Lake Norman & Mooresville

Group urges collaboration

A networking group in Huntersville is expanding and drawing people in with the goals of promoting area businesses and creating community partnerships.

In 2008, a group of less than 10 representatives from the town's major attractions and destinations started meeting to collaborate and pool resources in hopes to increase tourism revenue.

As the group, formerly known as the Huntersville Destination Roundtable, heads into its third year, it's rebranding as The Huntersville Connection and opening its doors to representatives of Huntersville organizations and businesses. Monthly meetings are planned through December.

Last week at Discovery Place Kids, about 30 people attended the group's first meeting under the new name. Bank leaders, chamber members, hotel owners, small business owners and individuals were among the guests. At each meeting, everyone is allowed to give a two-minute presentation about who they are and what they do.

"It's networking for everybody," said Huntersville mayor Jill Swain, who helped organize the group.

"We're here to help spread the word about community news while trying to create marketing partnerships between area businesses," said Swain.

"That's what a community should be doing and that's an attribute big businesses look for when considering moving to the area.

"They want a community that feels like one, that has a lot to offer, that shows people are looking to help each other," said Swain.

"That's an embracing sort of feeling big corporations actually do look for," she said. "And that helps put us over the edge, I think."

Matt Siegel, director of marketing and entertainment for the Carolina Renaissance Festival, also has been with the group since it started. He's lived in Huntersville for five years.

"For us, as the economy started taking a turn down hill, our marketing budget - as well as I'm sure with many organizations - has either remained flat or has shrunk accordingly," he said. "So this was a great opportunity to get together with other organizations and network and brainstorm on ways we can help cross-promote with one another without having to come out of pocket with a tremendous amount of expense."

During the presidential election, Siegel sent out Renaissance performers to entertain voters waiting in line at the North Mecklenburg County Regional Library. It helped spread the word about annual fall festival.

Siegel considers it more efficient to reach out to each other's customer base. Siegel, Swain and other attendees say the group's collaboration and cross-promotion will help Huntersville draw from the billions of tourism dollars that come into North Carolina each year.

"With all that we have, and by encouraging the partnerships, we have the ability to bring many more of those travel and tourism dollars to Huntersville," said Swain. "We can use those to invest on future travel and related-type buildings, or we can fine-tune roads that lead to festivals, so that will help (the town's) bottom line. It enhances the quality of life of the citizens."

Area attractions like Latta Plantation, Rural Hill, the Carolina Raptor Center, Birkdale and the town's parks and greenways are among the assets that played a role in Huntersville being named the fourth Best Affordable Suburb in America by Business Week Magazine in March 2010 and the second Best Place to Move in America by Forbes Magazine in July 2009.

"We have one of the highest concentrations of destinations in any municipality in North Carolina," said Swain.

Partnerships used to be solely between the area's top destinations, but now anyone who wants to spread the word about their business, nonprofit or fundraiser can do so at the monthly meetings. The group also is looking to create partnerships with homeowners associations, parent teacher associations and others in the community.

Swain said it's beneficial for event organizers to know about other events planned to either piggyback on them or avoid the competition.

"Partnerships benefit everybody," said Swain. "As our community grows, to me it's essential that you still have the glue that makes you a community, and I think something like this helps do that."