On Wednesday, the city’s entrepreneurs took a break from making elevator speeches – and listened instead to more than a dozen pitches from candidates for Charlotte city offices.
They spoke to the small-business owners and innovators attending an entrepreneurial candidates forum at Packard Place, the uptown start-up hub.
Packard Place co-founder Dan Roselli said the forum gave candidates the chance to show that they get the challenges that entrepreneurs face, and explain how they’ll support that community if elected. Election Day is Nov. 3.
Wednesday night’s forum was sponsored by Packard Place, the Charlotte Entrepreneurial Alliance and the Observer’s ShopTalk section.
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City council candidates had two minutes to make their elevator pitches, while the mayoral candidates received three minutes.
Republican mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock said he wants to make Charlotte known as “a high-growth, high-energy city” attracting entrepreneurial ventures making at least $1 million in revenue and growing earnings by 20 percent for at least four to five years.
Peacock said he’d promote a policy initiative called the “Applied Innovation Corridor,” north of uptown and along the light-rail line, as a place where start-ups and high-growth ventures can cluster.
“As mayor, I cannot prevent you from failing, but what I can do is promote risk-taking and collaboration within this community.”
Mayoral candidate Jennifer Roberts, the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic runoff with Dan Clodfelter, told attendees that she was an early supporter of establishing Packard Place when she was a Mecklenburg County commissioner.
As mayor, Roberts said she would help “brand Charlotte as an innovation city.”
“What I plan to do is make sure we are collaborating, communicating and working together to brand Charlotte as, ‘It’s a new south city, it’s a growing city, it’s the innovative city. And we have the resources here to do that.”
Many of the candidates spoke to the strength of small business and entrepreneurship in boosting the local economy. In Mecklenburg County, nearly 98 percent of all employers have fewer than 100 workers, according to the Charlotte Chamber.
Ventureprise, UNC Charlotte’s business incubator, estimates that start-ups likely created about 23,000 jobs in the Charlotte metro area in 2014, based on national figures.
It all reflects the rising presence of entrepreneurship in the city, Roselli said.
“Five years ago, things like this (forum) didn’t happen in Charlotte.”
The candidates on entrepreneurship
Here's what City Council candidates who attended Wednesday’s Packard Place event had to say about entrepreneurship. All are at-large candidates unless otherwise noted.
Julie Eiselt, D: Said the regulatory process can challenge business owners’ creativity and should be reviewed. Also said access to capital and educated workers can help businesses thrive.
Vi Lyles, D: Spoke about her brother, a construction company owner, who gave up paying health insurance for his workers in 2008. “We need to recognize the impediments that we have to you being an entrepreneur.”
Pablo Carvajal, R: Said while government can help business owners create jobs, entrepreneurs’ role is key: “Where does innovation start? ...It starts with the individuals.”
John Powell, R: Small businesses drive 70 percent of the region’s economy, and should be a factor when large companies are recruited here. When large companies need subcontractors, “we don’t cost those corporations another dime in travel and relocation expenses.”
Patsy Kinsey, District 1, D: Noting her 12 years on city council, “I have public service in my blood...I’m here to serve you.”
Al Austin, District 2, D: Expressed a commitment to community service, with a focus on constituents that include small business owners.
Greg Phipps, District 4, D: Holding up a copy of the City Council’s high-growth entrepreneurship strategy, Phipps recommended holding a retreat to discuss the strategy and “work for the common good.”
Michael O’Hara, District 4, R: Referencing Phipps’ remarks, O’Hara asked “How come that strategy isn’t in place today?” He said the city needs more partnerships for entrepreneurs, such as working with the financial services industry.
Kenny Smith, District 6, R: Said Peacock’s vision regarding entrepreneurs is the most concrete plan. Said he’d also get out of the way of entrepreneurs.
Chris Turner, District 7, D: Spoke about keeping and growing the city’s venture capital sources, and working with universities and community colleges to provide opportunity for entrepreneurs.
Ed Driggs, District 7, R: On city council since 2013, Driggs encouraged attendees to speak up about “the problems you have to deal with in your small business.” He said he’s trying to remove rezoning layers, because “you can’t build here.”