Staying the course… Not always the best idea


Bill Russell, CCE Lake Norman Chamber

Benno Muller-Hill, a professor of Genetics, tells the story how one morning in High School he stood last in line of 40 students in a schoolyard.  His physics teacher had set up a telescope so that students could view a planet and its moons.  The first student stepped up to the telescope.  He looked through it, however, when the teacher asked if he could see anything, the boy said “no.”

His nearsightedness hampered his view.  The teacher showed him how to adjust the focus and the boy finally said he could see the planet and its moons.  One by one, all the students took their turn looking through the telescope, seeing what they were supposed to see.    Finally, the second to last student looked into the telescope and announced he couldn’t see anything.

“You idiot,” exclaimed the teacher, “you have to adjust the lenses.”     The student tried, but finally gave up and said, “I still cannot see anything.  It is all black.”

The teacher, disgusted with his inept student, looked through the telescope himself, and then looked up with a strange expression.  The lens cap still covered the telescope.  None of the students had been able to see anything.

Sometimes people just go along with the status quo – the popular thinking.  If someone else is thinking it, doing it, it must be right.  Often people feel secure in numbers, when everyone else is doing the same thing.

Earlier this year, leaders of the Chamber went to Washington D.C.  to meet with members of our federal delegation.  We discussed the need to widen I-77 and expedite the “Red line” for commuter rail service to Lake Norman.  We shared with our delegation the frustrations business had with the uncertainty when it comes to regulation and health care costs.  Our Senators and Members of Congress were attentive to our comments and we felt our trip was productive.

Meeting with Rep. Sue Myrick, R-NC


However, it was listening to the comments and rhetoric at some of the seminars and programs we attended where I heard the same partisan comments and divisive rhetoric that has placed this nation in a financial calamity.

I am as convinced today as I have ever been that government cannot and will not solve the fiscal challenges facing America.  The backbone of our economy is our small business and it will be the success of our  housing market, retailers, main street shops, and small business that will turn the economic tide.

It’s not what government can do to help; it is getting government out of the way.  Rewarding hard work and entrepreneurship, providing incentives for taking calculated risks, expanding business, and adding payroll.

We cannot wait for Washington to rescue our economy.  However, we can begin to lay the foundation for our own success by working together, supporting local business – buying local, and electing people in November and in the coming years that get that message.

Like the students, we can either blindly follow the trend or remove the cap and discover the unbridled possibilities when we work hard, work smart, and work together

Our Diversity is our Strength

This past fall, the Lake Norman Chamber’s Diversity Council hosted a program entitled “Marketing Across Cultures.”  The program focused on the emergence of the Latino and Asian demographics which are having a profound impact in the Lake Norman region.  North Carolina’s population of Latinos has more than doubled over the past decade, leading a statewide growth that involved nearly all 100 counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state’s overall population jumped more than 18% from 2000 to 2010 and now totals more than 9.5 million.  Much of that growth came in areas around Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington. Studies show the Latino population doubling from less than 400,000 to more than 800,000.   In the 1960s, there were fewer than 200 Asians and only eight Asian businesses in Charlotte. Today, the Asian-American population in greater Charlotte has grown to around 70,000, representing over 15 countries of origin, and directly involved in hundreds of businesses.

Host family on our Quito, Ecuador trip in 1992

 Twenty years ago, I had a chance to travel into South America and several Asian countries with Junior Chamber International.  In 1995, I was selected to represent the United States as a delegate to the Junior Chamber International Japan Academy.   The goal of the Academy is to cultivate true global citizens capable of building partnerships with one another, based on a mutual understanding from a global perspective.  During that weeklong program, I participated in a home-stay with a Japanese family.

I toured their business, shared the meals that the wife and daughter prepared, and even participated in a Zen meditation.  It was a cultural experience I have always treasured.     I was very excited when we put together this diversity program spotlighting the Asian and Latino population.  Our instructors for the program, Chia-Li Chien and Julio Colmenares, shared with the participants their insight into doing business with other cultures.  Chia-Li had three major points which certainly resonated with me.  First, in dealing with people from another culture, do not assume they understand you.  Second, do your homework on their culture.  Finally, and the most critical if you expect to market across cultural lines – you have to build a relationship first. 

That relationship must be based on trust – whether that trust is built between you two or perhaps someone who they trust such as a close family member or perhaps an individual within their Church or religion.     Listening to Chia-Li make her presentation, I could not help but think back on my experience.  I had been encouraged to do a little homework for my trip as well.  The staff of the United States Junior Chamber worked with me to learn just two sentences in Japanese on how much I enjoyed my stay with the family.

I have long since forgotten the words I spoke that day and I’m sure I really butchered the Japanese language.  But the wide smiles on the faces of my hosts told me they deeply appreciated my effort.  One thing is for sure – we all smile in the same language!

Less than a year from now, with the Democratic National Convention, the eyes of the world will be on the Charlotte region.  What they will see –  is the world is already here