Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Lake Norman Makes a Splash in BusinessWeek

Every day, Americans across this country continue to read and hear about the negative economic indicators citing our economic recession. While we in the Lake Norman community share in the challenging and uncertain market, many of our business and community leaders can take great pride in what readers across this nation are just finding out – the Lake Norman region is a great place to live, work and visit. BusinessWeek Magazine has reinforced that claim by naming Cornelius one of the country’s Ten “Best Affordable Suburbs.”  


ln_summerCornelius was ranked #1 in North Carolina and 7th overall in the nation. The magazine pointed out such factors as livability, which includes short commutes, low pollution and amount of green space. The editors at BusinessWeek also examined crime rates, job growth, median household income, median home prices and the quality of schools. Recently a reporter called the Lake Norman Chamber for a reaction – was this a welcome surprise? Welcome – yes. Surprise? Not really!



Accolades are nothing new to our region. In 2005, the Town of Huntersville was ranked in the Top 100 Best Places to Live (#76) by Money Magazine. The Town of Mooresville has routinely been heralded as one of the nation’s best communities to host new and expanded facilities in Site Selection magazine’s Top 100 Small Towns in America. Davidson, whose population figures usually prevent the town from being considered in national ranking, received more publicity than perhaps any economic development firm or advertising agency could produce when the Davidson Wildcats Basketball Team took the nation by storm falling one basket short of a NCAA Final Four Appearance last March.  ski1



What makes our region special? The recognition is a testament to the leadership of our elected officials, business leaders, and civic and service clubs, organizations, and churches who have given their time and talent to make this region a cut above the rest. When there is still much to lament when reading about vacancy rates, unemployment numbers, and falling retail sales, there is still so much to be thankful for. This recent ranking by BusinessWeek Magazine is a testament to so many blessings we enjoy. The lake living lifestyle and our small towns’ charm make our quality of life second to none.  


We are excited that one of our towns was singled out as the Best of the Best. However, to the area resident who may live in Cornelius, shop in Huntersville, work in Mooresville, and go to church in Davidson – it is all one big community. Economic downturns and market corrections are never welcome although they are necessary in a capitalistic society.



The Lake Norman Chamber is committed to helping our businesses weather this storm and will continue to provide the training and networking opportunities to help market and promote a healthy business climate. We can take comfort that Lake Norman is a great place to be in a bad time. More importantly, good times and bad, our region is a shining beacon to all as a great place to live, work, and visit.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once in a lifetime… if you’re lucky


Bobby Hyman - The Original Traveling Animal

Bobby Hyman - The Original Traveling Animal

Over a decade ago, I had the opportunity to listen and observe a young man give an acceptance speech after he was recognized by the Jaycees for a lifetime’s work.  I choose my words deliberately when I say this young man had already completed a life’s work because shortly after his motivating speech to his audience, he passed away. 



He was in his late forties at the time when his heart just gave out.  Many of us who were close to him wondered how the Lord could call someone home who still had so much more to give.  While I may never fully realize the answer to that question, I will never forget the words that still resonate with me today.  Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky,” he said with a pause.  “God gives you the chance to change the face of your community and leave it a better place than it was when you found it.”


Recently I was asked by a new Chamber member what I did.  I told them I was the President of the Chamber.  The member looked at me quizzingly, and asked again, “Yea, I know.   But what do you do as a profession?”  Actually, the member did not know I was employed by the Chamber.  He assumed I was a volunteer.  I smiled at him, knowing what he meant, and replied, “I’m a builder.”  I walked away, perhaps leaving him convinced I was in construction.


However I left that conversation, I felt in my heart I had answered him fully.  I’m a really lucky guy.  Each day I go into work knowing full well I help build something.  I help build a better organization.  I help build a better economy for our businesses.  I help build a better community.  The bottom line is each day I have the opportunity to leave my region better than I found it.


