A Place Called Hope

1999 Chamber Chairman 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.”

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The Season of Light

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”   Anyone who has read the Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities can relate that novel to what we have experienced as a business community and a nation these past couple of years.  It’s hard to believe, but according to our economists, the recession which we have been experiencing actually began in December 2007.  This month marks two years since we entered that winter of despair.  Certainly to many, it has seemed the worst of times.    However, just as the certainty that daybreak follows the night and the sun will emerge from the clouds, we find ourselves in the spring of hope.  Recovery is beginning to take hold and businesses are starting to improve.  It was not a recession in which we plunged overnight and it may take some time before we again see the full recovery we enjoyed in the summer of 2006.

While I am glad we are returning to some sense of normalcy, there is much we can learn from the mistakes of the past.  Poor economic policies regarding our mortgage and financial industry accelerated and significantly impacted our faltering economy.  Even now, Congress is wrestling with issues such as a national healthcare system, Cap and Trade, and employment legislation which could negatively impair our economy struggling to recover.     Here locally, our businesses that have made it through the economic storm are much leaner but have done so in large part because of sound business and marketing initiatives.  While the months have been tough, I am not sure I have ever seen Chamber of Commerce members as involved, supporting each other, and Buying Local.

The Chamber continues to work hard creating programs to help our businesses Survive and Thrive, strengthen their personal and business skills, and offering more networking events than ever before.     We have also been very successful in our efforts to represent our members on issues impacting labor, transportation, signage, and quality of life.  In many respects, even in the worst of times, it was the best of times for the Chamber.  Perhaps in no other year has the Chamber been more relevant to your business or appreciated by our members.

The moral of the Charles Dickens classic is that you reap what you sow.  In the end, the characters of the story realize that only through sacrifice and forgiveness can they truly escape the vicious cycle of despair.     Our winter of despair is behind us, along with the unwise and perhaps foolish decisions which plunged our markets into the brink of economic calamity in the first place.  But in the season of darkness, there emerged a spring of hope.  And let us trust in an age of foolishness, the age of wisdom prevails.