Local picture brighter, but more work remains

Letter to the Editor – August, 27, 2010

Wouldn’t it be nice to pick up a paper and read only pleasant headlines for a change? The news in Washington this week is that we have retired the national debt, unemployment in North Carolina has sunk to it’s lowest levels since 2006, and a group hug broke out in the streets of Baghdad. Unfortunately that’s not the headlines we read. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the annual difference between what our federal government collects in tax revenue and what it spends will be $1.3 trillion this fiscal year alone. Combat troops are leaving Iraq, however, we are still a stretch from a tension free region. Closer to home, North Carolina’s unemployment rate dipped to 9.6% in July and has declined for five consecutive months but still remains higher than the national average of 9.5%.

Kathleen Rose CCIM

North Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco visited the Lake Norman region recently and reassured business and community leaders while we’re far from being out of the proverbial woods, families and businesses are relocating to North Carolina because they have faith in our regional economy. Crisco went further and pointed to the local expansions at Microban, Newell Rubbermaid, along with the new Davidson business incubator, the Project for Innovation, Energy and Sustainability (PiES). The incubator has announced four new start-ups and is a great example of regionalism that Secretary Crisco pointed to as a real success story. PiES is one of several collaborative efforts in the Lake Norman market bringing together the Town of Davidson, business leaders, CPCC, the Lake Norman Chamber, Lake Norman Regional EDC, and UNC Charlotte. PiES is the result of Kathleen Rose, a local economic development consultant, and the Town of Davidson coming together in a collaborative effort to offer green start-ups advice, technical assistance, and office space.

Senator Burr, who was also visiting the Lake Norman region on the same afternoon, met with employees of Microban in Huntersville. The Senator was asked what is the most pressing need facing the American economy, and he was quick to point out “business” needs certainty when it comes to regulation and taxes; both of which fluctuate wildly at the whims of Congress. Senator Burr also took aim at the implementation of the new health care costs facing small business and Corporate America. It is estimated health care costs will rise 8.9%.(according to a survey of the National Business Group on Health) and many businesses are already freezing employment in anticipation of these costs.

Omar Khayyam in The Rubaiyat writes, “The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on: Nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back and cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it.” As our community and business leaders shared with Senator Burr and Commerce Secretary Crisco all the things we have done to assist small business and our larger corporations, I was struck at how much there is still to do.

While there is nothing we can do about what has been done, and once done, cannot be undone, particularly when it comes to failed national policies on the economy and national security, there is still much we can do. The poet John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, “For all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.” When we look to those challenges ahead, and there are still many, we do so with both our elected leadership and business leaders working together in a collaborative and regional effort. I cannot help but believe that given the talent, commitment, and energy of our community leaders we will see those challenges as opportunities – not what might have been, but what can still be.

Bill Russell, CCE 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

Decline of America’s Service Organizations

U.S. Junior Chamber President Gary Tompkins, Junior Chamber International Executive Director Benny Ellerbe, and JCI Treasurer Bill Russell in Pusan Korea 1996

This past week, I was speaking to Benny Ellerbe,  Executive Director of Optimist International.  Ellerbe is the chief executive officer of that non-profit service organization with roughly 100,000 members worldwide.  Prior to assuming that role, he served Junior Chamber International as their Secretary General.  It is through the Junior Chamber that I met Benny about 30 years ago.    We were both lamenting a report from the Service Club Leaders Conference (consisting of many of the nation’s service and civic organizations) which continued to show a marked decline in membership among organizations such as Kiwanis, Elks, Rotary, Jaycees, Lions, and many of our other clubs.

Participation in civic organizations, service clubs, and political involvement has decreased dramatically over the last three decades.  According to a report I read a few years ago, the average age of someone participating in a community service organization is 47 and the leader of the club is typically 53.  The average new member joins at 33 with a gap of 20 years between the new member and the leader of the organization.     Why the decline in civic service?  Most service clubs were, generally speaking, very successful from 1910 to 1950 when: a) business was more local; b) people lived where they worked; c) and there were not many options for civic engagement.  

According to research on today’s “Generation Y or Millennial Generation,” most aspire to be self-employed and do not desire the leadership or personal interaction provided by clubs.  They demonstrate a neoliberalism approach with an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies.  Robert Putnam documented this phenomenon a decade ago in his book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”  It is a fascinating look at the disengagement of our young population over the last few decades.

In 1992 – 1993, I had the opportunity to serve as the president of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), the largest young people’s organization in the country.  The membership of the association when I was president was approximately 140,000.  Today, it is less than 50,000.     I was taught by my parents that civic service was not a hobby but a responsibility we had and the debt we repay to those countless individuals who paved the way for the freedom and livelihood we enjoy today.

On a very positive note, this past summer the Chamber has employed a variety of Chamber Interns who are all active in their area high schools.  They are members of the  DECA Club, involved in Church activities, teach basketball in youth leagues, and a variety of other service projects.     Last month, I met with a group of young professionals who had re-chartered the Lake Norman Jaycees and we discussed a variety of projects they were implementing to make our region a better place to work and live.

Generation Y

America is facing challenging times.  While it is still up to many of us to serve as mentors and train our successors to lead this nation, America must feel the power of her young people.  I can see a sense of civic duty and responsibility in the faces of our young interns, the young professionals I met with weeks ago, and the countless young volunteers who recently helped out with Big Day at the Lake.     As the generation which will pass this torch of leadership to the next, we must instill in our young people that earth’s great treasure lies in human personality, and that service to humanity is the best work of life.