With visions of chiming cash registers dancing in their heads, plenty of Lake Norman entrepreneurs were excited to learn last year that the 2012 Democratic National Convention would be coming to Charlotte in September. With some 35,0000 people expected to attend the convention, it’s an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for business owners to showcase their goods and services to a national audience. Below we look at some of the folks who are capitalizing on this historic event.
It’s My Affair Karen Lawrence has had a very busy couple of months. She’s the owner of the Huntersville-based event-planning company It’s My Affair and has two contracts with the DNC. In addition to helping the DNC housing team coordinate hotel reservations for delegates and members of the media, Lawrence is planning one of the 12 delegate parties. “I’m very excited,” she says. “It’s a big deal for my company. It’s putting it in a different space.” Lawrence is organizing a party for delegates from New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in uptown Charlotte. About 500 delegates will attend the party, and Lawrence says it’s been a whirlwind of activity getting everything ready, from lining up various contractors to coordinating all the tiny details that have come together to make the event a success. The party is intended to both showcase Charlotte and the uptown venue, she says. “I want to make sure that when they walk through the doors, they understand the story of Charlotte. When they walk away, I want to make sure they’ve had a great experience.” Lawrence says shortly after she registered her business on the official DNC site and submitted a proposal in fall 2011, convention officials contacted her. Then in May, the committee announced the 13 N.C.-based event planners who won contracts to throw parties for the 6,000 delegates coming to Charlotte, and Lawrence was on the list. Lawrence says her 10 years in the event-planning business have prepared her to handle any unforeseen issues that may pop up and that her involvement with the DNC will hopefully create other business opportunities down the road. “It’s not just being an order taker. It’s being able to offer solutions and provide clients with a return on their investments,” she says. “I feel there are going to be plenty of other opportunities because of the relationships I’m building with the local community and on the national level.”
Carolina Raptor Center When the staff at Carolina Raptor Center heard about the DNC coming to town, they wasted little time contacting the host committee to share what the center had to offer. Several weeks after that initial meeting with host committee members, the CRC received some of the best news they could hope for: they had been selected as one of the 12 sites for delegate parties during the DNC. “Because environmental sustainability is part of the mission of the DNC, they were really excited about having a site like ours that reflected that,” says Michele Miller Houck, community relations director for CRC. The Huntersville-based nonprofit is dedicated to environmental stewardship and the conservation of birds of prey. It features more than 25 species of raptors on its Raptor Trail as well as more than 100 resident raptors. It also has a gift shop, a large open area with a stage for exhibitions and shows as well as picnic tables and a small amphitheater. During the convention, CRC will host a party for about 350 delegates from the states of Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Houck says the parties will showcase the center’s natural beauty as well as its numerous birds of prey, including those that are native to the three states from which the delegates will be coming. Capitalizing on CRC’s rustic charm, Houck says the event will also focus on North Carolina’s natural history (picture wildflowers as table centerpieces) as well as downhome Southern entertainment such as bluegrass performances. “You will not see red, white and blue balloons or the kind of décor you would expect from a convention party,” says Houck. “It’s going to be very simple, very environmentally friendly.” Houck says the event will also feature live bird presentations as well as docents at each of the live bird sites. The center is already trying to broaden its involvement with the convention throughout the week by offering to provide eagle appearances at some of the other events scheduled that week. Houck says she hopes the DNC will help spread the word about what Carolina Raptor Center has to offer year-round to a national audience, and give a boost to its event-hosting business. “We hope it positions us in that top tier of attractions in Charlotte,” she says. “We feel this is just the beginning of what we can accomplish and it gives us a stage to start that process.”
Camp Wagging Tail Not everyone is thrilled about the DNC coming to Charlotte. Some local residents would just as soon skip town than deal with 35,000 more people navigating downtown streets and Secret Service-level security throughout the city. Enter Richard Colven, owner of the pet-boarding service Camp Wagging Tails in Cornelius. Colven says in the months leading up to the DNC he’s been targeting locals who are worried about the impact the convention will have on their daily living. Several of his clients are planning on boarding their dogs while they head out of town during the DNC for the entire week instead of just Labor Day weekend to avoid all the congestion and hassles the convention will bring. Colven, who is a DNC registered vendor, is also appealing to politicians who may be bringing their pets to the convention and may want to send their pets to day-care at Camp Wagging Tails. This means a big boon for Colven during the week of Labor Day, which is already one of the busiest times of the year for Camp Wagging Tails, which can hold about 100 dogs on three acres. Colven offers overnight camps at his facility, where after a day of playing, running and swimming in the bone-shaped pool, dogs bed down for the night in climate-controlled “cabins” with privacy panels. If you really want to pamper your canine companion, Campo Wagging Tails even offers pet massages. And while it’s unlikely, Colven says he’s still holding out hope that President Obama’s people might give him about boarding Bo, the First Family’s Portuguese water dog.