It’s inspiring each day to see individuals in the community working together to solve community challenges.  Just today I had the opportunity to feel the energy of citizens preparing to shape the vision for their downtown in Huntersville.    Every day our Chamber members volunteer their time and talent to make our region a great place to do business and a wonderful community to live for our residents.  Our civic clubs, churches, and non-profits are working together to improve the lives of those who need a helping hand.  animals


As long as I live I will remember the young man, fighting back tears of joy, as he stood before his peers.  In a short time he had touched a lot of hearts and left his community better than he found it.  It’s an opportunity the Good Lord gives each of us.  Once in a lifetime…if you’re lucky.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , | Leave a comment

The Big Picture

 A couple of months ago while eating lunch in a  Lake Norman restaraunt, a couple of ladies sitting beside me started ranting with each other about the shortcomings of the region.  Their conversation segued into school and transportation issues and before long it was a full fledged gripe session.  There were several instances I wanted to jump into their conversation and point out how fortunate they really were.  However, I bit my tongue and did my best to ignore the negativity beside me.  It did however remind me of something I learned long ago.

gardenAs I have written many times, when I was a very young lad my Granddaddy Russell allowed me to “help” him in his garden in Rock Hill.  More often than not, I was probably more of a nuisance than a helper.  Granddaddy could work from sunrise to sundown with a mere water break in between.  I remember one particular hot Saturday afternoon that I whined about how long we were working, just why did we have to pull out the small weeds growing next to the corn, and why did we have to hoe everything when we could probably just use the tiller between the rows?

Granddaddy took a break, removing his glove, and wiping his bare hand across his brow – ever the sure sign he’d had enough complaining.  “Billy”, he said.  “Did I ever tell you the story about Mr. Johnson’s hunting dog up the street?”  Now let me stop right here and say that Granddaddy himself was an avid hunter.  He had a brown dog named Browney and a white dog named Whitey.  Granddaddy was never very creative when it came to naming dogs.     “Well Mr. Johnson had an old black lab named “Blackey”.  One day while hunting, Johnson shot a quail which landed in the pond.  Blackey proceeded to skip across the water and retrieved the bird.  Johnson couldn’t believe his eyes that the dog ran across the water.  Thinking no one would possibly believe his dog could walk on water, he invited Mr. Hagler to go hunting the next day.

Again, Mr. Johnson shot and killed a quail and once again it landed in the water.  And like before, old Blackey ran across the water and retrieved the bird.  Johnson asked Hagler, “Did you see that?”  “Sure did,” replied Hagler.  “Well what do you think?”, he inquired.  “Well,” said Hagler, “I don’t think your dog knows how to swim.”    Sometimes people just don’t get the point.   They don’t see the big picture.  While we may have challenges to our schools and roads because of growth – the picture is our area is growing.  When regions are losing jobs and have empty store fronts – we enjoy a vibrant and growing region.  We have the good fortune of living in a great community.  A community adding new families and businesses everyday because they realize what some of our residents seem to have forgotten – Lake Norman is a great place to work and live.Bird dog

I remember trying to mull over his lesson that day as he continued to work me ‘till the sun went down.  However, as much as I disliked all the hard work, the red ripe tomatoes, big ears of corn, and cool crisp bites of watermelon later that summer reminded me that all the hard work paid off.  People can sweat the small stuff or they can see the big picture.  It’s all up to you.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Down Barriers

Roger Bannister

Roger Bannister

History is replete with examples of things that cannot be achieved, barriers that are imposed, unthinkable achievements… and then someone or a group of people come along and break down those self-imposed barriers.     Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile, wiping out polio, landing on the moon, the sit ins at the lunch counters in Greensboro and Rock Hill are all examples of individuals daring to ignore the barriers.

Rare is the instance when a politician crosses over party lines to create legislation in a bipartisan effort.  The elected official who looks past the district, county, or municipal boundary that separates their constituents from their neighbors.  Bureaucrats who cannot see outside of the box when it comes to managing in a way in which they are not schooled or accustomed.  However, when that occurrence comes along, that individual ignores what others say cannot be achieved, the politician shows political courage – they become a leader and we advance as a society, a community, a region.

Several weeks ago town officials from the three Northern Mecklenburg towns gathered for dinner with officials from Mooresville.  They discussed a myriad of issues from transportation to economic development.  It is not the first time the elected officials from the four Lake Norman towns gathered together.  However, this particular meeting was profound.  It set in momentum dialogue which could have major impacts on our businesses and residents.   Perhaps at no time in the history of our communities have we had elected officials who were more “regional” thinking in their approach to issues facing the growth of our area.   It has been pointed out countless times by many of them that the issues facing one lake community is also common to the other three.

