Russell’s Ramblings

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

A regional approach to business

Southwire Grand Opening

Southwire Grand Opening

A few weeks ago, community and business leaders welcomed Southwire, North America’s largest cable producer to Lake Norman when they purchased ABB located in Huntersville.  Southwire acquired the 240,000 square-foot, 3-year-old plant which features state-of-the-art technology for producing high-voltage underground transmission cables. The company plans to add another 20 employees to the 65-member staff at the facility within the next two years.

While I have toured the plant on a couple of occasions, I enjoyed another trip around the facility marveling at the advanced technology required to produce the high voltage cable. A real treat is gazing out of an observation window at the top of the 430’ tower onto the Lake Norman landscape with the Charlotte skyljne in the horizon.

A number of Chamber Board members, both past and present, attended the announcement and we talked about the seed that was planted more than a decade ago.  At a Chamber Board retreat in 1999, we discussed the need to create both a travel and tourism and economic development organization that could bring events and jobs to the region.

As more in-depth discussion ensued, we realized partnering with the three North Mecklenburg towns was the best opportunity to bring the vision to reality. Shortly thereafter, Visit Lake Norman was created followed by the Lake Norman Economic Development Corporation.  The Chamber commissioned a land use study in 2002 with Leake Goforth which detailed potential locations for commercial, industrial, and retail tracts allowing our towns to diversify the tax base and bring primary jobs to the region.

Charlotte skyline from Southwire

Charlotte skyline from the 430′ Southwire tower

It was not the first time the chamber collaborated with the towns in such a manner. In early 1997, chamber leaders pushed NC DOT for an access management study to widen NC Hwy 73 from Lincoln County to Concord. Such a study over three counties and several municipalities had never been undertaken before and were initially dismissed by DOT.

However, the three chambers of commerce – Cabarrus, Lincoln County, and Lake Norman – worked together with our towns to create what is known today as the NC Hwy 73 Council of Planning with the end result to widen and improve Hwy 73. It is an example of a Public-Private Partnership that is working for our region.

This month at our October 16th Focus Friday, we will look back on the formation of the Hwy 73 COP and discuss planned developments and improvements for the corridor.

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, “For all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”

Our region faces great challenges and with it awesome possibilities.  When the story of tomorrow is written, it will not be what could have been, but what we accomplished by working hard, working smart, and working together.

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September 30, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historic Hugh Torance House & Store in Huntersville Completes Restoration

The Board of Directors of the Hugh Torance House & Store on Gilead Road in Huntersville are proud to announce completion of repairs funded by a Special Projects Grant from the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution.

Hugh Torance House & Store

Hugh Torance House & Store

This grant was sponsored by the local Alexandriana Chapter of the NSDAR. The Hugh Torance House & Store is one of the few remaining 18th century structures in Mecklenburg County and is the oldest standing store in North Carolina.  The structure was built by Hugh Torance, a Revolutionary War veteran and dates to the 1770’s. Hugh Torance (1743-1816) immigrated to the American colonies from Ireland in 1763 and came to Mecklenburg County in the 1770’s. He became a very successful merchant and planter. Hugh’s son, James Torance, opened a store in the original log portion of the house in 1805. The “Torance Store” was an integral part of Mecklenburg County backcountry society. It is located at 8231 Gilead Road in Huntersville.

The Hugh Torance House & Store was salvaged and restored in the 1980’s by a group of historic-minded local citizens. Today it is a small non-profit 501(c)3 organization run entirely by volunteers. It is open to the public and serves as an educational field trip for school tours, scouts, senior groups and historical and genealogical associations.Torance Work Sign (3)

As a result of a recent inspection by Andrew Roby General Contractors, it was discovered that structural support repairs (due to failure of the main support beam and piers) were needed along with chimney flashing, floor repairs and electrical wiring repairs. Thanks to the DAR Special Projects Grant, Andrew Roby General Contractors has now completed all of this work and went above and beyond their scope of service to provide historically sensitive repairs that will keep this important historic landmark open to the public far into the future.

Tour of Special Needs Adults

Tour of Special Needs Adults

Bill Russell, Chairman of the Board said the Board is extremely grateful to Andrew Roby General Contractors for their excellent work and to the Alexandriana Chapter of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, for their financial support for this project.  “I recently had the opportunity to lead a tour of special needs adults through the home, after the repair work was completed, and they were awestruck by their return to a simpler colonial time in our history.  We simply could not have had the house ready without the support of the DAR and the Town of Huntersville who continue their strong support of our history and cultural heritage,” said Russell.

