Chamber building sells for $1.75 million

The Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce has sold its building on Dale Earnhardt Boulevard in Kannapolis for $1.75 million.

The sale has enabled the chamber to become debt-free for the first time since it was formed in 1999 by the merger of the Kannapolis and Concord/Cabarrus chambers of commerce.

But the chamber and its 10-person staff won't be hard to find. The chamber will lease a 5,000-square-foot portion of building for the next 10 years, across the foyer from its former offices. The organization's address and other contact information will remain the same.

Cabarrus Economic Development offices also will move as part of the sale.

"We haven't moved out of the building, just across the lobby," said Jon Cox, chief executive of the chamber. "The sale allows us to be debt-free for the first time since our creation and also allows for the addition of a very strong reserve fund."

The chamber's cost to own and maintain the property was about $200,000 per year, said Cox. With the new arrangement, the chamber's costs will be cut by more than half, to $90,000 per year.

The building was sold Dec. 22 to Aurion, a limited liability company. NorthEast Ear, Nose & Throat Center will move from Medical Park Drive in Concord to occupy the chamber's old offices.

Besides selling the building, the chamber has cut other costs to compensate for a reduction in economic-development funding from the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners.

Cox took a 25 percent pay cut that went into effect in September and brought his total compensation to $122,500. The chamber also will put four of its workers on furlough for a few hours each week.

Though the local economy is stronger than most in the region, three major chamber contributors - Philip Morris USA, Pillowtex Corp. and CT Communications Inc. - closed their local facilities within the past 10 years. In spite of that, the Cabarrus business community has proven resilient, said Cox, who hopes the chamber can help keep it that way.

"It's all about jobs," said Cox. "We're asking what can we do to partner with others, support and create local jobs. We need to promote new investment in this community."

In general, area chambers have sustained significant losses, said Cox, but Cabarrus saw net increases of 95 new accounts in 2011 and 93 in 2010. Member revenue was up for the third year in a row, and the chamber is set to exceed $490,000 in that category, said Cox.

"Retaining those accounts is a priority for 2012," he said.

Job creation in Cabarrus County also increased in 2011, though not enough to significantly lower unemployment, said Cox.

"Four states have higher unemployment rates than North Carolina, and while Cabarrus County has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the region, it's not low enough," said Cox, noting expansions at local companies.

Connextions, Celgard and PreGel plan to add nearly 600 jobs, and the total investment by those companies and others in their Cabarrus County facilities is approaching $100 million, said Cox.

The chamber, which has more than 1,000 members, hasn't increased its annual dues in more than five years but will increase them this year. Only the base-level dues will increase, by $18 to $325.

"While our work in the areas of membership, public policy and economic development has not let up, we have also had to work on our own balance sheet," said Cox.

"The chamber is a reflection of the business community. The same stresses you deal with in increasing revenue and decreasing expenses, we deal with as well."

The success of chambers locally, nationally and globally often reflect the business community in general, said Cox.

"And we've all be in very tough times the last few years," said Cox. "For us, the good news is we're in the same building, we're not changing address, and we're in better financial position."

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