Russell’s Ramblings

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

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce – The Regional Approach to Business

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Earlier this month I wrote a column for Business Today on the regional approach the lake Norman Chamber of Commerce takes to small business development and growth for our business members in Huntersville, Davidson, Cornelius and the greater lake Norman region.

Recently I had the chance to watch the sun set over our beautiful Lake Norman. The bright orange skyline kissed the rippling waters. Teased by the wind, it skipped across the expanse that touched my soul and I was reminded of a passage in a book by Norman Maclean that read “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

In the early 1980s, long before I joined the Lake Norman Chamber, my mom moved to Huntersville. I was struck on my first visit to North Meck with the rural country side. Considered a suburb of Charlotte, Huntersville was largely pastureland. Cornelius, just to the north, was a former mill town and surprisingly the real population seemed to reside in the little college town of Davidson.

Before the end of that decade, Huntersville businessman John Cherry would share a vision of what we could accomplish as a region by creating what was known at the time as the North Mecklenburg Chamber. The Chamber was composed of businesses in Huntersville, Davidson, and Cornelius with Town Board representation by all three towns. John created an opportunity for businesses to network and support each other. The organization quickly grew with the population, as did it’s greater voice in the county and state.

In 1996, I was hired to serve as the Chamber’s president and one of the primary challenges we faced was the shortage of classroom space. North Mecklenburg High School had the largest enrollment of any school in the state. Yet, Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board Members refused to acknowledge the desperate need for a new High School in north end of the county.

I still vividly recall a group from the Chamber going to a CMS meeting to passionately advocating for the new school. We orchestrated the collective voice of the towns, community, and business leaders and through determination and a commitment to our kids, we were successful in getting Hopewell High built.

Soon we saw our communities begin to grow together.  Folks living in Huntersville, working in Cornelius, employing staff from Denver and Mooresville, and shopping in Davidson. The name of the Chamber was changed to reflect our more regional identity – Lake Norman – but our commitment remained steadfast in our roots to North Mecklenburg.

The Chamber stretched its ability to advocate for business when we successfully lobbied for an access management study for Hwy 73. The NC DOT countered such an undertaking had never been done. It took the collaborative efforts of three chambers, three counties, and several municipalities but it resulted in what is known today as the Highway 73 Council of Planning.

It was the Lake Norman Chamber that first brought the three North Mecklenburg towns together at quarterly dinner meetings to share ideas and opportunities. That process evolved into four towns as Mooresville was invited to join.

The Lake Norman Chamber also gave birth to two other outstanding organizations serving our region – Visit Lake Norman and the Lake Norman Economic Development Corporation. Both were initiatives of the chamber. Community leaders recognized the unbridled opportunities when you partner the towns together with the chamber of commerce.

John Cherry told me that it was difficult early on to recognize the sum of parts was greater than anything we could have accomplished on our own. Even today, almost three decades later, some think that progress means going back to where we started – working separately, rather than together. I think the past thirty years prove that is not the sound strategy. When we work hard, work smart, and work together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish for our communities, commerce, and citizens. The Lake Norman Chamber has indeed been a catalyst to bring our communities together and accomplish so much that each could not have done independently. We have grown our business community and we are working to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Standing on that dock, watching another day end and a new one set to take its place, I realized our North Mecklenburg communities have indeed merged into one.

Eventually, the vision has become reality and the energy and passion of our people run through it.

Bill Russell
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

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March 28, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lake Norman – Where business is a family tradition

The following article was written exclusively for and appeared in the August 2013 issue of Business Today.

998You may be pleased to know that North Carolina House Bill 998 was recently signed into law by Governor McCrory.  Under this tax plan, the corporate income tax rate will decrease from 6.9 to 5 percent and personal income tax rate will decrease from 7.75 percent to 5.75 percent.  This new tax plan also brings changes to NC sales taxes.

The goal of these changes in the tax code is to make NC a more attractive place for businesses. During a recent presentation to Lake Norman Chamber members, local CPA Jay Lesemann shared facts and trends regarding business in our state that show the need for change. Site Selection Magazine and other business publications have ranked North Carolina as one of the “Best Business Climates” in the United States in past years, and our state has ranked 11th in US wage and income growth.

However, the disturbing fact is that North Carolina is not keeping up with workforce growth and job growth. In 2010, NC was 48th out of 50 in U.S. wage and income growth. Unfortunately, our unemployment and poverty statistics are also worse than the national average.

While some of these statistics and trends are certainly areas of concern, local business owners and managers that I talk with are often optimistic about the future.  In frequent conversations with chamber members, from the real estate market to retail sales, the consensus is that we are indeed starting to see a slow and steady climb in revenues.

As I look toward success for these businesses in the future, I am reminded of the people and businesses that have helped to shape the face of our community and region in the past. The communities of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville are much older than the lake itself, which this year celebrates its 50th Anniversary this summer.  So many of our local businesses such as Davidson’s Soda Shop and Pott’s Barber Shop in Cornelius have stood the test of time.

In 1956, Bob Cashion returned from school at UNC to work in the family grocery store. The Cashions still operate Cashion’s Quick Stops today with three locations in Huntersville and Cornelius.

While celebrations will continue this summer celebrating Lake Norman’s 50th anniversary, many businesses are quietly celebrating benchmarks of their own.  In September, Dressler’s Restaurant in Huntersville will recognize their 10-year anniversary at Birkdale. 

I asked Jon Dressler to what he attributed the success of his restaurants.  He was quick to point out that Dressler’s has three generations of restaurateurs.  For Jon, it’s all about hospitality.  “We are a family at Dressler’s and when you dine at our restaurant, it’s like you are having dinner at our home,” he replied.  “It’s important our guests feel welcome and special.”

His remarks were echoed by Tony Stafford, owner of Ferrucci’s in Cornelius.  When I asked Tony to sum up his success in one word, he quickly replied, “Primo! – which means first & best. In 1999, we were the first in the area to offer Italian provisions, freshly prepared food, and a butcher with over 40 years experience. We made a commitment to our customers to be nothing short of the best and have never wavered from it. Primo!”

Dean Williamson

Dean Williamson

 

When I originally came to the Lake Norman Chamber in 1996, one of the first people I met was Dean Williamson, who was just opening a Raymond James office.  When he initially opened his office, he was the salesman, receptionist, and janitor.  Today, his business has 12 agents and 5 support staff and is recognized as the largest Raymond James office in the Carolinas.

Dean credits his involvement in the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce as a primary reason for his success. According to Dean, “The chamber helped me create healthy business relationships and relationships are the foundation of my business.”  He often jokes that the Chamber did more than help build his business – it helped him build his family. He met his wife Elizabeth at a Chamber event!

This year also marks a milestone anniversary for the Davidson Village Inn.  Gordon and his wife Rebecca opened the 18-room charming inn 20 years ago. When I asked Gordon what has made his business so successful, he summed it up by saying –   “Our philosophy is people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did.  But they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Listening to Gordon, his smile filling his face, I realized he may well have captured business at the lake. It‘s about family. It’s about friends  It’s about how we make people feel that makes business special at the lake. It’s simply, a family tradition!

Bill Russell, CCE

August 8, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Big Day at the Lake

Perhaps no other single event at Lake Norman impacts children as much as Big Day at the Lake.  “Big Day,” which takes place on a Saturday in July, was created by Business Today publisher Dave Yochum.  On July 21st, the Lake Norman business community, along with quite a few retired and active community citizens, opened their checkbooks and shared their time and resources with 144 at-risk children from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte.

Close to 80 boat hosts took out the Big Brother or Sister (Bigs) along with their “littles” who enjoyed a morning on the lake – many for the first time.  Then it was off for lunch at the Energy Explorium where 600 hot dogs, 75 pizzas, and 20 pounds of Cole slaw was dished out by the volunteers from many of the lake’s active civic clubs.

Big Day organizers set a goal of $50,000 in cash, and while businesses are just beginning to see the clouds of economic recession fade, the group exceeded their goal with slightly more than $60,000 collected.  It is estimated that 83% of every dollar collected goes right back into the charity itself.  Those contributions will help assist the organization long after the summer has passed.

I have been fortunate the last few years to be the guest of the Brian Sisson family as Brian, Tricia, Kaitlyn, and Sam typically hosts a “Big and Little.”  This year the Sisson’s took Willie and his Big Brother Aaron Grissom out on the lake.  Willie is a fifth grader and you could see the excitement in his eyes as he stepped aboard the Sisson boat.

Willie with his big brother Aaron and Aaron’s girlfriend at Big day

Aaron and Willie have been teamed up for a couple of years.  They have battled the rapids at the WhitewaterCenter in Charlotte and taken in Carowinds but I don’t think any of that compared to piloting the boat back to the Peninsula Yacht Club or making the flip off the back of the boat into the cool water with all the other children watching.

Hearing the splashing and laughter last Saturday at Big Day at the Lake brings back so many fond memories I have as a child with the wonderful trips our family took to the beach and our days out on Lake Wylie (SC) that we just affectionately referred to as “the river.”

Kids like Willie will never forget their Big Day at the Lake.  A day when strangers became friends.  When the families of Lake Norman opened their hearts to impressionable young people letting them know we care.

It was a day when Charlotte’s kids were our kids. A day filled with a compassion as wide as the shoreline and deeper than Lake Norman’s deepest point. It was a day like no other.  It was our Big Day at the Lake.

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment