Russell’s Ramblings

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

Well Done John Kurti, Well Done

kurti-and-bill

Bill Russell and John Kurti at a Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce AfterHours Event

Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, the Lord will place someone in your life who makes a lasting impression. Someone who quietly goes about their life’s work with little fanfare, yet leaves you in awe of the impact he or she makes on the lives in a community. John Kurti was such a man.

I met John in the late 1990’s when he owned a Mail Box, Etc store here at the lake. Somewhat like Sam in the old TV series “Cheers”,  John would greet his customers with a smile. He wasn’t a man who simply mailed parcels – he knew you by name and you left assured your special package was in good hands.

John opened and sold several of the franchise stores and in doing so garnered a keen insight of how to market and manage a small business. Later, he served as a SCORE Counselor, the Small Business Group, who gives critical advice to both startup and existing small businesses. John often met his clients at the Lake Norman Chamber where I had the opportunity to watch him in action. He didn’t just impart lessons in entrepreneurship. He left his clients with the assurance that someone was in their corner. John cared and it showed.

John Kurti served three terms on the Lake Norman Chamber Board; longer than any other person in our 30 year history. He was also a founding board member of Visit Lake Norman and served that organization for 16 years before health issues plagued his final months.

John was not just a mentor, board member, and friend. He was often my roommate on chamber trips to Raleigh for Governor’s conferences and to Washington for legislative briefings. John was also one of three other chamber business leaders who accompanied me to Washington DC on a day none of us will ever forget –  September 11, 2001.  We heard news from then Senator Lieberman that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.  Moments later, while exiting one of the Capital buildings, we watched in disbelief and confusion as black smoke billowed from the Pentagon and the nation’s capital was filled with panic and fear.

The four of us drove the ten long hours back home in silence, wondering how life in America had changed. John, himself a past Israeli Air Force officer, was no stranger to the face of terror. He reassured each one of us that life would go on, and our country would emerge stronger – and it did.

kurti1

2002 Chamber  Board Chair Chris Angelino and Karen, 1999 Board Chair Scott Hinkle and Business Growth Chair John Kurti

John had dealt with health issues for many months prior to the day he made his triumphant return to the weekly North Meck Rotary Club meeting. As his presence was recognized, members applauded. His face filled with pride as he waved an arm high in the air signaling his deep appreciation and his return to our club. There were hugs, laughter, and love as the Rotary friends he cherished all shared how much he had been missed. John had previously served as our club president, and his passion for truth, fairness, and service above self, knew no bounds.

Perhaps that was God’s gift to both John and his friends that day.  One last chance to say how much we loved each other. One more hug before we said goodbye. Later, John passed peacefully away – just moments after our Rotary Club meeting ended. Just after the last toast and the last rap of the gavel. Now we all know, it signaled not only an end to the meeting, but a close to a chapter.

All of us would like to think our lives matter.  That we changed hearts, righted wrongs, brought peace to those who struggle, and strength to those who fear. That we used the talents God gave us to make this community and our world just a little bit better. John Kurti did that and more.

I know one thing for certain. He left this world knowing how much he meant to all of us at Rotary. I also have little doubt that he was greeted by his father in heaven, who took John by the hand, with the words we should all long to hear…..”Well done my faithful servant… well done!”

Bill Russell

January 26, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holiday Donations Help Those in Need – Drop Boxes at Chamber for Toys for Tots and Pet Supply

KobeCarescomThe Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is pleased to partner with many of our outstanding local businesses during this holiday season.  Visit Lake Norman’s Visitor’s Center and the Chamber of Commerce is a drop off point both for Toys for Tots and a Pet Supply Donation Drive. 

To show your support for Toys for Tots, please bring a new, unwrapped toy to the Lake Norman Visitors Center (Chamber & Visit Lake Norman 19900 West Catawba Avenue in Cornelius) by December 14th, 2012. Toys for Tots will distribute all toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.  Connie Ouellet, a new Chamber member with All About Flowers and Balloons is coordinating the Toys for Tot drive and said, “Christmas is a time to be thankful for everything you have and to give to those in need. Please bring in new unwrapped toys for any gender or age and help make a kids holiday wish come true.”

In addition Elizabeth Morgan, who is working with the Chamber as the Director of Membership Resources, is helping coordinate a Pet Supply Donation Drive.  The Cornelius Animal Shelter is the local shelter and and Officer Tre Nodine is the  local animal control officer in Cornelius. “The Cornelius Shelter takes care of and adopts as many local dogs and cats as they can with a very small staff and limited funding,” stated Morgan. North Meck Animal Rescue is one of the largest animal rescue’s in North Carolina and has been in existence for 14 years. All their animals are adopted out with all their shots, micro chipped and spayed or neutered procedure complete.  They average over 300 rescue’s and adoptions every year.  

Lakeside Sports and Chiropractic Center & Motorsports Rehab is the organizer and lead presenter of Kobe Cares.  For a list of pet supplies needed and for more information visit http://www.kobecares.com/.  The Pet Supply Donation will run through December 24th.

December 3, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It was Serious Fun…Serious Business!

Bill Russell, NC House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Jerry Broadway

At the November 15th meeting of the Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Corporation, Executive Director Jerry Broadway informed the Board of Directors he would retire and step down from his position sometime in the first quarter of 2013.