For more information about the store, visit the website at www.hughtorancehouseandstore.com.  Group Tours are available by calling Bill Russell at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce at 704-892-1922.

January 7, 2015 Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History, Lake Norman / North Mecklenburg History | , , , , , | 1 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

Cub Scout Pack #19 Visits Historic Hugh Torrance House and Store

Torance House Bears October 2013 013

Pack 19, Cub Scouts visited the Hugh Torrance House and Store in Huntersville to gain knowledge and insight into the history of the north Mecklenburg Community. The store, located at 8231 Gilead Road, is North Carolina’s oldest standing store and residence and one of Mecklenburg County’s few surviving 18th century structures.  The tour of the historic Huntersville home was led by Torrance Board Chairman and Lake Norman Chamber President Bill Russell.  The pack, whose sponsor is Huntersville Presbyterian Church, is comprised of third graders.  The unit was established in 1945.  Anyone wishing more information about the historic attraction, or wish to coordinate a group tour, contact Bill Russell at 704-892-1922 or e-mail russell@lakenorman.org.

October 28, 2013 Posted by | Lake Norman / North Mecklenburg History | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maintaining healthy relationships – at home and the workplace

Russell play (Ray Bans)Since the beginning of time, people have wrestled with their ability to create and maintain healthy relationships.  Some of us have great personal relationships but have difficulty building strong ties in our professional lives.  Others are champions in their professional field but struggle with balancing their affairs at home with family or close personal friends.  Regardless of who we are or what we do, the one constant is we all have to deal with other people and to be truly successful in any endeavor we must be masters at the ability to manage and maintain healthy relationships.

Not long ago, I heard a preacher telling the story of a castaway who was stranded on an island all by himself for two decades.  As the old man gathered up his belongings he had collected over his long stay, the captain of the rescuing vessel remarked at the three buildings on the island.  “If you were the only one on the island all these years, why are there three different structures?” inquired the ship captain.  “Well,” began the old man.  “The first hut was the house I built for myself.  Then I realized I must build a church to thank the Lord for my deliverance from the sea.”

The ship captain waited patiently for the explanation for the third building.  Seeing none forthcoming, he asked, “What’s the purpose of the third structure?”  The old man looked dejected, shrugged his shoulders a bit, and said, “To be completely honest, things were going great for a while.  But one day the congregation had a fight and I just left and built a new place.”

Everyone in the church howled with laughter at the preacher’s story but deep down many of us knew his point.  We see strife in relationships played out every day in athletics, politics, offices, and our home.  Someone usually comes out on top and someone else loses.  Usually the issue is not so much the loss, but how they feel they were treated in losing.

In business or any other field, the single most important element of success is learning how to get along with people.  Outstanding leaders learn to develop great relationships.  We are all treated well on the way up but how will we be treated on the way down?  That is the true measurement of how good we are in dealing with people.shore

James MacGreggor Burns once said, “In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, or princes like princes, but all persons like persons.”

Like the old castaway, we can move from relationship to relationship, turning our back and burning bridges, or we can recruit and nurture our associations with others.  At the end of the day, it is not the machinery, the facility, or the strategy that will allow for our success – it is the people who make it possible.

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Widening I-77 – Our Adventures in Wonderland

Pic 2 Presidents article I-77You may recall Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  In this childhood classic, Alice chases a white rabbit and inadvertently falls into a hole and experiences a world where nothing is quite what it seems.  As a chamber executive, I strive to stay informed on policy matters.  However, when I attend meetings regarding land use and transportation, I often feel like Alice, in a world where nothing is quite what it should be.

Sometimes it seems road improvement projects simply defy common sense.  Placing concrete medians in front of businesses, like those on Holly Point Drive in Huntersville may indeed expedite vehicular travel.  However, these same medians severely limit access to and from businesses – and harm the businesses.  Keep in mind those businesses create sales tax dollars and property taxes that help to pay for road improvements. More importantly these businesses also provide jobs.  Unfortunately, the vitality of business does not seem to be a top priority for transportation planners.

