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.

September 30, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | 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

What Can Still Be

Wouldn’t it be nice to pick up a paper and read only pleasant headlines for a change? The news in Washington this week is that we have retired the national debt, unemployment in North Carolina has sunk to it’s lowest levels since 2006, and a group hug broke out in the streets of Baghdad. Unfortunately that’s not the headlines we read.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the annual difference between what our federal government collects in tax revenue and what it spends will be $1.3 trillion this fiscal year alone. Combat troops are leaving Iraq, however, we are still a stretch from a tension free region. Closer to home, North Carolina’s unemployment rate dipped to 9.6% in July and has declined for five consecutive months but still remains higher than the national average of 9.5%.

Bill Russell, Jerry Broadway, Sally Ashworth, N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, and NC Rep. Thom Tillis

North Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco visited the Lake Norman region recently and reassured business and community leaders while we’re far from being out of the proverbial woods, families and businesses are relocating to North Carolina because they have faith in our regional economy. Crisco went further and pointed to the local expansions at Microban, Newell Rubbermaid, along with the new Davidson business incubator, the Project for Innovation, Energy and Sustainability (PiES). The incubator has announced four new start-ups and is a great example of regionalism that Secretary Crisco pointed to as a real success story. PiES is one of several collaborative efforts in the Lake Norman market bringing together the Town of Davidson, business leaders, CPCC, the Lake Norman Chamber, Lake Norman Regional EDC, and UNC Charlotte. PiES is the result of Kathleen Rose, a local economic development consultant, and the Town of Davidson coming together in a collaborative effort to offer green start-ups advice, technical assistance, and office space.

Sen. Richard Burr

Senator Burr, who was also visiting the Lake Norman region on the same afternoon, met with employees of Microban in Huntersville. The Senator was asked what is the most pressing need facing the American economy, and he was quick to point out “business” needs certainty when it comes to regulation and taxes; both of which fluctuate wildly at the whims of Congress. Senator Burr also took aim at the implementation of the new health care costs facing small business and Corporate America. It is estimated health care costs will rise 8.9%.(according to a survey of the National Business Group on Health) and many businesses are already freezing employment in anticipation of these costs.

Omar Khayyam in The Rubaiyat writes, “The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on: Nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back and cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”

As our community and business leaders shared with Senator Burr and Commerce Secretary Crisco all the things we have done to assist small business and our larger corporations, I was struck at how much there is still to do. While there is nothing we can do about what has been done, and once done, cannot be undone, particularly when it comes to failed national policies on the economy and national security, there is still much we can do.

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, “For all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.” When we look to those challenges ahead, and there are still many, we do so with both our elected leadership and business leaders working together in a collaborative and regional effort.

I cannot help but believe that given the talent, commitment, and energy of our community leaders we will see those challenges as opportunities – not what might have been, but what can still be.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment