Russell’s Ramblings

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

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce – The Regional Approach to Business

073 (640x480)

Earlier this month I wrote a column for Business Today on the regional approach the lake Norman Chamber of Commerce takes to small business development and growth for our business members in Huntersville, Davidson, Cornelius and the greater lake Norman region.

Recently I had the chance to watch the sun set over our beautiful Lake Norman. The bright orange skyline kissed the rippling waters. Teased by the wind, it skipped across the expanse that touched my soul and I was reminded of a passage in a book by Norman Maclean that read “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

In the early 1980s, long before I joined the Lake Norman Chamber, my mom moved to Huntersville. I was struck on my first visit to North Meck with the rural country side. Considered a suburb of Charlotte, Huntersville was largely pastureland. Cornelius, just to the north, was a former mill town and surprisingly the real population seemed to reside in the little college town of Davidson.

Before the end of that decade, Huntersville businessman John Cherry would share a vision of what we could accomplish as a region by creating what was known at the time as the North Mecklenburg Chamber. The Chamber was composed of businesses in Huntersville, Davidson, and Cornelius with Town Board representation by all three towns. John created an opportunity for businesses to network and support each other. The organization quickly grew with the population, as did it’s greater voice in the county and state.

In 1996, I was hired to serve as the Chamber’s president and one of the primary challenges we faced was the shortage of classroom space. North Mecklenburg High School had the largest enrollment of any school in the state. Yet, Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board Members refused to acknowledge the desperate need for a new High School in north end of the county.

I still vividly recall a group from the Chamber going to a CMS meeting to passionately advocating for the new school. We orchestrated the collective voice of the towns, community, and business leaders and through determination and a commitment to our kids, we were successful in getting Hopewell High built.

Soon we saw our communities begin to grow together.  Folks living in Huntersville, working in Cornelius, employing staff from Denver and Mooresville, and shopping in Davidson. The name of the Chamber was changed to reflect our more regional identity – Lake Norman – but our commitment remained steadfast in our roots to North Mecklenburg.

The Chamber stretched its ability to advocate for business when we successfully lobbied for an access management study for Hwy 73. The NC DOT countered such an undertaking had never been done. It took the collaborative efforts of three chambers, three counties, and several municipalities but it resulted in what is known today as the Highway 73 Council of Planning.

It was the Lake Norman Chamber that first brought the three North Mecklenburg towns together at quarterly dinner meetings to share ideas and opportunities. That process evolved into four towns as Mooresville was invited to join.

The Lake Norman Chamber also gave birth to two other outstanding organizations serving our region – Visit Lake Norman and the Lake Norman Economic Development Corporation. Both were initiatives of the chamber. Community leaders recognized the unbridled opportunities when you partner the towns together with the chamber of commerce.

John Cherry told me that it was difficult early on to recognize the sum of parts was greater than anything we could have accomplished on our own. Even today, almost three decades later, some think that progress means going back to where we started – working separately, rather than together. I think the past thirty years prove that is not the sound strategy. When we work hard, work smart, and work together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish for our communities, commerce, and citizens. The Lake Norman Chamber has indeed been a catalyst to bring our communities together and accomplish so much that each could not have done independently. We have grown our business community and we are working to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Standing on that dock, watching another day end and a new one set to take its place, I realized our North Mecklenburg communities have indeed merged into one.

Eventually, the vision has become reality and the energy and passion of our people run through it.

Bill Russell
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

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

Special Message to the Membership from 2016 Chamber Chair Callan Bryan


Callan BryanLake Norman Chamber Members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Callan H. Bryan

2016 Chairman of the Board of Directors

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

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

Looking ahead to our past – A visit to the old Croft Schoolhouse

Ribbon Cutting of Pioneer Springs Community School

This past week, Pioneer Springs Community School hosted a ribbon cutting of a new minimal-tuition private school at the site of the old Croft School House.  This new school is rooted in the basic school philosophy of Dr. Ernest Boyer, former president for the Advancement of Teaching.  This education philosophy is the foundation of the Community School in Davidson and the Corvian Community School.   Pioneer Springs will open this fall with a Kindergarten and First grade and plans to open another grade level each year thereafter.

Abigail Jennings, a Charter Member of the Lake Norman Chamber and president of Lake Norman Realty Company knew of my interest in history.  I also serve as Chairman of the Historic  Hugh Torance House and Store Board of Directors in Huntersville.

The Croft School House, site of the new Pioneer Springs Community School, first opened its doors in 1890 to serve the rural, railroad-centered business district of Croft in North Mecklenburg.  It’s been almost 80 years since its closing but I was amazed at how many alumni still turned out to take part in the announcement.

Abigail Jennings with Bill Russell

One of the senior women, Mrs. Barnette, had no idea as to my identity – actually that wasn’t important to her – as she approached to show me a picture of her class with their teacher.  She pointed out some of the students in the old black and white photo as her eyes sparkled and the bright smile filled her face as she pointed out her friends and neighbors. She traced her finger over each face on the picture, stopping to tell a brief story about each student as her memories took us both back in time.  

