Lake Norman: Our National Stage and the Role of a Lifetime

John Hettwer. 2009 LKN Chamber Chairman

Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain has offered her insight on the strategic regional partnership of the three North Mecklenburg towns and the positive tangible benefits that partnership has created. Mayor Swain highlighted the efforts of our elected leadership and applauded the vision and cooperation of current and past Town Boards. I agree with these comments. It’s just another example of how the three Towns of North Mecklenburg can and should work together for the greater good of the entire community. However, recognizing only the municipal leaders or citing the regional amenities available as resources in our economic development strategy is much like praising the Super Bowl performance of an NFL team, complimenting the outstanding efforts of the offense without commending the critical play of the defense or special teams. Success is rarely an orphan.

In early 2000, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce created a focus group to examine what we as business leaders could do to create primary jobs and market our area to larger corporations. In 2002, the Lake Norman Chamber commissioned — and paid for — a study by the economic development consulting firm of Leak-Goforth Co. that made specific recommendations as to land planning and zoning. Leak-Goforth also recommended “that the Towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and the Lake Norman Chamber jointly establish a non-profit Economic Development Corp. to act on their behalf in promoting, facilitating and coordinating economic development activities.” It was the business community who pulled together the multiple pieces and lobbied our local elected leadership to exercise a leap of faith and enter into a public-private partnership. That partnership resulted in the Lake Norman Regional EDC.

My point is too often the existing businesses are overlooked for the vital role we play in our communities. Locally owned and operated businesses have a long-term commitment to the community and have a vested interest in our quality of life. Equally important, existing businesses are major contributors to the community’s economy and tax base. Our local businesses employ the greatest numbers as they grow and expand, generating 80 percent of the community’s new jobs. In economic development efforts, existing successful business owners are tremendous resources. Simply put, when our existing businesses thrive, so do our towns and this region.

The Kemp Blg. - The Park Huntersville

Mayor Swain pointed out the benefits we have as a business community and as citizens in our geographical proximity to Charlotte. The Queen City’s position as a strong financial center, moderate weather, a strong business climate, the International Airport, and the arts and cultural resources are all tremendous assets in our economic development efforts. And then we have Lake Norman, a unique amenity that offers the lake living lifestyle and the recreational amenities that Lake Norman affords. Business owners will often move their businesses where they themselves truly want to live. It is an amazing package that few regions of the country can compete against.

Our economic development strategy will be successful not just because of the vision and cooperation between towns, but because our existing business community supports each other and takes a vested interest in our towns and this region. Think about the last ad or brochure you saw promoting the latest community event, invariably is the listing of local businesses that make the event possible. The contributions of our local civic clubs and churches are as integral to our development strategy as the 126-acre business park.

I am thankful for the commitment of our elected officials, from the town commissioner who takes the heat for controversial zoning decisions to the thankless job of our school board members as well as the committee members who give their time and talents on strategic plans, the Habitat volunteer building a new home for a young family, the volunteers at the Angels and Sparrows Soup Kitchen and the Scouts who work on local community projects.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” The Lake Norman region is our stage. Our lives are played out in the classrooms, boardrooms, offices, and retail stores across the face of our community. Our residents, workers and visitors are not merely players, but the energy and catalyst for our growth. We are a cast of many players. Each playing a major part, in the role of a life time.

John Hettwer is president of Payroll Plus Inc. in Cornelius. He was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce in 2009.

The Lake Norman Region is stronger when we’re equal in the eyes of each other

Bill Russell, CCE

Last month, Helen Thomas, the legendary White Correspondent retired. The longtime White House journalist has covered every president since Dwight Eisenhower and broke several barriers for female journalists. She resigned her position as a columnist with the Hearst Newspapers in the wake of controversial remarks made in late May about the need for Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Poland and Germany.  There was some discussion among talk show hosts that perhaps this prejudicial gaffe by an 89-year old legend should be overlooked. However, according to many who know her, this latest comment was not her first Anti-Semitic comment. It was perhaps the first caught on video and replayed for the world to witness.

The words we use not only say a great deal about how we feel on issues but reveal our very character. I remember long ago reading the quote, “True character is revealed at what you do when you think no one is looking.” The same can be said about what we say when we think no one may repeat it.   As much as I have loved and admired my grandparents, all of whom are deceased now except my Grandmother Feemster, I still recall a Saturday afternoon hearing my grandfather use a racial slur that sent chills down my spine. Perhaps such language may have been in the main stream and considered acceptable by some fifty years ago, but it was certainly not acceptable just a decade ago when I heard it. 

Helen Thomas

Even more recently, in a private conversation with several business leaders, I heard the CEO of a very prominent organization use a similar expression. This individual, still in a significant leadership position today, has perhaps the brightest intellect, business acumen, communication skills, and education of anyone I know. Yet, my perception of this individual as a community and business leader will perhaps never be the same.  This one instance altered forever my view of this person. It doesn’t mean that they are not a good person or that they cannot change. We all make mistakes and I have made many myself. However, it is absolutely mandatory that as community and business leaders we learn from our mistakes, so that we do not dare repeat them.

Bill Russell with President Ronald Reagan

Our Chamber of Commerce has created a diversity program whose mission it is to support the diverse minority business community in the Greater Lake Norman region and create access through education, networking, and advancement opportunities. In short, we realize that we are stronger as a region because of the diverse population that calls Lake Norman home. We are not born bigots with natural discriminatory views. We learn them – we also teach them.  One of the highlights of my life was meeting and having lunch with President Ronald Reagan. Regardless of your political views, most concede Reagan brought about a renewed patriotism and a sense of optimism to our country.  Reagan once said, “It is not enough to be equal in the eyes of God. We must be equal in the eyes of each other.” Let us all pray that we begin to live out that principle. Much sooner than later.

Senator Reid’s Political Payback Threatens N. Carolina Jobs

Bill Russell, CCE Lake Norman Chamber

While Mecklenburg County struggled to create a budget to fund schools, keep teachers in classrooms, and maintain our library system, not to mention a host of other basic human services, U.S. Senator Harry Reid has found a way to pay back the union bosses for the millions of dollars they invested in funding national election campaigns in 2008. Reid has attached an amendment to a war funding bill called the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (H.R. 413) where our public safety workers would be represented by collected bargaining mandated at a federal level. Reid deems this measure a matter of national security.

This federal legislation would supplant state collective bargaining laws and deliver thousands of new members to union rolls which have suffered over the years. Many municipalities, counties, and states would immediately lose control of public safety wages to negotiators and arbitrators. Currently, if a local police or fire department wanted to dismiss an officer, that decision is made within that department. If H.R. 413 is approved, no local government or department can remove the officer without appealing to the federal government or a source far removed from our area and unfamiliar with the needs and interests of our town or county. Local towns will no longer be able to determine pay scales and benefits and will lose all control; as will voters having a say in local matters where your tax dollars are required.

Senator Harry Reid

Recently, I had a chance to address this bill and the potential unionization of our public sector employees with many members of our state delegation. The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is strongly opposed to both this bill and the Employee Free Choice Act, a benign name which disingenuously cloaks the fact that real choice is removed from the employee’s options. Both bills would threaten North Carolina’s Right to Work status and our ability to attract companies and corporations as an economic incentive.

I had a chance to meet with Ellis Hawkins of the N.C. League of Municipalities. The league and nearly all of North Carolina’s local governments are vocally opposed to collective bargaining in the public sector. All three North Mecklenburg towns of Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville have urged the delegation, both at the state and federal level, to oppose this measure.

Hawkins and his group have stated that this legislation is an expensive and unfunded mandate. “It’s going to result in the same services being delivered at a much higher cost.” Hawkins pointed out that the Town of Vellejo, California is a poster child for what can occur when local officials have no control over their own budgets and flexibility to reign in costs. In 2008, Vallejo declared bankruptcy after unions refused to negotiate contracts. Three-quarters of Vallejo’s general fund budget went to public safety worker compensation. A bankruptcy appellate panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the city was insolvent and ordered the changes to the agreements.

While public safety workers need to be fairly compensated, creating more bureaucracy in the already difficult job of managing our public workers while adhering to tight local budgets, will only disrupt vital public services and lead to further tax increases on the backs of residents and business owners.

Union bosses see their last best hope in filling their rolls and pocket books is to get this legislation approved while the politicians they helped get elected are still in office. It has been reported that two unions, the AFSCME and SEIU, have committed $94 million between them to fund campaigns in the coming election and bail out wounded incumbents who will support their position.

However, a change is sweeping this nation and voters are responding, electing candidates in primaries who are more focused on representing the people than the parties themselves; candidates who put the interest of their constituents ahead of political paybacks, union bosses, and “business as usual” politics. Senator Reid’s bill violates the most basic principle of American democracy and that is local control. His bill needs to be defeated and it must start at home. Please call Senators Hagan and Burr along with your local Representative and urge them to vote “No” to collective bargaining for public employees. For information on your elected official visit