Perhaps there in no greater transportation issue for the Lake Norman region than the widening of I-77. The current plan utilizes HOT (High Occupancy Toll) or managed lanes to accomplish this.  Critics suggest we need to build general purpose lanes instead and they point to Atlanta as an example where tolls have not been as successful as transportation leaders hoped.

I have attended meetings of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission (LNTC) and Widen 77 where both sides are presented.  As a member of the LNTC, we have studied HOT lanes for more than two years.  Many of us on the LNTC, believe with our limited transportation dollars, HOT lanes might be our only recourse to see additional lanes on I-77 for many years.  But I do agree with some of the points made by Widen I-77.   In “Alice in Wonderland”, there is the classic line, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.”   In regard to I-77 improvements, once done – it will not be undone. Unlike Alice’s Wonderland,  in our case, not just any road will do.

This month, the Chamber will host a Focus Friday on I-77 (Friday, Feb 22 at 8:30 am).  We will hear from Bill Thunberg of the LNTC and Kurt Nass with Widen I-77.  We also hope to line up a representative from the NC Department of Transportation.  It will not be the last word on the subject but perhaps it will continue to bring clarity to a controversial subject: HOT Lanes or General Purpose Lanes.

With substantially more road improvement projects than revenue and an Equity Formula that has proven to be quite inequitable – NC DOT may still have their own version of the “Elusive Cheshire Cat” from Carroll’s novel.

Elected officials, community members, and business leaders in our region have formed a strong partnership and are developing a great vision and plan for the future.  I am quite confident working together, we will create a transportation strategy for our future – whether that is the proposed P3 partnership (HOT Lanes) or General Purpose Lanes.

We are on a road to unbridled opportunities where our only limitations are those we impose upon ourselves.  We will succeed because we understand that the Lake Norman region is our community and this community means business.  Please join us this Friday (Feb 22) for Focus Friday from 8:30 – 10:00 am at the Chamber and learn for yourself which road will do.

Focus Friday is sponsored by DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net.

 

 

February 17, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , , | 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

Corporate Executives Examine Workplace Learning

Lake Norman corporate executives received a briefing this month from representatives of the North Carolina Department of Labor and Central Piedmont Community College. The Executive RoundTable, sponsored by the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Commission, brought together approximately 24 area executives.

Jerry Broadway – Lake Norman EDC, Pamela McGimpsey, Apprenticeship Consultant with NCDOL, Mike McGee, with CPCC’s Corporate Learning Center, and Bill Russell with the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

Jerry Broadway – Lake Norman EDC, Pamela McGimpsey, Apprenticeship Consultant with NCDOL, Mike McGee, with CPCC’s Corporate Learning Center, and Bill Russell with the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

Mike McGee, with CPCC’s Corporate Learning Center spoke about Apprenticeship Charlotte and specifically what employers can do to create a talent pipeline of productive employees.  Joining McGee was Pamela McGimpsey, Apprenticeship Consultant with NCDOL. McGimpsey pointed out that the Apprentice and Training Bureau works to promote the development, registration and completion of apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs providing N.C. employers with quality trained and highly skilled workers.

Michael Arcidiacono, Manufacturing Manager for Max Daetwyler Corporation, was a participant in the forum. Daetwyler, a Huntersville firm, has a very active and recognized apprenticeship program. Arcidiacono told those in attendance, “At Daetwyler, our goal is to meet our customer’s needs and keep our employees’ ahead of the technology curve. Skilled individuals are hard to find to fit specific needs. Apprenticeship2000 allows us to grow an experienced workforce from within. Our company culture, standards and ideals are all part of the training. The program not only teaches our apprentices to be responsible students and employees but excellent stewards for the program. Graduates in their respective fields have the ability to design, machine, document and assemble parts on demand.”

Arcidiacono added, “ This makes each person and the company much more flexible to changes in trends and ever changing market conditions. The apprenticeship program allows us the time to expose our employees to every facet of our business so they can be useful in any area and they understand every aspect of how to meet the customers’ requirements.”

Earth Fare, located at 14021 Boren Street in Huntersville, was the Breakfast Sponsor of the event. For more information and the presentation itself, visit the Lake Norman Chamber’s website at www.lakenormanchamber.org.

Additional Links

Apprenticeship Brochure

Veterans Brochure

December 21, 2012 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