The school was converted to a soldier’s home after the War (World War II) for the returning vets and several years ago became an historic landmark and today also houses an architect who specializes in historic preservation.

I could tell Abigail was as passionate about the school as Mrs. Barnette was about its history.  I asked what inspired her to get involved in this project.  Abigail stated, “My husband and I decided to join two other families to start Pioneer Springs Community School, as we had recently been exposed to the popular educational model of “The Basic School” taught at the Community School of Davidson last year when our daughter attended Corvian Community School.”

Abigail added, “Unfortunately, when Corvian received their charter, everyone had to go through the lottery process and most families did not get back in. We realized that with over 4,000 children on waiting lists for these two schools, our area desperately needed another school that provided this type of holistic learning environment, and that’s how it all got started.”

Croft School Alumni gather for announcement

During the opening ceremony, those of us in attendance were reminded of the words from T.S. Elliott when he said, “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Walking the halls of the old school-house last week, I pictured Mrs. Barnette as a little girl. Sitting intently in her chair, listening to her teacher teaching the basic English and math of her day.  She and the other students would later be responsible for much of what we know in North Mecklenburg and now Lake Norman.  Now eighty years later, those same classrooms will again be a center of learning and once again we as a community will arrive where it all started and we will know the place for the very first time.

Pioneer Springs is currently accepting applications for enrollment in Kindergarten and First Grade.  For more information please visit, or email

August 6, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Lake Norman / North Mecklenburg History | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lesson of Unintended Consequences – Mecklenburg County’s Revaluation


Bill Russell, Sr. and Jill tending the cows on the farm

As many of you may know, my family has a farm in Rock Hill, SC where we still raise livestock and horses where they graze in the green pasture and each spring we plant a vegetable garden.  Year after year, generation after generation, we have continued that tradition since our family first settled there in the 1760’s.

Last year, my dad brought to my attention a blight which we seemed to have on our tomato plants.  We also had a pitiful, if not nonexistent, harvest of corn, beans, cantaloupes, and other assortment of goodies.     I wrote it off to bad weather – lack of rain – and perhaps some type of fungus. However, imagine my surprise when dad said again this year our plants are showing signs of disease as the leaves are withering up already.  Last year  the plants did not die – they simply did not yield and those that did looked malformed.

Dad took the soil down to the local Clemson Extension Agricultural office where they determined the manure that dad used to fertilize the soil from our livestock had a concentration of pesticide which came from the hay ingested by the cows and horses.  The pesticide used to kill the yellow weed had no harmful effects to the grass or to the livestock.  However, while not killing the plant outright, it had devastating effects on the growth and maturation of the plants and its produce.

Dad planting this year’s tomatoes

So what does manure and County Government have to do with each other?  Many of our businesses are just now aware that the revaluation, which property owners have been concerned about for months, are being passed on to many tenants in the form of CAM (Common Area Maintenance Charges) which typically are composed of insurance, janitorial, landscaping, and property taxes to name just a few.

Many of our smaller businesses including retail and key man offices are unprepared for the hefty hikes in CAM charges and are now having to figure these increases into the bottom line.  While all of our businesses and residents in Mecklenburg County have a fiduciary responsibility to pay taxes for municipal and county services including education, health and human services, transportation, and safety – these taxes should be fair and justifiable.

Data collected by the chamber of commerce indicates examples where the county’s assessment and independent evaluations are significantly different.  While the county government may be operating in compliance with rules, procedures, and an approved process which govern evaluations of residential and commercial properties, the system itself many argue is flawed and needs to be evaluated by an outside and independent review or audit.

In essence, commercial property owners and tenants are facing hardships which threaten their economic viability forcing some to make cuts in employment or in some cases close or move the business – an unintended consequence of the county’s actions.

The Chamber of Commerce will be encouraging our county officials to examine faults within the present system and correct them expeditiously.  If legislation is required in Raleigh that creates a fairer and equitable process, we will support that as well.

The good news for our family’s garden is that recognizing the problem and correcting it with nutrients we can neutralize the toxins, repair the damage to the soil and through hard work nurture a healthy crop in the future.

The lesson dad and I learned was we need to be careful just how much manure to use and be more careful what’s in it.  It’s a lesson we could all learn from whether a garden or a board room.

June 20, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Together, we do great things!

Bill Russell, Sr. (Dad) with Traveller and Jill

A few weekends ago, I spent an afternoon helping my dad down at our farm in Rock Hill.  My father, who is retired, still maintains a farm that goes back many generations.  Actually, the land itself was settled by my family going all the way back to Colonial America.  Dad has a couple of dozen head of cattle as well two horses.  Duke, a quarter horse and Traveler, a Tennessee Walker, are his pride and joy.  Dad rides daily and enjoys spending time on the land on which he was raised.     This particular afternoon we were unloading a trailer load of hay bales when he shared with me how our Great Grandfather Morrison Russell used teams of horses to plow the grounds we now disc up with tractors.