Lake Norman Sunset

Lake Norman Sunset

Partnering with our lake communities on transportation, economic development, land use, arts and culture, and travel and tourism would give the towns influence and strength to effect legislation, attract a broader base of tourism events, and offer greater economic development incentives than ever before.  Such a partnership would be great for the communities, great for the region, and great for business development.  However, crossing county and municipal boundaries takes real political courage.  Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said, “Leadership is getting your people from where they are…to where they have not been.”

Our communities are fortunate to have  elected officials who see the unbridled opportunities of the future.  Who, like the Roger Bannisters and the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, set their sights on their objective, and go where others have not been…and the rest of us follow.  And that is the essence of leadership

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Following the Moral Compass

JR EwingMention the word “Dallas” and depending on your age, your mind conjures up thoughts.  For some the Dallas Cowboys football team.  Still others will think about the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.   And for some of us, we will remember the eighties television soap which pitted J.R. Ewing against the rest of the world.  Not long ago, I picked up the paper and read where the television series is being revived as a motion picture.  The screenplay written, we will once again likely see J.R. up to his old tricks.  J.R. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman in the series, was a notoriously dishonest and conniving businessman.  Friends, business associates, and family members were all fair game when it came to putting together his deals.  In one episode of the series, J.R. stated, “Once you give up your ethics, the rest is a piece of cake.”  In essence, for someone who places no value on ethics, anything goes.

My grandmother Russell rarely missed an episode of Dallas.  She would shake her head and say what a little devil J.R. really was.  Each week she hoped that little brother Bobby, who had the moral compass in the family, somehow got the upper hand.  He rarely did.  Years later, I remember having to make a particularly hard decision when I was President of the United States Jaycees.  It was a decision which would have a major impact on the chapters across the nation.  Politics ran deep and deals were flying here and there as everyone looked out for their particular state or region.

I remember calling my dad and he listened quite a while as I explained what was required, what concessions would have to be made, to make the deal.  My dad responded, “Son, sometimes you may have to make those concessions and stand for something that is less than what you had hoped.  But you never have to surrender your ethics.  They guide you and will continue to serve you throughout your life.”

Today, community and elected officials are caught up in bitter partisanship.  Local issues, school boards, county commissions, and even the state delegation find themselves in partisan bickering or disagreements.  In many instances, everyone is searching for the same result, just a different approach to get there.  Let’s hope they discover they don’t have to surrender their ethics to gain consensus.  Our communities, our state, our children are depending on it.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chinese Fable of Misery and Fortune

fortuneThe other day while waiting to get a haircut, I could not help but overhear a customer who was complaining that this thing or that didn’t go his way.  The stylist chimed in between snips of his hair to pile on to the list of short comings they both seemed to have in common.   Listening to someone drone on and on about their problems was beginning to get old as I perused through old issues of magazines left over from the Roosevelt administration.  The Teddy Roosevelt presidency it seemed.  As we approach the conclusion of a year and the beginning of a new one, it is a chance to reflect on the good things that came our way and an opportunity to change those things which perhaps could have been just a little bit better.

Not long ago, I ran across an old Chinese fable that puts things in perspective.  One morning a beautiful lady in a splendid gown visited a home.  She explained she was the goddess of fortune.  The whole family treated the goddess with the best wine and food, trying to keep their new guest as long as possible.    Before long, there was another knock at the door.  This woman, dressed in tattered clothes, looking very disheveled explained she was the goddess of misery.  When the family tried to reject the unwelcomed visitor, she explained that she was the twin sister of the goddess of fortune and that the rules of heaven ordained only one goddess could stay at a home at a time, and neither could stay too long.

While they were listening to the goddess of misery, they noticed the twin sister had left.  The family was angry they were left with the goddess of misery.  Eventually they all learned to live with misery and make the best of it.  After three days, misery left and they were greeted again with the goddess of fortune.     The fable tells us that in each life, we all have joy and suffering.  Some have more joy than suffering and some have more suffering than joy.  Good times do not last forever and we must all learn how to deal with the challenges which confront us.

