Russell’s Ramblings

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

Lots to be thankful for!

Last weekend, a longtime friend called to inform me she was moving to Colorado and hoped we could get together again before she made that trek out west.

Jill was one of the first people I met at the lake when I took over the helm of the Chamber in 1996. She and I could not have been more different in our political philosophies. She was a diehard progressive and I was clearly a conservative when it came to my beliefs and values. Yet, our love of the Lake Norman community and the potential of this region transcended our partisan differences.

jayceesAs a reporter for the only newspaper in the area at the time, Jill and I were both involved in many of the milestone events for our area, such as the groundbreaking of the “New” Exit 25 on I-77 and the grand opening of Birkdale. Since she also served as president of the Lake Norman Jaycees and was active in both the Chamber and Rotary, she and I interacted a great deal over two decades.

As we sat together on her last weekend in town, we lamented how partisan, bitter, and angry politics have turned both nationwide and locally. Ironically, we also both remarked how glad we are that it will soon come to an end – at least until next fall! We spent the next two hours reminiscing friends we have lost here at the lake and celebrating how things have grown and prospered since we first met over 20 years ago.

As we started to say our goodbyes, almost on cue – a beautiful Lake Norman sunset burned brightly in the sky above The Port City Club. We watched as the sun slowly sank below the cool waters, glistening orange and yellow as the day gave way, surrendering to twilight.

We hugged one last time and she left for her new life out west. Driving home, I was reminded that during this season of Thanksgiving, how very fortunate and thankful I am to all of the many people like Jill who have profoundly shaped our community and my life. And, how much better the Lake Norman region is because of these remarkable individuals. I am also very thankful that unemployment is down, our local real estate market is thriving, and commerce is strong. The chamber continues to introduce new businesses to the Lake Norman market, engage new members and benefit from the immense dedication of our volunteers. For these things, we are immensely grateful!

Recently, the Chamber held a Public Safety Luncheon where we saluted our local Police, Fire, and First Responders for keeping our families and businesses safe. While riots and protests ensued just a few miles down the road, our communities were safe! For that and for the services this special group provides each day, we should all be relieved and thankful!

We also celebrate the growth of our Lake Norman Chamber Young Professionals who celebrate their second anniversary this month! This group is growing as we see more and more young adults get involved in their community. America can feel the power of her young people and nowhere is that more evident than Lake Norman.ed-collab

Last month, we called on local businesses to help our Lake Norman Education Collaborative and you responded recognizing the need for businesses to partner with our public education. Thank you!

While I am thankful the campaign season is coming to a close – I am also very grateful to the men and women who both serve and those who seek political office.

As I watched Jill walk away, it occurred to me sometimes it’s the smallest of things and the people who have touched your life you cherish most of all. You may not remember all they said, perhaps not all they did, but you remember how they made you feel and the impact they have had on your life.  It really is a lot to be thankful for.

 

 

December 20, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized, Chamber of Commerce, Politics, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Special Message to the Membership from 2016 Chamber Chair Callan Bryan

 

Callan BryanLake Norman Chamber Members:

2016 is off to a great start for business in our region and I am excited about what lies ahead for our Chamber during my tenure as your 2016 Chamber Chairman of the Board of Directors. As we are charting the course for the future of our Chamber, I believe it is important to understand the foundation of our strong organization.

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce was chartered by the State of North Carolina in June 1989 as the North Mecklenburg Chamber of Commerce and whose stated purpose is “The advancement of the civic, commercial, industrial, and agricultural interests of the North Mecklenburg area, and the surrounding territory; the promotion of the general welfare and prosperity of the North Mecklenburg area and its surrounding territory, and the stimulation of public sentiment to these ends…”

In addition, our Charter Bylaws under which the Chamber was incorporated, defined our area: (Article I section 3) “The Lake Norman area shall include the Towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and the greater Lake Norman area.” To this end, our Chamber has, since its inception, included a Town Board Representative from each of the three North Mecklenburg Towns.

Could Founding Chairman John Cherry have created chambers of commerce in each town rather than a more united regional chamber? Yes, he could have. However, Mr. Cherry and the founding members realized our business members could achieve a great deal more working together than individually. This regional model and approach has significantly benefited our businesses and served our communities in a unified way during a period of extraordinary growth.