I was very fortunate to serve on an interview panel in 2006 with then Chamber Chairman Randy Marion as we met with several qualified candidates and selected Jerry to serve as the second executive director of the EDC. Jerry impressed me with his easy-going nature and the marketing skills he possessed as we looked to position the lake region as the place to grow and locate your business.

Jerry, along with Sally Ashworth of Visit Lake Norman, and myself represented the three North Mecklenburg business organizations as the chief executive officer.  While Jerry focused his efforts on primary job creation, Sally and her organization marketed the region for events to bolster travel and tourism revenues and the chamber of commerce served as the advocate of business and a resource for small business development.

One of my former Chamber Chairmen spoke of the Chamber, EDC, and Visit Lake Norman as the three-legged stool – each leg dependent on each other as we supported economic and business growth at the lake.

Jerry, Sally and I often joked about such a comparison but we also knew it to be very true.  There is no question the chamber would not be successful without a strong economic development organization and we all benefit greatly from the travel and tourism market at the lake.

Since the creation of the EDC, all three organizations have complimented each other well.  As the executive at the Chamber, I can attest first hand it is not always easy to balance the needs of a regional organization.  While we have three towns which work well together and have much in common, each also has its unique identity and needs.

Jerry Broadway, Bill Russell, Senator Kay Hagan, Sally Ashworth, John Hettwer, Woody Washam, Randy Marion

Jerry Broadway hit the ground running as he worked closely with the new Commerce Station Business Park and helped Pactiv (Prairie Packaging) set up their operations.  Over the next few years Jerry worked with business expansions such as Rubbermaid and more recently recruited ABB as well as  Davidson’s MSC Industrial supply to name just a few.

Some time in the next few months Jerry Broadway will end his tenure at the Lake Norman Regional EDC.  He was at the helm during the most challenging time for business and perhaps in our lifetime.  Jerry Broadway will leave our EDC and our region stronger than he found it.  His legacy is the jobs he helped create and the new families who now call Lake Norman home because of his efforts.

In the non-profit world in which Jerry, Sally Ashworth and I work, we would all like to think that the tree we plant today will bear fruit in the days ahead and that our work makes a difference.  There is no question – Jerry Broadway has changed the face of our community and the way we do business at the lake.  He’s made more than a difference – he’s touched lives.

November 16, 2012 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

For the love of the game

Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity

When I joined Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity at Winthrop University in Rock Hill (SC), the requirements were to maintain at least a 2.0 grade point ratio, to be able to “shag” dance to Beach Music, and to play a respectable game of golf.  While far from making the Dean’s list, I did manage to maintain the grades and become a better than average dancer.  However, my golf game has always been sorely lacking.  I’m not sure I could have imagined when I was in college how much the game of golf would impact my life.

While I do not play much myself, many of my friends and business associates do. As a matter of fact, all of the civic groups I have ever been a member of are reliant on golf tournaments as a source of revenue. Whether it’s the Police DARE tournament, Chamber of Commerce Captain’s Choice event in October, or a Rotary outing, our charities and service organizations depend on golf as an annual event to raise funds for their organization.

Recreational sports are extremely important not only to the fabric of a community but to business itself.  When our Economic Development Corporation is meeting with site planners for new corporations or larger businesses, our sports market and recreational resources are prominent in their decision making. NC DOC Secretary Crisco recently pointed out to our Lake Norman business leaders how important recreation is to our economic development and local commerce.

Visit Lake Norman, the travel and tourism development authority for our North Mecklenburg communities generated a net profit of $48.3 million dollars in direct tourism spending between July 2009 and June 2010 and recruited $11.9 in visitor’s spending. For every $1 invested in Visit Lake Norman, $24.26 went into the local economy.  It’s called putting heads in beds and perhaps few organizations do it better.

This past week, PGA America announced that the Quail Hollow Club of Charlotte will serve as the host of the 99th PGA Championship in August 2017.  The finest golfers in the world will participate at an international event held in our backyard – Charlotte.  To put this in some perspective, 50,000 visitors will attend for a week at a sports event seen in living rooms throughout 200 different countries. While they are here, these guests will likely travel to other statewide attractions such as the Outer Banks, Asheville, Charleston as well as visiting within our communities right here at the lake.  We are so fortunate to live in a region of the country with its proximity to the mountains and coasts.  Nestled on the banks of Lake Norman, we have the finest parks and recreational amenities in either of the Carolinas.

The PGA, in making Charlotte the destination for its Championship, comes on the heels of the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in May.  Indeed, we are an area of the country that is passionate about sports! We love our football, take pride in our basketball, and are crazy about our NASCAR drivers.  We are both spectators and players.  We are a region that simply loves the thrill of competition.  Ours is a community that stretches from the Knights Stadium in Fort Mill to the banks of Lake Norman. A community that is bound together for the love of the game.

The PGA Championship will be played here in 2017.  But in a real sense, that Champion has been determined. It’s everyone that’s ever called the Charlotte region home and on an international stage Charlotte will wear her crown.

 

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE IOM Bill Russell is the president and chief executive officer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with approximately 1,100 business members in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and greater Lake Norman region.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment