Russell’s Ramblings

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

The Politics of Business

Russell thoughts 1Tip O’Neil, the 55th Speaker of the House and perhaps one of the most influential members of the United States Congress once said, “All politics is local.” He coined the phrase in a 1992 Congressional campaign running against an attorney who was heavily financed with out of state campaign contributions. What O’Neil was referring to was the principles that a politician’s success is directly linked to his or her ability to understand fully and influence the issues of their constituents.

The last few weeks and the week ahead will see a flurry of campaigning for local office and school board by both incumbents wishing to hold onto their seats and newcomers looking for an opportunity to serve. This year’s town boards are quite competitive with perhaps the most ever seeking an opportunity to represent their community.

The last local election could have been seen as a referendum on I-77 as tolls at Lake Norman figured prominently into the debate. There is no question that transportation – whether they are state roads or under local control – are critical in the minds of voters.

The Chamber has aggressively advocated for the cancellation of the Cintra Contract and moving forward with general purpose lanes since we adopted a Resolution calling for that action in June of 2015.

At a recent trip to my dentist, he pointed out I-77 has significantly impacted his business as they almost daily have to shuffle appointments from patients who are caught in traffic. Those of course are  patients who choose to reschedule!Reagan

This election cycle, voters in Mecklenburg County will decide the fate of a $922 million Charlotte Mecklenburg School Bond. As I write this article, your Chamber Board has not taken a position on the Bonds and may not.

As business leaders, we understand that education – public and private – is the foundation of our economic and business development. Our schools provide our workforce and the future generation which will inherit our communities tomorrow.

One of my favorite politicians of all time was Ronald Reagan. I met Reagan when I was National President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).

It is well documented that Speaker O’Neil and President Reagan were constantly at odds. O’Neil said Reagan was the most ignorant man who ever occupied the White House and “a cheerleader for selfishness.” In his memoirs, the Speaker was asked about the attacks on the President and how the two seemed to remain friends. O’Neil commented, “Before 6:00 pm it’s all politics.”

Reagan himself once quipped, “If you’re afraid of the future, then get out of the way, stand aside. The people of this country are ready to move again.”

Our economy seems to be doing quite well and I believe our citizens are ready to get moving again. The businesses of Lake Norman have looked to the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce for 30 years to help create jobs and provide an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and business development.

The bottom line is we as business, community, and elected leaders cannot go back and change any mistakes that were made yesterday but we can create a brand new beginning. A change that begins with us, one person and one community at a time. It is the charge we have from our past and the responsibility we owe to the future.

Bill Russell

This column was written originally for the October Lake Norman Chamber Splash Newsletter and appeared as a Guest Column in the October 4th issue issue of the Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper (Page 32), Photo taken at the 72nd Annual Meeting of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) Portland Oregon, June 1992.

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October 30, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Politics, Transportation & Road Improvement, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 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 BUSINESS BRIEFING: The Business of Tolls – Myths, Misinformation and Mayhem

tollsThe Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will hold two separate special business briefings on Tuesday August 11th and Tuesday August 18th from 6:30 to 8 pm at The Galway Hooker Irish Pub located at 17044 Kenton Dr. in Cornelius. While the chamber of commerce would like to encourage local business owners and managers to attend, the special business briefings are open to the public. Chamber leaders will be joined by Mecklenburg County Board Commissioner Jim Puckett as they cite the business and economic implications of the proposed Toll Lane plan on the Lake Norman economy.

The Chamber initially took a firm stance that the widening of I-77 from exit 36 to just below exit 23 was critical to the overall economic health of the region. Bill Russell, president of the chamber and an ex-officio board member of the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission, points out that local elected and business leaders were presented with the option of widening I-77 through tolling or waiting 20 years or more for the project to be funded with general purpose lanes.  “We did not think putting off relief for 20 years was an option,” he said.  “However, it would now seem the proposed HOT Lanes will not relieve congestion – it actually guarantees it!”

Past Chamber Chair John Hettwer agrees, “Like many business owners in the last few years, I was battling through the recession, building my business, and confident our elected leadership was looking out for all of us.  Unfortunately, they were being given misleading information by the NCDOT, and we now find ourselves in a fight for the economic and business vitality of our region.”

Jim Puckett, Mecklenburg County Commissioner for District #1 has been a longtime opponent of the toll project.  “I- 77 is the lifeline of North Mecklenburg and South Iredell counties and the current design and tolling plans will have a devastating impact on the future of our region and economic development going forward.  With the current ill-conceived plan contracted to last 50 years NOW is the time for the business community to push for a better solution. “

Chamber leaders hope to use the meetings to further educate businesses and citizens on the impact of tolling at the lake and plans to move forward.  Russell said he hopes citizens and business owners will attend one of the two meetings and encourage their friends and neighbors to attend. “I know a great many elected leaders, including our governor, say it’s far too late to stop this project now.  Perhaps so, but on the other hand it’s simply never too late to do the right thing.”

August 11, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment