The following article appeared as a "Letter to the Editor" in many Lake Norman regional publications the week of April 7, 2014.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 www.VoteYesforBonds.com
Lake Norman Chamber Members and Stakeholders:
Chamber Backs Bonds
The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has voted to endorse several bond packages before North Mecklenburg voters on November 5th. The Chamber is encouraging its members to VOTE YES for the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Bonds and the Central Piedmont Community College Bonds before Mecklenburg County voters in the upcoming referendum. Chamber members who are registered voters in the Town of Cornelius are also encouraged to vote for the three municipal bonds on the ballot. These bonds will be the topic of the next Focus Friday on October 18th at the Chamber. Current CMS school board representative Rhonda Lennon (District #1) and Carrie Kester, Chair at Community of Huntersville Education Collaborative will provide more information regarding the bonds. Read more about the Bonds and the Chamber's position here.
Forums held in Davidson and Huntersville give voters a chance to meet the candidates
The Chamber will host a candidate forum in Davidson and Huntersville next week. A forum was held in Cornelius October 1st. The two-hour forum will be held at the respective town halls. The forum for Davidson is Tuesday, October 15th and Huntersville, Thursday Oct 17th. All forums are 7:00 – 9:00 pm. The events are moderated by Jerry Hancock, General Partner of Alexander Hancock Associates. Hancock is well known in Charlotte as a guest commentator on "All Things Considered," National Public Radio, and the publishing of numerous journal articles. For over 25 years he hosted programs on public television including FINAL EDITION on Channel 42, a weekly roundtable discussion of current news topics with local reporters.
The forum in Davidson is co-sponsored by Davidsonnews.net and the Huntersville Forum is co-sponsored by the Lake Norman Political Association. For more information, read about it here.
Public Safety Luncheon Salutes our First Responders
The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will host the eighth annual salute to North Mecklenburg Public Safety officers and volunteers at a special luncheon Thursday, October 17th at noon at the Peninsula Club (19101 Peninsula Club Drive) in Cornelius. The event, Presented by Wells Fargo Bank, is sponsored by Central Piedmont Community College – Merancas Campus and The Herald Newspaper. An officer from the Cornelius, Davidson, and the Huntersville Police Departments will be honored as well as members of the North Meck Rescue, and the local fire departments.
In addition to honoring the officers, the Guest Speaker will be Tamara Williams, the new Dean of Central Piedmont Community College – Merancas Campus. Dean Williams will touch on the role CPCC plays in training public safety officers and first responders.
Join us as we salute our first responders! RSVP by calling the Chamber at 704-892-1922 or online. The cost is $16 for Chamber members. Read more about this event here.
While the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is a non-partisan organization and we do not endorse candidates for elected office, we do believe in the principles of good government. We strongly encourage our members to actively engage themselves in the political debate in their local community, state, and nation. It is a shame that typically, only 13% of the electorate turn out to select elected leaders which will govern our communities and schools.
The Lake Norman Chamber encourages you to get to know the candidates running for office at all levels and vote for those who best represent your values and that of your business. We would also ask that if you are a Mecklenburg County voter, you Vote FOR the CMS and CPCC Bonds. If a Cornelius resident, Vote to SUPPORT all three Cornelius Town Bonds. These important bonds will provide the financial resources for our roads, school, and quality of life and will be critical components for our economic development efforts and the business growth of our region.
Perhaps Abraham Lincoln put it best when he said, "Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters."
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.
W.E. "Bill" Russell, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce
The following article was written exclusively for and appeared in the August 2013 issue of Business Today.
You 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!"
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