Russell’s Ramblings

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

The Millennial Generation – Shaping the Marketplace and Workforce

millenials_splashQuickly taking their place in the workplace is a new generation of workers – The Millennials.  Born between 1977 and 1998, approximately 75 million Americans can be identified as a Millennial. This demographic, representing, one-third the total U.S. population in 2013, is changing the way companies brand products and having major impacts on management and marketing.

Recently I was listening to a program on one of the Charlotte radio stations as they interviewed an authority on the Millennial Generation.  Large food retailers such as McDonalds are already taking note of the buying power this generation represents. It was pointed out this group was much less likely to be swayed by traditional brands, instead relying on recommendations from close friends.

This generation is the first to have access to the Internet during their formative years.  They have grown up with the world at their fingertips in an age of instantaneous information.  They are also the generation that will shape our economy for the next few decades.

Millennials are not just connected via social networks, they value the role they play in the community.  A 2013 poll found that this group, also known as “Generation Y”, was more open minded than their parents on controversial topics and are very civic minded.

Last fall, the Chamber created the Lake Norman Young Professionals, a program specifically for young people ages 18 to 39 inclusively. The group is composed of chamber members or employees of chamber members who meet monthly to network, enrich their personal and leadership skills through informative programs, and work together on community projects.

They utilize Face Book and a website to organize meetings and provide an important resource as we engage this new generation into our local communities and the region.

2015 Chamber Chair Mike Russell, Terrii Manning - CPCC, Bill Russell - LKN Chamber, with Lauren Crawley, Katie Jones, and Marley Caddell from Belk dept Stores. —

2015 Chamber Chair Mike Russell, Terrii Manning – CPCC, Bill Russell – Lake Norman Chamber, with Lauren Crawley, Katie Jones, and Marley Caddell from Belk dept Stores. —

Last week, the Chamber examined the millennial generation more closely at a PowerLuncheon at River Run Country Club. Terri Manning, the Associate Vice President for Information Technology and Research Services at Central Piedmont Community College, led the discussion. The program was Presented by Belk Department Stores.

Manning spoke about the societal influences on generations as well as the strengths and talents of generations working today.  She pointed out that this is not your parent’s workforce as expectations have changed.  Perhaps the most important questions is how do we, as business owners, managers, and supervisors motivate and reward today’s new workforce?

Dr. Manning’s presentation is available by visiting the Chamber’s website.  You can find her PowerPoint here – Examining the Impact of the Millennial Generation.  You can also view this document from Dr. Manning – 14 Rules of the New Workplace That Millennials Need to Master.

No generation has been more influenced by technology and the computer than the millennials.  These new entrepreneurs are wired for success and very soon, if not already, America will feel the power of her young people.

Bill Russell


August 28, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , , | 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

Life’s Great Lessons – #1 It’s the little things

Yesterday when I arrived at the Chamber, I found my chairs moved out of the way in the office, indicating that our cleaners had been in vacuuming the floors and tidying up the office over the weekend. I spent a little bit of time deleting emails and transferring files before making a mad dash home to watch the afternoon college bowl games.  I hoped for a West Virginia win as I have a great many close friends with a strong WVU allegiance.

I’m not going to comment on the Clemson game other than to say, if there is a hell where mankind spends eternity languishing for their transgressions – for me it would be in Death Valley (SC) watching Clemson have their way on a football field, listening to the Tiger Rag droning on and on to the screaming delight, and might I add, downright annoying orange clad fans. Perhaps if I have done something particularly heinous in my lifetime, I might have to succumb to being dressed in orange pants and a purple shirt with a giant tiger paw – oh my!

As I sat here in the office, I peered over at the empty waste basket and recalled a story I heard many years ago. As the story goes, some young student is breezing through a pop quiz his high school teacher has presented. The student is flying through the quiz until he gets to the last question, “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?”  The student recalled he had seen the cleaning woman several times.  She was tall, dark-haired and in her fifties, but how could he possibly know her name?

The student handed in the paper, leaving the last question unanswered. However, before class recessed, another student inquired if the last question would actually count toward the test grade. “Absolutely,” said the teacher, adding, “In your careers you will meet many people. Everyone is unique and significant. They deserve your attention even if all you do is smile and ask how they are.Cleaner

It doesn’t take much time out of the day to thank those who help you along the way. Quite a few serve in thankless jobs but make our task easier. Remembering the story, I smiled thinking I needed to remember in 2015 to slow down and keep in mind – it’s the little things.

By the way, thank you Angelo and Anne with Sir Cleans a Lot. You may be rarely thanked but your service never goes unnoticed – or appreciated!

Happy New Year!

December 30, 2014 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , | Leave a comment

New Hospital in Davidson Represents a Second Chance

The following article appeared as a “Letter to the Editor” in many Lake Norman regional publications the week of April 7, 2014.

Michael C. Tarwater, MHA Chief Executive Officer of Carolinas Healthcare System speaks at the Grand Opening of the new Davidson Hospital

Michael C. Tarwater, MHA Chief Executive Officer of Carolinas Healthcare System speaks at the Grand Opening of the new Davidson Hospital

This past week, community and business leaders received a firsthand look into the new Carolinas HealthCare System Behavioral Health Hospital in Davidson. Standing in the courtyard, I was struck by how much the new facility resembled a hotel, rather than a healthcare facility.

Our new behavioral health hospital was not without controversy as elected leaders and neighborhood opponents in Huntersville rejected the earlier concept. While the denial for a rezoning of the parcel was in essence based on “it just didn’t fit in”, I suspect the truth is many of those who opposed the idea of a behavioral health hospital gave into their fear of the unknown.

A large segment of our population simply do not know how to react to people with disabilities. Few of us understand the daily challenges facing those with disabilities and their family and caregivers.  Even more taboo in our society are those with “mental issues.”

Yet one in four, will at some point in their life, have a behavioral health issue.  It is a statistic that is both startling and undeniable. Still, we whisper at the dinner table about the neighbor down the street or the colleague at work, and assume it will never be someone in our family – unfortunately, one day, it may be.

The tragedy of last week’s shooting at Fort Hood brings the issue of mental illness to the forefront. The bigger question is – could it have been prevented?  Our local communities know all too well the heartache of teenage depression and suicide.

Not long ago, I ran across an article that the Rev. Billy Graham wrote.  In it, Rev. Graham says, “If God is in control of everything, why do bad things happen to us?  I’d like to believe in God but I just can’t understand this.”

Graham answers that he’s been asked a hundred times why evil is allowed to take place. He responds, “I have to tell you honestly that I do not know the answer – not fully.” He goes on to point out that in all our challenges, God is with us and in the end, we’ll get through it – together.

Carol Lovin, Executive Vice President, Planning & Communications and President, CHS Management Company. I have known Carol since her strong support of the Chamber and community with Northeast Medical Center.

Carol Lovin, Executive Vice President, Planning & Communications and President, CHS Management Company. I have known Carol since her strong support of the Chamber and community with Northeast Medical Center.

At the opening of the hospital, we heard administrators and healthcare officials share their plans for the new facility and the strides we were making in mental health.  The most poignant comments though came from the mother of a child who battled healthcare issues and a young lady who discussed her own challenges.

She said this hospital represented a second chance. Receiving quality care, she overcame depression and anxiety and today is making a significant contribution to our community both as a parent and a citizen.

We still have a ways to go as a community to fully understand the challenges facing those with disabilities.  As business and community leaders, we need to ensure Building Codes are written which make it easier for those with disabilities to have access to the same resources we often take for granted.

In an age where we are striving to embrace diversity, we must overcome our fear of those with behavioral health issues.  As Reverend Graham pointed out, we may not always understand why bad things happen to good people, but how we react to those bad things reveals our very character as a people.

The new hospital in Davidson represents second chances and new beginnings for many in our region. It is also a second chance for our community.  After giving into our fear of the unknown and rejecting the facility the first time out, this time – we got it right.

Bill Russell
Huntersville, NC

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

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Social Causes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Angels in our midst

The following article was written exclusively for The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper and printed in the  January 22, 2014 edition.

