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Mayor, council hopefuls make their pitch to entrepreneurs

By Caroline McMillan Portillo
cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/11/00/10/1568KZ.Em.138.jpg|320
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    Charlotte mayoral candidates Democrat Patrick Cannon (left photo) and Republican Edwin Peacock III (right) talked with small-businesses owners and entrepreneurs during a “Meet the Candidates” event Thursday. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/11/00/17/x16qm.Em.138.jpeg|174
    DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/11/00/17/nxP4r.Em.138.jpeg|245
    DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte mayoral candidates Democrat Patrick Cannon (left photo) and Republican Edwin Peacock III (right) talked with small-businesses owners and entrepreneurs during a “Meet the Candidates” event Thursday night sponsored by Packard Place and the Observer’s ShopTalk. Cannon touted his experience as co-owner of E-Z Parking and urged entrepreneurs “to take their rightful place at the economic development table.” Peacock said Charlotte needs a more pro-risk business culture that celebrates the potential in high-growth startups. More photos and a story at charlotteobserver.com.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/11/00/17/EUJ7l.Em.138.jpeg|230
    DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/11/00/17/vIzDv.Em.138.jpeg|195
    DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

More Information

  • More from ShopTalk
  • The candidates on entrepreneurship

    Here's what city council candidates who attended Thursday’s Packard Place event had to say about entrepreneurship. All are at-large candidates unless otherwise noted.

    Michael Barnes: A city councilman since 2005 (and once the president of UNC Chapel Hill’s entrepreneurs club), Barnes says the city needs to advocate for small business just as it does its other duties, such as public safety and infrastructure.

    Claire Green Fallon: Calling herself an “opportunist,” Fallon said that while trying to save a Montessori private school in New York that went bankrupt, she learned “how hard it is to raise money if you're not a stable business.”

    Vanessa Faura: “I’m a mother, a grad student, a wife of 16 years and a small business owner. ...We need servants more than leaders. ...Leaders are filled with egos.”

    Vi Lyles: Lyles said that while planning the 2012 Democratic National Convention, she helped ensure that 40 percent of the convention purchases were from local small businesses.

    David Howard: It’s not a lack of potential that keeps a business from making it; “it’s a lack of opportunity,” Howard said, touting his role in helping develop the city’s small loan program.

    Dennis Peterson: “Thank you, small businesses, for what you're doing for the community,” Peterson said. “You're the reason why we thrive.”

    Eric Cable: Cable said improving traffic conditions would help small business owners compete with online retail giants, such as Amazon. “There are a lot of people who want to buy local, but traffic impedes that.”

    Mark Frietch: “Let’s make sure we grow small businesses not just uptown, but also on the west side.”

    Patsy Kinsey, District 1: Kinsey called small businesses an “anchor,” saying they are responsible for creating the majority of the city's jobs. “We need to create an environment where they can thrive.”

    Al Austin, District 2: “In the west district we need innovative and creative businesses,” Austin said. “I've got enough sweepstakes and check-cashing.”

    Greg Phipps, District 4: Phipps said he wants the University City area to be "a showcase for business creation, expansion and job creation."

    Ed Driggs, District 7: Keeping taxes low and spending smarter helps all parts of the city improve, Driggs said, adding that he is skeptical of incentives. “Small business is critical.”

    LaWana Mayfield, District 3, attended the forum, but because of another commitment, was not present for the opening pitches.



Entrepreneurs seeking support are accustomed to making their pitches in a concise “elevator speech.”

But the tables were turned Thursday night at Packard Place, the uptown startup hub, as nearly 20 candidates for Charlotte city office gave their own bite-sized pitches to a roomful of small-business owners and innovators.

The event, the first of its kind in Charlotte, was the brainchild of Packard Place founder Dan Roselli and was co-sponsored by the Observer’s ShopTalk section.

Mayoral candidate Patrick Cannon touted the citywide economic development seminars he hosted as mayor pro tem, as well as his experience as co-owner of E-Z Parking. The uptown parking company has grown from 75 spaces and four staffers when he founded it in the late 1990s, to 25,000 spots and nearly 60 employees.

Cannon, a Democrat, said he wants to make it possible for entrepreneurs “to take their rightful place at the economic development table” by providing them with access to information and resources, and hearing their concerns. “You are Charlotte’s future.”

Republican mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock III is a financial adviser with Northwestern Mutual and said he works with small-business owners and startup founders every day.

He said he believes Charlotte is “living off its past glory,” acting as though the city can still look solely to major companies for leadership. He highlighted the need for a more risk-taking business culture that celebrates the potential in high-growth startups.

“We need to divorce ourselves from the reputation of having (only) two big banks and a power company,” Peacock said. “I can put Charlotte on the path to embrace risk-takers and encourage collaboration.” He’d like to see key partnerships form around economic development, education and transportation.

Roselli likened the two-hour event to an “entrepreneurial pitch day.” After giving their pitches – council candidates in 90 seconds; mayoral candidates in two minutes and 30 seconds – the candidates lined the outer walls, each with their own table.

The nearly 100 attendees then circulated to the candidates’ tables, to ask their own questions about how the candidates would support Charlotte’s small businesses and startup community.

“We want to hear about what they want to do for entrepreneurs,” Roselli said.

All of the candidates cited the role of small businesses and entrepreneurship in the local economy. In Mecklenburg County, about 97 percent of all employers have fewer than 100 workers, according to 2011 data, the latest available.

But the city and county are still struggling with an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, higher than the national average of 7.3 percent. Many at the forum said they believe small businesses and startups can play a big role in a turnaround.

Roselli said he hopes Charlotte’s next mayor can pick up the mantle of former Mayor Anthony Foxx, whom he has called a big proponent of entrepreneurship. Before being named U.S. secretary of transportation this summer, Foxx, a Democrat, regularly met with leaders of Charlotte’s entrepreneurial community.

“(Foxx) did a good job,” Peacock told Jay Bendis, a consultant and a mentor for some of the city’s social entrepreneurship startups, and Barry Francois, a chef who started a mobile farmer’s market to serve parts of Charlotte without easy access to healthy food.

Bendis and Francois encouraged Peacock to find out more about the startups at Queen City Forward, a nonprofit housed in Packard Place that helps entrepreneurs who have business ideas that address social needs.

Bendis also spoke with Cannon about the need for support and partnerships within the startup community. Cannon said he understood the value of mentorship, saying that he’s trained many of his employees to run their own companies.

Cannon, who has served on the City Council since 1993, says access to capital and support in putting together a business plan are some of the biggest obstacles facing small businesses in Charlotte.

That’s why his table, laden with business cards and campaign paraphernalia, also had printouts from the city’s website, detailing small-business programs and services – from contracting opportunities to training to small-business loans.

He touted his role in building up that reserve of information, which can be found at CharlotteBusinessResources.com, and in the city’s overall effort, starting in 2010, to make city government more friendly and accessible to small businesses and startups.

Peacock said when he graduated from the University of Georgia in 1992, he saw Charlotte as a “white-shirt city,” a conservative, risk-averse business climate. He wants to encourage entrepreneurs who are willing to take a risk.

He envisions the area along the extended light-rail line to UNC Charlotte filled with high-growth startups – risky ventures with a potentially big payoff.

He cited a successful idea once thought improbable: “Just look at bottled water,” Peacock said. “An idea married with what’s possible.”

Portillo: 704-358-6045
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