God of Wealth

God of Fortune

Dark clouds may gather and the storm may rain down on us.  However, we are comforted in knowing that a clear day returns for those who do not lose faith and hope.     Leaving the barber shop that afternoon, it struck me how lucky I am to have the challenges I may face.  While I wish I did not have to confront them, they make the good fortune that much more rewarding.     May each of you answer the door of good fortune  in the year to come.



March 13, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , | Leave a comment

The Legacy We Leave

KiwanisA few years ago, I completed my terms as president of two great organizations – the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Norman Kiwanis Club.  I enjoy the friends I have made in both and have continue to be involved.  It is customary in most associations to give some token to the outgoing chairman of the board or president.  In this case, both organizations stated during the outgoing ceremony that I likely had plenty of plaques already. They instead provided me an outgoing gift.  They were certainly right on target with the plaques!

I have plaques at the office and plaques on the wall at home.  I have plaques in the closet, some in the attic, and still others in a box in my dad’s attic at our farm.  I have no shortage of plaques. I still have the first recognition’s I ever received.  A blue ribbon for shooting the most free throws at basketball camp and a yellow fourth place for marksmanship at summer camp.  I pinned these to my bulletin board when I was a kid and beamed with pride when other kids asked me about them.   Incentives and rewards are important to drive people past what they thought was achievable.  Imagine any sport without a championship or the workplace without the “bonus.”  We are a competitive society that likes to win and we like to be recognized as the best of the best among our peers.

I read a story once about a man named James Dobson whose goal it was to become his school’s tennis champion.  He felt proud when the school placed his trophy prominently in the school’s glass trophy cabinet for all to see.  Years later, someone mailed him the trophy.  They had found it in a trash bin when the school was remodeled.  Jim realized, “Given enough time, all your trophies will be discarded by someone else.”    Plaques, rewards, and other incentives are important devices in motivating people to be their best.  In my lifetime of handing them out, I’ve heard many folks say, “I did not do what I did because of the award…”  And true as that may have been, no one ever handed me the plaque back.

1985 Rock Hill Jaycees- #1 Jaycee Chapter in S.C.

1985 Rock Hill Jaycees- #1 Jaycee Chapter in S.C.

All that being said, we should not lose perspective.  It is not what we receive for being the best but who we become by doing it.  What many fail to realize is all achievements will eventually be surpassed, all records broken, and reputations will eventually fade.  However, the lives we touch along the way and the difference we make in leaving this a better place than we found it will not..  And that is the legacy we leave.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , | Leave a comment

The Rooster and the Fox

fox In a land far away there is a story told of the Rooster and the Fox.  The fox was walking through a farmyard one morning and heard the rooster crow.  The rooster was perched high on top of a barn out of reach from the wily fox.    “Mr. Rooster,” said the fox politely.  “It is so nice to see you on this wonderful sunny morning.  Please come down from your perch so that we might chat a bit.”

 The rooster was suspicious about the friendly fox and replied, “I dare not fly down as so many animals might try to have me for breakfast.”     “You mean you have not heard the news?” asked the fox.  “All the animals have agreed to live in peace and no one will hurt you now.”

The rooster wanted to believe the fox but was surprised he had not heard of such a development.  He craned his neck and looked out on the horizon.  The fox took notice and asked. “What’s so interesting that you’re ignoring my invitation?”

The rooster informed the fox, “It seems we are to have company.  A pack of hounds are headed this way.”     “Please excuse me,” the fox replied anxiously, “but I must tend to something back at my den.”INGDMYFS0802

The rooster said, “Don’t go now Mr. Fox.  I was just coming down to chat a while with you and the dogs about this remarkable peace plan.”     “It might be possible,” the fox said as he scampered away, “that the hounds haven’t heard yet of the plan!”

Aesop’s fable has transcended time and the morals are just as true today as they were in his time – The worst liars often get tangled in their own lies.   We are living in a time where information is at the touch of a keyboard.  News is provided at the touch of a remote or mouse.  Some of the information is accurate and some of it is not.  Eyewitnesses to the same event can leave with different impressions of what occurred.  Stories retold can leave out significant details which change the context of what might have occurred or what was said.

In the end, we are left with one true business moral from the fable – Trust your instincts and don’t believe everything you read and hear.     As a manager, supervisor, or leader in your organization you need to listen carefully to what you are being told.  Examine the source of the information and weigh it carefully using your own instincts.  Eventually the truth wins the day and those who practice deceit  are caught in  a web of their making.  And the leader who understands that moral will be around to crow another day.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , | 1 Comment

A Lesson in Teamwork

     There once was a very prominent frog living at Lake Murray near Columbia.  This particular frog owned a great many lily pads there.  One day he heard about all the activity taking place at Lake Norman with the development, fishing tournaments, and the great quality of life.  He knew he just had to be a part of North Carolina’s premier region.  But how could he get up here?

     He could not hop his way up I-77.  It was simply too far.  So the frog struck up a conversation with Mr. Duck.  The frog admired the way Mr. Duck could take to the air landing pretty much where he liked.  The frog was a wise and shrewd little guy and asked Mr. Duck for a favor.  “On you next trip up North, could you drop me off at Lake Norman,” asked the frog.  “How could I,” inquired Mr. Duck.

     “You could put a stick in your beak and I will hold onto it with my mouth,” explained the frog.  “Together as a team we can sail through the sky and I can go to live at Lake Norman!”  So off they went, the duck and the frog, high above the ground.

     Just then a flock of geese flew by.  One of the geese saw the majestic duck and the little frog.  He admired such teamwork and exclaimed, “Look at that!  Who could have ever thought of such a plan?  They must have been visionary and wise beyond their years…such creativity and imagination.  I wonder who devised such a plan?

  The little frog beamed with pride.  “It was me…it was me,” he shouted as he opened his mouth and plunged to the ground below.

     The essence of teamwork is to leave self-adulation and egos at the door.  Everyone likes to be acknowledged for a job well done.  We like others to recognize the talents and skills we bring to a project.  However, the most successful ventures are when we all work together for a common goal, supporting each others actions, without striving for personal acclaim.  Past President Ronald Reagan used to have a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office that read – “There is no limit what can be accomplished, if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

     It was a lesson the frog should have learned before he took to the air.  It is a lesson each of us should try to practice in our daily lives.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , | Leave a comment

Access Denied

 Big DayOnce a year, a group of kids get to experience what many children experience summer round – access to Lake Norman.  In June, Big Brothers and Big Sisters participate in the Big Day at the Lake that Business Today publisher Dave Yochum has poured his heart into.  The project typically pairs 120 to 150 kids with a Big Brother or Sister for the day.  Local lake businesses and community citizens have embraced this project providing a day of fun, food, and fellowship on the waters of Lake Norman.  Simply put, it is a great event!

The shame is for the other 364 days of the year, the region’s greatest recreational asset is largely off limits to a huge segment of our population.  Not since the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s has one demographic of the population been denied the privileges afforded others.  Lake Norman, which covers more than 32,500 acres with 520 miles of shoreline, has only one public swimming area and NONE on the Mecklenburg County shoreline of the lake.  Certainly people who have worked hard and earned their respective lakefront property deserve the fruits of their labor.  Thousands more have boats and personal watercraft that give them access to our greatest liquid asset – Lake Norman.  However, if you do not know someone with lakefront property or someone who has a boat or watercraft, you are one of the growing majority denied access to North Carolina’s largest man-made lake.

Residents of North Mecklenburg and South Iredell and our visitors have one alternative – Lake Norman State Park located at exit 42 in Troutman.  The park is a nice amenity with hiking trails, picnic shelters, and a public swimming area.  But the point is that taxpaying residents of our region, the visiting public, and perhaps most importantly – our children – should not have to travel to Troutman to access the waters of Lake Norman.  The real shame is Jetton Park in Cornelius, with its beachfront, was originally designed for public access but the threat of liability has led Mecklenburg County to enforce a strict “no public swimming” policy for its parks.jetton_park

There is a great injustice to thousands of families and residents who are denied the privileges of swimming at Lake Norman because of one simple demographic – household income.   The issue of public access at Lake Norman is not a racial issue but it is one of fairness and we should do something about it.   One thing is for certain – nothing will change until the cry for change is heard so often and so loud that it cannot be ignored.  As the civil rights leaders of a generation ago would admit – no great struggle is easily won.  However, the struggle for fairness will always win the day if you believe and work hard enough for the outcome.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Lake Access | , , , , | Leave a comment