As president of the Lake Norman Chamber, I cannot adequately express how proud I am of the people from our community who step up to the plate and make this region a great place to live, work, and visit. Like the lake itself, these selfless acts send ripples across the face of our community and change lives in its wake.  Last weekend, nearly 200 business and elected leaders packed The Peninsula Club to attend the Chamber’s Annual Meeting.  It was a reflection of the past year as outgoing Board Chair Wendy Moran shared the accomplishments of our chamber and recognized key community leaders and volunteers.

Randy Marion of Randy Marion Automotive receives the Lake Norman Chamber Cashion Business Person of the Year.  Pictured are: Chamber President Bill Russell, Chamber Board Chair Wendy Moran, Randy Marion, and Bobby Cashion.  Photo courtesy of Deborah Young Studio.

Randy Marion of Randy Marion Automotive receives the Lake Norman Chamber Cashion Business Person of the Year. Pictured are: Chamber President Bill Russell, Chamber Board Chair Wendy Moran, Randy Marion, and Bobby Cashion. Photo courtesy of Deborah Young Studio.

Randy Marion was selected the Business Person of the Year. His dealership excelled in 2013 and Marion was recognized nationally as the #1 Business Elite Dealer in the nation.  Jim Engel, president and CEO of Aquesta Bank, was acknowledged with the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award.  In addition to their business success, Marion and Engel have contributed greatly to their communities.  Each has been recognized by the March of Dimes for outstanding leadership. Marion is also involved with the Mooresville Soup Kitchen, the Piedmont Council of Boy Scouts, and currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Lake Norman Regional Medical Center. Engel is a strong supporter of Big Day at the Lake, the Ada Jenkins Center, the Dove House and the American Red Cross.

While the Chamber’s gala was a time to reflect and celebrate, there were few dry eyes in the crowd when the staff of Business Today was awarded the Distinguished Service Award.  Literally fighting for his life, Business Today founder Dave Yochum spent half of 2013 facing a series of health challenges.  Dave is not only the hands-on leader of two newspapers, he is the founder of Big Day at the Lake and the Top Women in Business program.  During the past year, when Dave was unable to lead the projects himself, the staff of Business Today, as well as a number of community volunteers, made sure those programs met and exceeded the bar of success that Dave set in prior years.

One of our chamber members approached me with tears in her eyes. She hugged me and thanked the chamber for reminding her why she and her husband chose the Lake Norman region to live. Her comments and those just like hers that I get to hear on a weekly basis serve as a constant reminder of the impact we all make working together in a common cause. As the presentation of awards concluded, the Duke Citizenship and Service Award, was presented to Angels of ’97, a completely volunteer non-profit serving the entire north Mecklenburg area.

It was created by former Huntersville Town Commissioner Charles Guignard, shortly after the death of two high school students, who perished in a tragic auto accident in 1995.  To date, the organization has provided 152 scholarships to local high school students raising a little over $500,000. Angels of ’97 now offers a ministry group to console families who have lost children.  They hold monthly meetings for family members to share, reflect, and support one another.

Charles Guignard, founder of Angels of ’97, receives the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award. Pictured are Chamber President Bill Russell, Chamber Board Chair Wendy Moran, Charles Guignard, NC House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Tim Gause.  Photo courtesy of Deborah Young Studio.

Charles Guignard, founder of Angels of ’97, receives the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award. Pictured are Chamber President Bill Russell, Chamber Board Chair Wendy Moran, Charles Guignard, NC House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Tim Gause. Photo courtesy of Deborah Young Studio.

Like the angels they honor, these volunteers serve up spaghetti dinners for scholarships. They care for those who need comfort and consolation, lending a helping hand when times are tough. However, you will not recognize them by the wings on their back but by the smiles on their face and the love in their hearts. They are all God’s gift and a reminder, as a community – our Lake Norman community, we are never truly alone.

Bill Russell

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

January 28, 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

October 24, 2013 Posted by | 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

Barium Springs – A promise of hope

The article below appears in the August issue of Cornelius Life Magazine.

Isn’t it amazing in this fast paced world of smart phones, laptops, Facebook, and texting, it’s the simplest of things that teach us what’s really important in life. I was reminded of that by a teenager whose words made my heart tremble and brought tears to my eyes.

