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
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.
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 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.
For information about Barium Springs, to set up a tour of their campus, or make a contribution call 704-872-4157 or visit www.bariumsprings.org.
10 March 2014Nerium Real Results Party @ RMCR
11 March 2014March '14 Lunch & Learn @ Chamber
12 March 2014Diversity Council @ Chamber - March
13 March 2014Jay Neal of H.F. Financial Presents:
13 March 2014Networking Event @ the Galway Hooker Irish Pub
14 March 2014Mar. Speed Networking @ Chamber