Russell’s Ramblings

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

Our American Right

One of our chamber members and local business leaders has recently taken another step into the international business arena. Ralph Daetwyler, President of Max Daetwyler Corporation in Huntersville, was recently honored when he was named the Honorary Consul to Estonia for North Carolina. In this distinguished role, Ralph will assist Estonians in North Carolina as well as abroad in business and investment related recommendations and general informative work on topics such as society, education and culture in Estonia.

I had the honor of attending Ralph’s appointment for this role at an event at his home in Cornelius along with govt officials from Estonia, Switzerland and Huntersville. Ralph proudly told us all, “It is my privilege to be named honorary consul to Estonia. Daetwyler USA provides manufacturing expertise on various projects to our Estonian subsidiary, and this working relationship has given us a very good understanding of their culture. This insight will enable us to effectively assist any Estonian company that is exploring North Carolina as a potential base for their U.S. operations.”

While there I had the opportunity to chat with Marina Kaljurand, Ambassador of Estonia, Sten Schwede, consul general of Estonia and Heinz Roth, honorary consul of Switzerland, as well as Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain and board members Sarah McAulay and Melinda Bales. That evening reminded me about an experience I had in 1991 with the Estonia Junior Chamber that I shared with the Ambassador.

That year, I served as National Vice President of the US Junior Chamber and attended the Junior Chamber International (JCI) World Congress in Helsinki, Finland.  At that event, Junior Chamber Estonia was recognized as a fully affiliated national organization in JCI.  I will never forget watching Erlend Tammenurm from Rapla, Estonia as he took his place on stage in front of more than 4,000 International delegates waving his country’s flag with tears in his eyes.  At first I was taken back that this professional and reserved man would openly show such emotion on the occasion.

Estonia Ambassador Kaljurand and Bill Russell

Then I was reminded it had only been a few years since Estonia was a country of the Soviet Union and public assemblies and the right to freely associate would have not just been discouraged – many would have been imprisoned.

As President of the United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees) and later as an International officer, I had the chance to visit with delegations from throughout the world. However, the single most powerful occasion was seeing the impact that moment had on Erlend.

This month, on November 6th, Americans will have the chance to exercise a right we often take for granted – the right to vote for our elected leadership.  As Americans, we have the freedom to choose who will represent us in Washington, Raleigh, and right here at home in Mecklenburg County. We should not forget that throughout this world many people do not have that right – their voice cannot be heard and the will of the majority does not prevail.

Each of us has that right because generations of Americans have paid dearly though their sacrifice – young men and women who stand watch and in some cases pay with their lives, so that we may vote on Election Day.

It was a privilege meeting the Ambassador of Estonia and honoring Ralph in his new role. I regret though that one detail, small as it may have been, was omitted when I shared with Ambassador Kaljurand my story.  I neglected to tell her as I watched Erlend Tammenurm wave his country’s flag – his smile as big as the stage he was on – with the tears which streamed down his cheeks …  maybe it was the moment, I’ll never know… but I cried too.

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October 30, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Every Picture tells a story

Lake Norman Chamber Candidate Forum

It seems as if the last few weeks have been nothing but a flurry of political activity.  The first week of September, the Charlotte region hosted the Democratic National Convention.  Later that week, a delegation from the Chamber and Visit Lake Norman made our annual trip to Washington DC to meet with our federal delegation and to attend the N.C. Business and Economic Development Summit with members of the North Carolina Congressional Delegation and Senate.

These past two weeks we have held two candidate forums featuring our candidates for United States House District #9, Mecklenburg County at large and District #1, and the new N.C. House Seat District #92.

 A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Kristy Etheridge from WBTV who asked did our businesses see much of an impact from the DNC?  I told Kristy that months ago, we cautioned area retailers and hospitality businesses from being overly optimistic that delegate spending would be a “silver bullet” for our local economy. 

In speaking to some local business owners both here and in Charlotte, as well as DNC vendors, sales were for the most part disappointing.  While our hotel industry did quite well, some retailers in Charlotte were actually hurt in that regular customers and clients did not patronize the businesses during the DNC.

The real strength of the DNC was its ability to showcase our area to not only the nation, but the eyes of the world.  A political event of that nature is perhaps second only to the Olympics in terms of international exposure.  Media coverage, as well as national and international awareness, focused on the Charlotte and Lake markets.

Before the gavel sounded at Time Warner Arena, our Chamber had already been contacted by a Senior Producer with RTL Netherlands, a television news organization, on giving our perspective on the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care act (Obama care).  Their producer had seen the media coverage of our August Focus Friday on the subject.

Perhaps Vinay Patel, whose company SREE  owns Marriott’s Courtyard and Residence Inn in Huntersville, summed it up best at this month’s Visit Lake Norman Board meeting when he pointed out the DNC proved to the world Charlotte is no longer a second-tier city when it comes to hosting an event. 

Tom Coderre and Bill Russell

While I did not have a chance to attend any of the official DNC, I did tour the facility and had a chance to have dinner with a close friend I had not seen in over a decade.  Tom Coderre, the Chief of Staff to the Rhode Island Senate President and a former State Senator himself, attended the DNC as a delegate.

Tom was a National Vice President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) in 1992-1993 when I was the National President.  One of the youngest NVP’s to ever serve the Jaycees, he was assigned to many of the larger states like Texas and Kansas.  In the beginning, some of the Jaycee leaders from those states could not imagine such a young man from such a small state could be that much of a resource. However, Tom soon proved true the adage “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.”  Among the ten National Vice Presidents, Tom was recognized at our Annual Meeting in Greensboro as the Most Outstanding National Vice President and received the coveted  Don Cavelli Memorial Award.

Tom and I avoided most of the political issues of the day and focused on what we were doing with our professional careers.  However, before we went our own ways he introduced me to other delegates from Rhode Island including his Mayor from the City of Providence – Angel Taveras, and I had the chance to meet delegates from Maryland.

One by one, they each told me how much they were enjoying Charlotte and the region. “Charlotte is a beautiful city,” one remarked and when I identified myself from Lake Norman, another commented, “Oh, I was there yesterday – spectacular!”

Travelling back home in my convertible that night, an old Rod Stewart song came on the radio.  I listened to the refrain of the familiar song I had heard so many times before… “So remember, every picture tells a story don’t it”     In this case… I couldn’t agree more!

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Access Granted – Working Together Works!

A few summers ago, I wrote an editorial called “Access Denied” which our Charlotte area media picked up.  In the editorial, I wrote about the “then-ban” on public access swimming in our Mecklenburg County Parks.  I pointed out that if you are not fortunate enough to own lakefront property or a personal watercraft or know someone who does – you have no access to our beautiful lake.  While there are some businesses which rent watercraft, for many in Mecklenburg County who may not have the financial resources to do so, they are left “high and dry.”

I have written in the past and shared with countless others in talks to business and civic groups, elected leadership, and the media that many of our county residents simply do not have the resources that many of us take for granted.  Individuals and families who do have lakefront homes and watercraft should enjoy what they have worked hard to attain.  However, access to the lake should be made available to everyone.

Anyone who has ever participated in “Big Day at the Lake”, a program for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Charlotte, can attest first hand on how a day at the lake affects a child’s life.  I have been so fortunate to see kids who have never been on a jet ski, pulled behind a boat on a raft, or in some cases just been swimming in a lake, enjoy our great lake for the first time.

Last evening, at the North Mecklenburg Candidate Forum, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Karen Bentley announced that Parks and Recreation Director Jim Garges had informed her that the county will allocate $430,000 in the FY14 Capital Projects list for Ramsey Creek Beach.  Jim stated with these funds, Mecklenburg County will be able to plan, apply for a permit, construct drawings, and hopefully have enough funds to build the beach.

While the county is dependent on permitting, and funding will always take top consideration on capital improvement projects, this is great news for our lake communities and the residents of Mecklenburg County.  It also will have a profound impact on travel and tourism and the families and children who visit us in the future.

Our region has been recognized as both a great place to live as well as a great place to do business, evidenced lately by the opening of ABB in Huntersville and the recent MSC Industrial Direct Co. announcement relocating jobs to Davidson. Sports enthusiasts recognize the lake and our recreational facilities are among the country’s best.

The announcement last night by Commissioner Bentley was welcome news.  In my bucket list of things to do, we cannot quite strike Public Swimming at the lake off the list yet.  However, we are one step closer to hearing the laughter of children and the splashing on our shores from children and families of all walks of life – not just the privileged few.

I’ve always thought our greatest liquid asset shouldn’t be off limits to the public.  Lake Norman is not just a body of water with 520 miles of shoreline – it is a lifestyle everyone should have the opportunity to experience.

Now let’s go build us a conference center at the lake and prove to world, we’re serious about business.  A destination for some, a wonderful experience to remember for others…and to those of us who live here – a great place we call home.

October 5, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Lake Access | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment