Passing bond packages, repairing relationships with the state government in Raleigh and recruiting new businesses: Incoming Charlotte Chamber Chairman Ned Curran outlined the business group’s priorities for 2016 at its annual meeting Tuesday.
Speaking to about 2,000 attendees at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Curran said passing state bonds that would fund projects at UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College would be a priority, as will passing bonds for city infrastructure and projects. Both will be on the ballot for voters to decide on in the coming year.
“This is an opportunity for all of us to vote on bonds that benefit the entire state,” said Curran. “We’ll be leading the effort on both of those.”
The Charlotte Chamber’s slogan for the upcoming year is “Believe. Do.” Curran said the slogan is an acknowledgment of Charlotte’s aspirational nature.
“We’ve always believed we can be a better city. We even acknowledge when we have work to do,” said Curran, who is president and CEO of the Bissell Companies, the developer behind Ballantyne Corporate Park. He is also chairman of the N.C. Department of Transportation board, which is made up of members from around the state.
Another priority: Working with state legislators, who have sometimes had a fractious relationship with Charlotte. The Republican-led General Assembly and local leaders have clashed over issues such as who should run Charlotte’s airport and whether more sales tax revenue should be directed away from large counties to struggling rural counties.
But the legislature has also passed key measures sought by the Charlotte Chamber, such as eliminating the sales tax on jet fuel to boost Charlotte’s airport hub and renewing the state’s incentives program designed to lure new companies.
“We’ll continue the effort to build a better relationship with Raleigh,” said Curran.
Curran also announced the location for the chamber’s 2016 inter-city visit: Miami. This year, the chamber visited Nashville.
Outgoing chamber chairman Tom Skains, CEO of Piedmont Natural Gas, cited the Chamber’s accomplishments during the year. The group opened its renovated headquarters on South Tryon Street, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Charlotte Regional Partnership to form a long-term fund-raising and economic development strategy and announced more than 5,000 new jobs. The group also raised $5.5 million, exceeding its fund raising goals.
“We’ve grown into a broad and diverse community in Charlotte,” said Skains.
Duke Energy is acquiring Piedmont in a $4.9 billion deal. Skains has said he plans to retire when the deal closes in late 2016.
Erskine Bowles, former head of the UNC system and an advocate for reducing federal debt, received the 2015 Citizen of the Carolinas award, the Chamber’s highest honor. Bowles, who has also founded finance firms and served as Bill Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff, praised his parents for instilling the value of helping others into him.
He said his father, Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles, taught him to “add to the community woodpile” – a saying passed down from his grandfather, who chopped wood for fuel – and to do so without regard to partisan politics.
“It didn't matter if you were to the right of his good friend Jesse Helms or to the left of Teddy Kennedy,” said Bowles. “As proud as I am to accept this award, I want to accept it in the names of my parents.”