As you may know, The Lake Norman Chamber was recently recognized for its impressive community service and business related programs and events by being named Chamber of The Year for North and South Carolina.  Our award winning level of regional service will continue as we fulfill our mission of unparalleled representation of the businesses of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and the greater Lake Norman region.

Our Chamber is committed to maintaining its role in the fabric and growth of the Huntersville community and the Lake Norman area.  We are the Huntersville Chamber, we are the Cornelius Chamber, we are the Davidson Chamber, we are the Chamber for our neighboring lake communities, and we have been for almost 30 years. We are your Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

Callan H. Bryan

2016 Chairman of the Board of Directors

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

February 19, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Proposed Superstreet for Cornelius (NC) May Not Be Such A Super Idea”

Russell thoughts 1“Left turns are bad!” That is the foundation of the “Superstreet” concept which the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has recommended for Cornelius between Jetton Road and Sam Furr Road. With a Superstreet design, instead of waiting for oncoming traffic to clear to make a left, or using a traditional traffic signals, all vehicles are re-routed to dedicated left lanes. These vehicles then make U-turns at a designated distance and circle back to reach a planned destination.

I am convinced that it is not a street that makes a town or a region super. But rather, it is the people and the businesses who bring life and passion to that community that make it so.

For over 10 years, town staff, elected officials, citizens, and local business leaders have examined transportation plans for West Catawba Avenue. The Superstreet design was first suggested to the town by NCDOT when the first part of this road was widened in 2005. At that time, Cornelius town officials and the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce lobbied NCDOT for a hybrid version of the Superstreet design. We insisted on adding traditional intersections with left hand turns to foster economic and business vitality. Over the recommendations of NCDOT, more left turn lanes were also added (five in total).

During the last few months, the town has encouraged the businesses and residents of our community to weigh in on the most recent Superstreet recommendation by the NCDOT. Planning sessions have examined drawings and computer simulations showing how the Superstreet concept would work. There seems to be no doubt that the recommended Superstreet design can move greater volumes of traffic more efficiently, safely, and quickly through Cornelius.

That said, I am not convinced this traffic pattern is in the best interest of our community. Recently Commissioner Jim Duke pointed out that the Superstreet design does not fit the character of Cornelius. Others have suggested that the section of West Catawba Avenue, from Jetton Road to Sam Furr Road, does not yet have a distinct character. It is important to consider that what exists today is not what will be there tomorrow. Business and residential development continues to evolve and there is so much potential for the future.superstreet

While Hwy 115 serves as a main street for Cornelius and Davidson, West Catawba Avenue is “Main Street Lake Norman.”  It is the main artery pulsating through the heart of the Lake Norman region.  Just as Cornelius town and business leaders fought for the consensus and compromise a decade ago to protect the economic vitality of West Catawba Avenue during its initial expansion, it is imperative for the future of Cornelius and the Lake Norman region that we do so again today.

You cannot load character into a computer simulation. It cannot be drawn into a blueprint, nor does it show up in traffic counts. But you can see it in the faces and feel it in the hearts of the people who live and work here.  It’s what makes our lake towns more than super and the reason we call Lake Norman home.

W.E.” Bill” Russell, CCE IOM

President and CEO

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

June 26, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lake Norman Citizen For the Record: Lake Norman – We’re sexy and we know it

The following column appeared in the July 9, 2014 issue of the Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper (For the Record page 39).

Lake Norman at sunset

Lake Norman at sunset

In the last few weeks, Motovo.com, a real estate website, ranked the Lake Norman town of Cornelius as the fourth sexiest community in the nation and Huntersville as the seventh most exciting town in North Carolina.

In addition, Ashley Madison (ashleymadison.com), an online dating service that caters to people already in relationships, says Huntersville leads its rankings of the “Most Unfaithful Neighborhoods” in the Charlotte area. The rankings were based on the percentage of membership from respective ZIP codes in the region.

My first take on reading the Ashley Madison statistic was astonishment.  First, that there was a website that encouraged that type of behavior. Second, I was not aware the Town of Huntersville was a neighborhood of Charlotte. But I suppose when you have sexy and exciting folks living near each other, it stands to reason they might be susceptible to temptation.

At my last check, there are approximately 500,000 words in the English language and there are 100,000 or so adjectives.  I suspect over the summer, we’re liable to hear quite a few more accolades from these online websites.  Perhaps Davidson will earn the “Most Educated” and Mooresville will be declared the “Fastest City” with all of its race shops and drivers who reside in the region.

All that said, the adjectives sexy and exciting are not lost on the business community.  At the Lake Norman Chamber’s June “Lunch and Learn” event, we had the opportunity to hear from the owners of our outstanding Small Businesses of the Year.  The one word that continued to resonate with the three business owners — Dr. John Ballas, Armin Desch and Penny Benkeser — was “passion.”

Ballas, owner of Ballas Chiropractic in Huntersville pointed out that to succeed, you must create a plan of action and hire employees to get it done.  Ballas said, “Hire people and associates who share your vision and passion.”  Penny Benkeser, whose business Servpro of Northwest Charlotte has grown 400 percent in 18 months, pointed out, “Don’t limit your benchmarks to your market or region.  Look across the board — across the nation and find the very best.  Use those examples as your benchmark and surpass them!”

June Lunch & Learn with   Armin Desch, Dr. John Ballas  and Penny Benkeser

June Lunch & Learn with Armin Desch, Dr. John Ballas and Penny Benkeser

Desch shared that the secret to his business success started with his employees. He reminded us all, “Treat your people special and they will in turn treat your customers special.”

Ballas Chiropractic was named the Small Business of the Year in large part because of Ballas’ hiring practices. “My dad gave me great advice,” he said. “Treat people with respect and empower your people.  I hire slow, fire fast, train hard — and manage soft.”

“Take your time to hire the right people,” he continued. “Give employees every opportunity to perform their job, but if they do not meet expected levels of performance, move them out. … Train your folks hard and then get out of their way.”

When all three of our Small Business of the Year finalists were asked if they had any final thoughts about success to share, John, Armin and Penny looked at each other and agreed, “It all keeps going back to passion.”

Maybe Motovo.com is on to something.  Some think of us as exciting.  Others might find us sexy. But one thing for sure — in the Lake Norman region, we’re passionate about business.

Bill Russell is the president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with approximately 1,000 members in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and greater Lake Norman region.

 

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vote Yes for the Bonds

CMS Bonds On November 5th, voters in Mecklenburg County will consider approving $290 million for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) and $210 million for Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC).  In Cornelius, voters there will also decide $20.4 million for transportation, parks and recreation, and town center bonds.

In addition to the County and Cornelius bonds, a political issue shaping this election which has gripped our community and region over the last several months is how do we fund the widening of I-77?  The current DOT plan would use HOT or toll lanes in partnership with a private company (P3 Partnership).  While details are still being worked out, even those in local and state government wrestle with the notion of tolls.

Attending our local candidate forums, it is abundantly clear many elected and business leaders are torn between a practical reality –  the need to widen our most critical transportation artery as soon as possible and  declining revenues to fund those improvements.  While we can debate whether there are adequate funds to create General Purpose Lanes instead of High Occupancy Toll lanes, there can be no question that our past elected state and transportation leaders did a poor job of forecasting the future.

There are no fingers of blame here. Remember, those same leaders were elected by their constituents.  So in essence, we have only ourselves to blame.  In a very real sense, we are left with few alternatives as we pay dearly for not having planned adequately in the past for our current and future infrastructure needs.

On November 5th, we have an opportunity to invest in the future when voters go to the polls.  The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce encourages our citizens to invest in public education and our community college system. A successful economy requires a skilled workforce capable of operating and managing industries and businesses where we exercise a competitive advantage over other regions and states.  Our public education and community college system is the foundation of our economic development efforts.

Cornelius citizens will have an additional opportunity to shape their future as they consider bonds which will make road improvements, sidewalk enhancements, finance improvements to town parks, and redevelop the town center.

The recent toll debate has led to much second guessing and a look back on what we might have done differently.   I am reminded of a quote from Victor Hugo in Les Miserables,”Nothing is more imminent than the impossible . . . what we must always foresee is the unforeseen.”

Let’s all hope looking back from the days ahead, we don’t regret the community and region we could have been simply because we didn’t take time to be informed and take advantage of our right to vote on election day.   Make an investment in our community and region and Vote Yes for the Bonds!    

Bill Russell

Bill Russell is the president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with approximately 1,000 business members in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and greater Lake Norman region. For more information on the Bonds visit www.VoteYesforBonds.com

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Listening Tour

Huntersville Commissioner Danny Phillips and Bill Russell meet with Doug Kropelnicki with A-1 Vacuum Solutions regarding Sam Furr Improvements

Huntersville Commissioner Danny Phillips and Bill Russell meet with Doug Kropelnicki with A-1 Vacuum Solutions regarding Sam Furr Improvements

A few weeks ago I was asked by Aaron Burns, a reporter for Lake Norman Publications, what sorts of skills are necessary to be a good Chamber President?  At first, my immediate response was the thought you needed to be able “bob and weave.”  Like the prize fighter, the blows come fast and furious and instinct takes over.

Businesses look to the chamber for a myriad of resources.  In times of plenty, it may be a chance to expand their contact base, building referrals and customers or sometimes just giving back to the community.  When times are challenging, such as they have been since 2007, businesses look to the chamber almost like an emergency room.

Local businesses look for programs and advice to help them market, staffing solutions, and financing through the tough times.  Chamber executives may not have the answers to complex operation problems, but we must be able to draw from resources that might be unavailable or simply not knowledgeable to the business owner or manager.

The ability to think quick, build cohesive partnerships, and support your business member is critical to the chamber executive. That said, perhaps no single skill is more important than communication. It goes without saying that boards look for a strong executive who can communicate the message of the chamber – whether speaking to groups, in front of the camera, or with a pen.

However, the Good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason and perhaps the most difficult skill to master – but the most important to implement – is the ability to listen!

Over the last few months I have had the privilege of meeting with many of our members.  Cornelius Commissioner John Bradford and Huntersville Commissioner Danny Phillips and I have made impromptu calls on many of our local businesses.

We have stopped in on retail businesses, healthcare agencies, restaurants, and attorneys.  We’ve called on businesses that have been challenged by signage constraints to those dealing transportation issues. Some have seen great improvement over 2011 while some are still just getting by.

Recently we’ve added Don Harrow, our new Cornelius EDC Director, to the calls in Cornelius and soon my visits will expand into Davidson.  The Chamber’s specific goal is to hear from as many of our existing members, as well as businesses who are not involved in our chamber family, how we can work better as a business association and make recommendations to our towns, which can make us a more viable business community.

As we enter this new year and with it many new opportunities, I am reminded of the words of former President Ronald Reagan from his second Inaugural Address (January 21, 1985).  Reagan said, “My friends, we live in a world that’s lit by lightning.  So much of it is changing and will change, but so much endures and transcends time.”

The introduction of social media has changed how we as chamber executives communicate with our members.  The Internet, much like lightning itself, has profoundly impacted our businesses and how we promote, represent, and serve you the member.

One thing that has not changed is listening to you and how we can best serve your business needs.  With it – our commitment to allow our words to speak boldly of our intentions and our actions to speak louder than the words.  Our commitment that will endure and transcend time.

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Langtree at the Lake – Our Rising Tide

Bill Russell speaking at Lake Norman Chamber Focus Friday

Last week, I was at a local restaurant in Huntersville when a Lake Norman Chamber member asked about Langtree at the Lake.  This particular individual was not able to attend the very informative Focus Friday session we held last month at the Chamber.    Anyone who drives past exit 31 off I-77  has seen the tremendous activity as the first phase of construction is under way for the mixed-use development.  This member understood that soon the North Meck -South Iredell area will see 300 luxury apartments as well as a 350,000 square foot Ethosphere building which would include a full service hotel.