As the president of the chamber, I am keenly aware that while we are blessed to live in the Lake Norman region, there are still many in our community that need a helping hand. The generosity of our residents is nothing short of spectacular as we give freely of our time, talents and financial resources from Habitat Homes for single parents to Big Day at the Lake.

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins with Bill Russell at Barium Springs Luncheon

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins with Bill Russell at Barium Springs Luncheon


A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraiser for Barium Springs at The Cove Church in Mooresville.  Surrounded by approximately 400 other community and business leaders, we networked and discussed the issues of the day ranging from taxation to tolls waiting on the program to begin.  

Then the lights dimmed and I heard those words, those chilling words which seared into my soul.  I looked into the eyes which stared back into mine and the face of innocence weathered by years of abuse and neglect.  I listened as Barium Springs volunteers and school officials shared their own particular stories. Barium Springs provides an array of services for children, families and individuals throughout our state.  Their main objectives are to provide a safe home through residential homes and foster care; to heal the hurt for children who are troubled, abused or neglected; and to encourage a healthy start through educational and prevention programs.

I grew up with two parents who loved their children.  Mom and dad were both very active in the Rock Hill (SC) community serving in civic organizations like the Jaycees, Kiwanis, United Way, Red Cross and our church.  Dad worked with other kids as a commissioner of Little League Baseball and ironically daddy led an effort to create a Boys Home for kids who found themselves in need of mentoring and guidance.

To this day, when I call my mom she always ends the conversation telling me “I love you.”  And her words still warmly embrace me just as they did in my youth when she tucked me into bed each night.  Those words come harder for dad.  It’s his actions which speak louder than the words as we enjoy a Saturday afternoon football game together or a horseback ride through the woods on our family farm.

I listened that May day as teenagers told their stories of neglect.  Parents who sometimes never got out of bed, their minds and bodies wracked by years of substance abuse, leaving a trail of victims in their wake – among them their children.  Kids that before Barium Springs, never had a bed to sleep in or a pillow to rest their head. 

As I watched a short video, a young man appeared on the screen.  He spoke of the years of abuse at the hands of his father.  But it was the eyes which touched my heart. The pain and anguish that no child should ever have to endure.  Barium Springs has turned his life around and today he is a good student, involved in athletics, with a chance for a scholarship and a bright hope for the future.




Then he said it, those words which still bring tears to my eyes.  The first time they escaped his lips, I felt my eyes well up and I hoped those at my table wouldn’t see me weep.   At that moment in time, he was not speaking to a camera or the other 400 people in the room.  He was speaking to me when he said, “I want to grow up and be the daddy my father wasn’t.”

No one can undo the hurt or the scars they leave.  Memories may linger, but with a new day comes a promise of hope. The volunteers and contributors to Barium Springs provide that hope through support and unconditional love…and perhaps the chance to be a parent that their mother or father wasn’t.  

ill Russell

Bill Russell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.  For information about Barium Springs, to set up a tour of their campus, or make a contribution call 704-872-4157 or visit

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Personal, Social Causes | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Created to bring energy to the region – Lake Norman has powered a community

SailboatThis summer, celebrations are ongoing designating the fifty-year history of Lake Norman.  The first ground breaking for Lake Norman took place in 1959. It took four years to complete the Cowan’s Ford Dam and another two years to fill the lake.  But the story of Lake Norman actually began much earlier with the Native Americans.

     The Catawba Indians were the first to settle in our region. They referred to the Catawba River as “The Great River.” Years later, when early European settlers moved to the area, they brought diseases to which the native Indians had no resistance. These diseases nearly wiped out the entire Catawba Tribe. Once numbering 5,000, the Catawbas soon dwindled to less than 400 people. Later, early Colonists slowed the advance of General Cornwallis on grounds surrounding Cowan’s Ford, laying the foundation for later victories that helped gained America her victory from the British Crown.

     In the early 1890’s, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant began transmitting power from Niagara Falls to nearby Buffalo, NY. Local tobacco magnate James B. Duke and his brother Ben took note that electric power could be the key to their future if they could only harness the power of the Catawba River so they began to buy up land along the Catawba River basin. 