Dad told a story he had heard once in his youth about a horse-pull at the County Fair.  That is an event where horses compete to see which one can pull a sled with the greatest weight.  One year, a local horse pulled 4,500 pounds.  The runner up pulled 4,400.  Wondering what the two could possibly do together, the two horses were teamed together.  They pulled more than 12,000 pounds!  An increase of more than 33% over their individual efforts.

While many of us are truly capable and talented, we are much stronger working together as a team.  This past month was certainly a testament to that fact with a very successful Business Expo.   While it was hot and we had a great many challenges, the staff of CPCC and our event management team transformed a transportation systems complex into an exhibit hall.  It allowed us to showcase the “Best in Business”, network, and give our members an opportunity to build relationships and expand their customer and client base.

I have been so fortunate to serve this Chamber of Commerce as the chief executive officer since 1996.  However, each and every day, I continue to be impressed by the talent we have in the Chamber in the volunteers who serve in committee roles, our dedicated Ambassadors and staff, and the strong leadership of our Board of Directors.     Each bringing a unique talent and perspective – but collectively, providing a resource that enables us to far exceed any goal or objective obtainable by a single individual or business.

Mother Teresa

The power and influence of the Lake Norman Chamber is not in the sheer number of our members but in the ability of those members to work together and effectively for a common goal.  Mother Teresa perhaps summed it up best, “You can do what I cannot do.  I can do what you cannot do.  Together we do great things.”

Whether it’s lobbing successfully to open Lake Norman for public access swimming, expediting the completion of I-485 or obtaining a magistrate for North Mecklenburg – we are certainly stronger working together.    Time after time, our Chamber overcomes obstacles some see as barriers to create memorable events.  It seems the more looming the challenge, the more resilient this chamber and its membership becomes.

Perhaps it’s because, here in the lake region, we realize that “working smart, working smart, and working together – we do great things!”

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , | Leave a comment

Scott Hinkle’s Place Called Hope

Scott Hinkle

In November of 1995, I was interviewed for the position of Executive Vice President of the North Mecklenburg Chamber. I was at the time the Executive Director of a small low country South Carolina Chamber.  After interviewing with the search committee comprised of Chamber leaders, I was offered a position effective January 2, 1996.  While I was not to begin my employment until January, I was asked to attend and participate in the Chamber’s in-town planning retreat, my other Chamber permitting.

It was there I met a young man who would have a profound impact on my personal and professional development, as well as forge a bond that would help change the face of our community and region.  We were divided into small groups and there I met the editor and publisher of The Lake Norman Times – Scott Hinkle.     Scott was a “Tarheel” and I was a “Gamecock” and each would debate the coveted moniker of which school could legitimately call themselves “Carolina.”      I was also a right wing conservative republican and Hinkle was a left wing liberal democrat.  However, our mutual love of history and politics would seal our friendship.  We were both passionate about issues and we found we both agreed that the spirit of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise should always trump the role the public sector plays in our local economy.
I will always recall sitting down with Scott and sharing with him an idea for a Chamber publication that could tell the story of our organization.  He then expounded on the premise with excitement and eagerness and the Lake Norman Chamber Quarterly was born.     As a York County, South Carolina native, I had a difficult time getting my hand around the significance of the term “North Mecklenburg” and felt we were losing marketing potential by not utilizing the greatest resource available – Lake Norman.  Why not change the name of the Chamber to reflect that strength?

While it seems so insignificant today – changing the name of the Chamber was a huge step for the Chamber.  It took real political courage to carry that message and convince the old guard to adapt to a new branding for our association.  I’ll never forget when I asked what he would do if the older, more established Chamber and community leaders balked at this new initiative.  Scott reflected for a moment, and then replied, “Quite frankly, I’ll say it’s the lake stupid!” he said with his sly grin.     The announcement of our name change was one of many small but yet significant challenges Scott dared tackle.  He reveled in being the watchdog for the interests of citizens and businesses through his editorials and while I would never say “he kept an elected official honest” he served notice that he would call their hand on anything he felt was not in the best interest of our community.

Scott Hinkle adored Bill Clinton and felt while President Clinton had his faults, he had led us through an era of economic prosperity.  Scott would often tickle me by giving his best Bill Clinton impression.  Scott would poke out his lower lip and bite on it just a little. Then with a deep sullen look, point out his fist, clenched tightly with his thumb sticking out, and in a southern, croaky, Bill Clintonesque voice say, “I still believe in a place called hope.”

This past month, we lost a dynamic community leader to a massive stroke.  While there are no subdivisions bearing his name; no bridges or roads named in his honor; and likely no schools named in his memory, Scott Hinkle perhaps did more to give us a sense of community than anyone else that has ever lived and worked at Lake Norman.    He was my chairman, he was a mentor, and he was a very dear friend.  I’m fortunate to work at a Chamber he helped build at a lake he so loved.  We are a much better community because of Scott. We work, we live, and we visit in a place called hope and for those who don’t get it… “It’s the lake stupid.”

December 23, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | 2 Comments