lots of people do business together in there."

Szczesniak said he's gained 31 jobs for his landscape design company in five years of being in the SBA. He added that his dentist, hairstylist, accountant, car wash, photographer, web designer and business card company, among others, all came from relationships formed in the SBA.

Szczesniak has worked in several other metropolitan cities around the country, and said other networking groups are made up of stuffy suits trying to sell something, or look good or sound good.

"Bottom line is that the members of the SBA actually do use each other's services and products as we develop personal relationships, which grow into great business relationships," Szczesniak said.