     About that time, the Duke brothers were introduced to Dr. W. Gill Wylie and a young engineer named William Lee.  Wylie and the Duke brothers came together to form the Catawba Power Company.  One can only imagine the excitement as Wylie, Lee, and the Dukes planned to bring electric power to our region.  Huddled around the table in their board room, could they have possibly envisioned what their collective dream would mean to the lake communities we know today?

     The creation of Lake Norman was not without sacrifice as homes, farms, and entire towns would be flooded to make way for the lake.  The Village of Long Island, once a thriving textile town with three mills, would end up under water as would countless other businesses and structures including the old Hwy 150 bridge.

     In 1957, Bill Lee (the son of William S. Lee) began the feasibility study for what would become Duke Energy Company’s final dam on the Catawba River.  This dam would create the largest lake in the Carolinas – our Lake Norman.

     Now, more than a hundred years later, entrepreneurs are still huddled around tables planning their future.  Some with just a dream and a Visa card as they discuss creating a new business. And like their counterparts of a hundred years ago, sacrifices must inevitably be made along the way.

     Corporations are moving to the lake.  Our proximity to Charlotte, transportation infrastructure, and skilled workforce make the area a great place to do business. But make no mistake – it’s the lake that lures them here.  Lake Norman is not just a majestic body of water – it’s a lifestyle like no other.Horizon

     The lake is more than 520 miles of shoreline covering 32,500 acres.  It is the spirit of the Catawba Indians who settled here first and who recognized then, that God had already been here.  It’s the colonial settlers who stood up to tyranny providing “a hornet’s nest” of rebellion.  It’s the dreams that spoke boldly of intentions and the actions which were bigger than the dreams.

     What began as a vision to power a business has become an energy that surges through time, touching lives, and leaving a legacy of leadership.  Lake Norman was created to bring energy to the Charlotte region and. fifty years later, its wake has powered a community.    


W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE IOM


Bill Russell is the President & CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with 950 business members serving the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and greater Lake Norman region. For more information on the history of Lake Norman, check out Lake Norman Reflections by Bill and Diana Gleasner.



July 11, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Lake Norman / North Mecklenburg History | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great leaders know when to follow

Russell Press compressedSince 1997, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has facilitated a leadership program which has graduated just over 300 alumni. While many of those who participate in the group may already be emerging as business and community leaders, Leadership Lake Norman further cultivates their business and professional skills as well as enhances their community awareness.

During an overnight retreat held at Bethelwoods (York County, SC) last fall, the group participated in team building exercises which required creative solutions to the challenges facing the group. For the last 16 years, I have been fortunate to serve as an observer as Class XVI took part in an exercise called the “Helium Stick.”

The task seemed deceptively simple as our group lined up in two rows facing each other and had to work together to lower a stick to the ground.  In this case a thin tent pole using only their fingers.  The catch was each person’s finger had to be in contact with the “helium stick” at all times.Leadership Team Building compressed

All this sounds very easy, but particularly in the early stages of the exercise, the stick has the strange habit of mysteriously rising up rather than the intended task of be lowered.

After the exercise is over, the participants are asked to share their experience and observations, specifically what happened? Why did it happen?  What changes did the group have to make to accomplish the task, and what was the take away from the activity?

I listened in as our leadership participants talked about the factors which led their eventual success: focus, patience, adjusting to each other’s strengths, heights, and most of all communicating with each other.  In this particular exercise, the group quickly learned that even the most concise and simple tasks can quickly go awry. In the workplace (and life!) great leaders must understand the proper place and time to step aside and let others lead.

I listened intently as members of last year’s program discussed what they were feeling and their own realization that, “the best leaders know when to follow and they never give up.  Perhaps most importantly, they encourage those in the group to develop their skills and lead. “Our facilitator pointed out that sometimes, the end results of our own personal and business relationships are the opposite of what we were intending.

Helium 2 cThe key is to find the balance in common goals.  The fact that everyone on your team has a clear vision of the objective is not enough, you must be able to react to a situation, using each other’s strengths, and in some cases step back and let others lead to achieve your goal.

Rev. Halford E. Luccock reminded us, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.”

Applications for the 20013-2014 session of Leadership Lake Norman will be available via the Chamber’s website and by calling the Lake Norman Chamber at 704-892-1922 June 15.

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment