North Georgia philanthropist and businessman Mike Cottrell admits he’s always had a soft spot for Junior Achievement since the days of his youth in Pennsylvania.
Friday in Gainesville, Cottrell, with his wife Lynn by his side, demonstrated his affection for the organization — which teaches financial literacy, career readiness and entrepreneurial spirit — by signing over a $3.5 million donation to build a regional JA Discovery Center off of Lanier 400 Parkway in Cumming.
The center will serve public schools from surrounding areas, including Hall County.
“I’ve been involved with Junior Achievement from a support perspective going back to when I was a kid in the eighth and ninth grades,” Cottrell said at Hunt Tower in downtown Gainesville. “I was in Junior Achievement when I was in Bethlehem, Pa. I was elected president back then and I really enjoyed it.”
Cottrell said it was his early experience in Bethlehem, with all its industry, that got him involved in manufacturing.
“I’ve been in manufacturing all my life,” Cottrell added. “That’s what I’ve done. So hopefully, by Lynn and I making this contribution to the Junior Achievement Center, we can do the same thing for other kids. Other kids can look and see different career paths and different things they want to do. As a result, they may do something important in their lives.”
The College of Business at the University of North Georgia is named after Cottrell. A few years ago, he and Lynn donated $10 million to launch an MBA program and the Center for the Future of North Georgia at UNG.
Jack Harris, the Georgia Junior Achievement president and CEO, said the Cottrells’ generous donation will make it possible for the organization’s newest Discovery Center to be up and running by the fall of 2018.
Harris said JA found out about the donation just a few months ago.
“We knew that they were looking at the possibility of doing it and that they had shown some interest, but we were all really completely amazed at the generosity they displayed by making the full investment that was needed to get this project launched off the ground,” Harris said.
The new center, along with others in Atlanta and Gwinnett County, is designed to make learning relevant and authentic for students through interaction, according to Harris.
“It helps students connect the dots of education,” Harris said. “They see themselves as entrepreneurs. We see these centers as a pivotal and pinnacle element of what we can bring into communities.”
Abit Massey of Gainesville, president emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation and a lifelong contributor to the cause of Junior Achievement, was on hand to applaud the Cottrells’ donation.
“There’s clearly no greater thing has ever happened to Junior Achievement in all of Northeast Georgia,” Massey said. “They are delightful people. ... They’re great philanthropists in this area, but this is just a dramatic gift. It will mean a lot to a lot of students, and it’s an inspiration to everybody to see the Cottrells make such a great gift.”