The 14-story building (if approved) would also contain at least 14,000 square feet of much-needed meeting room space.  The project, an $800 million investment for R.L. West Properties, is expected to be an 8-10 year build out and will have a considerable retail footprint in our region.     This particular gentleman inquired if properties like Birkdale Village in Huntersville or Jetton Village in Cornelius would suffer with the introduction of Langtree at the Lake.  “Not at all,” I responded, “Langtree will be the perfect complement to our lake lifestyle and add an additional regional resource as Lake Norman emerges as a destination for the business and leisure traveler.

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins speaking about Langtree at the Lake

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins attended the Focus Friday and told the packed room of Lake Norman Chamber members, “I believe this development will be transformative and will have a very positive economic impact and provide an enhanced standard of living option for Mooresville and the Lake Norman region.”  Atkins continued, “It will serve as an anchor aligning Mooresville – South Iredell with our North Mecklenburg town partners, and help define our place in the greater Charlotte region.  I am very excited about the possibilities and opportunities a project of this magnitude could mean for all of us.”

Steve Welly, president of R.L West and Jerry Broadway, Executive Director of the Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Corporation echoed Mayor Atkins comments.     Broadway, using a lake analogy, told the Focus Friday attendees, “A rising tide lifts all boats…”  and reminded all of us that a project like Langtree at the Lake impacts all of us.  “I look at the Langtree project as a regional project, an element that creates a positive quality of life for everyone.”

Langtree at the Lake – a vision of the Howard family (Brad and Rick) – is a welcome sight indeed. Langtree is making a splash at Mooresville and that wave of energy and vitality will be felt on the shores of Mecklenburg, Lincoln, and Catawba.    Langtree, and other developments like it, are another reason the rising tide will lift our businesses and communities if we are brave enough to leave the safety of the shore.  We must invest in the unbridled opportunities that await us by working hard, working smart and working together.

Bill Russell, President

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

North Mecklenburg’s Night Out is a Huge Success

Cornelius Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant at the Huntersville Night Out

Local citizens turned out in mass in Huntersville at the National Night Out organized by the Huntersville Police Department.  Parking at Birkdale Village was scarce as parents attended with their children as they played games and sampled goodies from the vendors.  While Birkdale Village was packed, there was also a very good turn out in both Davidson and Cornelius as residents, at Roosevelt Wilson Park and Jetton Village respectively, had an opportunity to meet their public safety officers and find out more about safety awareness and crime prevention.

 National Night Out is billed as an event to give “Neighborhood Crime & Drugs” a going away party.  Our local Crime Stoppers Chapter had a presence at all three venues as they handed out literature on how to make our neighborhoods safer.  I was impressed by the community and business support of the events as local restaurants like The Brickhouse Tavern in Davidson, Alton’s Kitchen and Cocktails in Cornelius, and Chik-fil-A at Northcross provided much of the free food.

 Local civic organizations, health care providers, and businesses were also well represented in the family event.  While the sky remained overcast for much of the evening and actually dampened the tail end of the Cornelius event, the participants all enjoyed a great evening socializing with our local law enforcement, learning more about how we as citizens can work together to make a safer community, while generally having an awesome time.  A special thanks to all the local law enforcement officers and volunteers who made National Night Out such a success in all three communities!

On Thursday, October 18th, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will have our opportunity to formally say thank you with a salute to our public safety officers at an annual luncheon which recognizes the Public Safety Officer of the Year from each police and fire department as well as North Mecklenburg Rescue Squad and the Crime Stopper of the Year. 

Davidson Town Manager Leamon Brice with Crime Stopper President Tommy Davis

National Night Out is a great community event for the towns of the Lake Norman region.  Creating a “safe” community does not happen by accident.  We are fortunate to have dedicated public servants keeping a watchful eye on our communities – both those who are employed by the towns and those who volunteer.  Their commitment, hard work, and selfless service are what make our community a great place to live, work, and visit.

August 8, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Social Causes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Community Journey – Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of The Herald Newspaper (Lake Norman, NC)

The following column ran in the March 1, 2012 issue of The Herald Weekly celebrating the paper’s tenth anniversary.

