Pay rises for leaders of Charlotte economic development groups

Compensation for the leaders of Charlotte’s three economic development groups is rising again after a dip during the economic downturn, according to a review of tax filings by the nonprofits.

Charlotte Chamber president Bob Morgan saw his total pay increase by 2 percent in 2013 to $404,368, tops among the three groups, according to a filing this week. His pay has climbed the past two years after falling in 2011.

At Charlotte Center City Partners, CEO Michael Smith saw his total compensation increase 8 percent to $378,966 in the fiscal year ended June 30, while the Charlotte Regional Partnership said CEO Ronnie Bryant’s compensation as of Jan. 1 was $330,525, up 5 percent from the previous fiscal year.

These nonprofit leaders are receiving a fraction of what the city’s top corporate executives receive, but more than some key public-sector officials. Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison, for example, had a base salary of $288,000, plus retirement perks of $23,000.

The economic development scene has been active in recent years with the city landing the headquarters of Fortune 500 company Sealed Air, among a host of other big job announcements. But Charlotte also has seen companies such as the Lash Group, a health care consultant, jump across the line to South Carolina.

North Carolina also is revamping the way it recruits companies, creating a public-private partnership that consolidates the state’s marketing and business recruitment functions previously handled by the Commerce Department. This has created some uncertainty about how the state’s various economic development groups will work together.

In April, the Chamber and the Charlotte Regional Partnership, mired in a sometimes-tense tug-of-war over their respective responsibilities, agreed to a study of how they define their roles. The study should be completed early next year.

In Charlotte, the Chamber is by far the largest by revenue of the three groups charged with promoting the city’s business climate and luring jobs. Among the three, it’s the only one that doesn’t receive public dollars.

In 2013, revenue climbed 6 percent to $8.4 million, boosted by increases in membership dues and income from Chamber programs, according to its 990 IRS filing this week. Including for-profit revenue from advertising, the Chamber had a net change in assets of $320,936, the nonprofit world’s equivalent of a profit, said chief financial officer Mike Manning.

The chamber gained 13 members during the year, bringing its total to 3,242. That’s down slightly from 2011. As in other big cities, Manning said local businesses often carefully weigh the return on investment from either increasing their Chamber membership dues or increasing their sponsorship.

“We are working on both of them,” he said. “We are constantly looking at enhancing our value proposition.”

As for Morgan’s pay, Manning pointed to a detailed explanation provided in the 990, which says the CEO’s performance is based on achievement of goals laid out at the beginning of the year. The board’s compensation committee also compares CEO pay to other nonprofits and chambers of commerce.

Pay faced scrutiny

Charlotte Center City Partners’ work includes shaping development plans for uptown and South End, raising private-sector money for the “Gold Rush” shuttle and organizing the annual Center City Vision Awards. Through a separate nonprofit, the group produces the annual Thanksgiving Day parade and other events.

The group had total revenue of $4.5 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, roughly flat from the previous year, according to a filing this week. Most of that revenue comes from special property taxes levied in uptown and South End in return for extra services for those areas.

The group was in the red by $104,219 in the most recent fiscal year, but spokeswoman Moira Quinn said that was related to the fiscal year’s timing. The group posted a surplus of $118,869 in the previous year.

Smith’s compensation faced scrutiny in 2010 after an $86,250 bonus granted in June 2009 boosted his pay to about $336,000, a nearly 20 percent increase as the financial crisis was buffeting the local economy. Filings show his pay fell in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, but it has risen the past two years.

His total pay of $378,966 included an $82,000 bonus for the fiscal year ended June 30, according to a filing this week.

“We have a thoughtful and deliberate CEO compensation process that involves our entire board of directors,” said Ernie Reigel, a Moore & Van Allen attorney who chairs the group’s board. “We know our CEO is a top performer who brings value to our organization, the Center City and the entire region. Therefore, we compensate him at a market rate.”

Partnership’s role debated

The emergence of the new state group has spurred talk in Charlotte’s business circles that it might be time to consider folding the Charlotte Regional Partnership into the chamber. But CEO Bryant has reiterated that his group handles job recruiting and marketing for a 16-county region that includes Charlotte.

There also had been concerns that the partnership could become cash-strapped because it would be competing with fundraising by the state’s new recruitment outfit. But spokesman Sam Boykin said the group’s total revenue was $3.1 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, up about 17 percent from the previous year.

Private-sector companies provide about 69 percent of revenues, with counties contributing 27 percent and the state 4 percent, he said. The group hasn’t yet filed its 990 for its past fiscal year.

Bryant did not receive a salary increase in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, but the rest of the staff averaged an increase of 3 percent, Boykin said. In the year ended June 30, 2014, the board’s compensation committee awarded him a 3 percent salary increase, in line with other employees, but there isn’t an increase budgeted for the CEO in the current year, he said.