Our Community Journey     
 
 

Bill Russell speaking to Tucker Mitchell at the 2007 Business Expo

Just over ten years ago, Tucker Mitchell, Editor and Associate Publisher with The Leader Newspaper met with me at the offices of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce to discuss a new business venture.  Mitchell was considering the creation of a newspaper which could capture the spirit of “community and place” he felt was lacking by the media covering North Mecklenburg at the time.

Sitting across from me as we enjoyed our coffee, he asked confidentially could the Town of Huntersville and its growing business community support such a venture.  “On its own,” I replied,  “probably not.  However, if you include the growth and potential in Cornelius and Davidson, absolutely.”   I am certain Tucker had already reached that conclusion before meeting with me and months later The Huntersville Herald was born.  Today, The Herald Weekly and its spinoff publications in Mountain Island Lake, Denver and Mooresville reach an estimated market of  56,000 people.

 In 2006, Mitchell was recognized as the Robert T. Cashion Business Person of the Year for his vision and investment in our Lake Norman communities. The creation of a regional newspaper tying our communities together was another step in our journey which began more than two decades ago with the founding of the Chamber.

Nine of the Lake Norman Chamber Chairmen 1987 to 1999

The Lake Norman Chamber, which is also celebrating a twenty-fifth anniversary this year, had its start as the North Mecklenburg Chamber.  Business leaders in the late 1980’s were frustrated with the lack of representation within the Mecklenburg County governance structure.  They also saw a need to create a sense of identity.  Business and elected leaders in the towns of Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville did not want to be “just” a suburb or bedroom community to Charlotte although each benefited greatly from its proximity to the Queen City. That sense of place, which had been lacking, took hold when water and sewer lines were extended to the lake.  The Chamber’s leadership pushed for representation on the county’s watershed committee and began actively participating in the community plans which led to the town’s land development codes impacting business and commerce.

In front of the main stage at the 1998 LakeFest

The Chamber organized a regional fall festival – NorthFest, which became LakeFest, and after a 10 year run it became simply too successful as we outgrew the Jetton Park facilities.  LakeFest galvanized our rapidly growing business and civic communities with numerous new neighborhoods and new families.       

While its full impact would not be felt for another decade, the Chamber pushed for equal distribution of hospitality taxes, hotel and prepared meals taxes, which now generate approximately $3.2 million of which $1.6 is returned to the North Mecklenburg towns.  The Chamber, in the first of two public-private partnerships, launched the creation of Visit Lake Norman which is responsible today for generating events totaling $19 million in FY2011 and 54,844 visitors at 72 events.  That visitors spending saved every household in Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville $315.91 last year in taxes it would otherwise have to pay in property taxes were it not for travel and tourism.

In the summer of 2002, the Lake Norman Chamber contracted with the economic development consultant firm of Leak-Goforth to create a strategic plan for primary job creation and a blueprint for economic development efforts in North Mecklenburg. The results of which was another successful partnership between the towns, the chamber, and the business community in the creation of today’s Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Corporation.

So what is the most significant contribution of the Chamber over 25 years?  I asked that question of one of the Chamber’s early founders and former Cornelius Town Mayor Gary Knox. His response – “Regionalism!” “We practiced regionalism when “regionalism” was just another word.  Our kids went to North Meck High in Huntersville. We might live in Cornelius, work in Huntersville, and go to church in Davidson,” said Knox.  “The Chamber was the thread that stitched together the fabric of our community and in everything we did – we did it recognizing we had to support each other and work together.”  

Lake Norman Chamber

Politics in the Park

 Lake Norman is a great place to live, work, and visit.  However, just as the generation of business and elected leaders worked to build a solid foundation for our success, we still have ways to go before we rest.    We need more classroom space, employment opportunities for our citizens, and lake access for public swimming.  North Mecklenburg must have a magistrate, improved transportation infrastructure, and a balanced tax structure between business and commerce and our residential tax base.

 This year marks a celebration in the life of a community newspaper and a regional chamber of commerce.  It also serves as a daily reminder that the only limitations we have – are those we impose upon ourselves.  
 
W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE IOM
President & CEO
 
Bill Russell is the President & CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with approximately 900 members serving the business community of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and the greater Lake Norman region.

March 22, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment