Monday, April 29, 2013, ULI Charlotte hosted its inaugural Executive Leadership Series at the Duke Mansion. The event started with a networking hour where attendees spent time mingling and making introductions. Attendee, Carolyn Flowers, Chief Executive Officer at Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), commented that “the social (hour) provided me with some good networking with many people I haven’t met before.” On the overall evening, Ms. Flowers commented that “the evening was timely and a productive use of my time.”
The event brought together 64 of the region’s high level business executives for a casual evening of discussion regarding the economy, specifically involving land use, as well as other hot topics that are being discussed in state and local government, led by keynote speaker Governor Pat McCrory.
At the opening of the event, Art Fields, former President and CEO of Crescent Resources, provided a reflection of Henry Faison, one of Charlotte’s most productive and well known developers who had passed away recently. Mr. Faison was described as being a true but humble leader. Art commented that “the city has lost a true friend.”
Governor McCrory was welcomed by the group as he began his commentary with his own remembrance of Henry Faison. The Governor spoke of Mr. Faison’s commitment to the community and his ability to think long term. This concept seemed to encompass one of the themes of the evening. Governor McCrory noted that success in Charlotte didn’t happen overnight, but that it happened 30 to 40 years when some of the city’s great leaders made some great decisions. The Governor continued the discussion seeking out consideration for the long term impact of making decisions. He challenged the audience to consider every step taken in business or in the Charlotte community to integrate it with a long term plan that is innovative and will last for generations.
Governor McCrory shared a model he has used for years which focuses on ‘Vision’ at the center. In the State of North Carolina, the vision focuses is on the economy, education, and government efficiency. He communicated the importance of having a supportive team to assist in your ‘Vision’ and to focus on enacting change or fixing an issue by making it a process, not just a project with a beginning and an end but a process much like real estate development is a process. And once you are going through a process, you have to develop a strategy to make it happen and that strategy has to be integrated with your brand and your commitment to speaking with one voice. Governor McCrory commented that we should never take our success in Charlotte and North Carolina for granted and the importance of staying competitive by continuing to update our brand and our strategy.
The conversation lead to a question and answer period at which the Governor was asked to comment on the high points of the reorganization of the Department of Transportation and where he saw it going. Governor McCrory indicated that the reality was such that long-term funding will not meet the needs of the transportation organization and that the state is currently looking at capital projects and revenue sources given lost income to bordering states that do not have tax on gasoline. He mentioned that his team is currently working on a mobility formula that includes mass transit in the hopes that they can successfully revise the state’s transportation policy.
Questions were then asked by the audience related to tax reform as it relates to corporate and individual taxes as well as the broadening the sales tax base. The Governor indicated that he anticipates a very pragmatic conclusion to tax reform which will be dependent on getting votes and business support. He commented that everyone seems to be for tax reform until it hits your particular tax protection. He anticipates we will see a tax reform plan for the state of North Carolina that will make us more competitive with neighboring states. In regards to a total removal of personal and corporate income tax, he did mention the importance of thinking long-term in regards to revenue sources and the impact of reducing or removing certain taxes, indicating that if the numbers don’t match then ‘we are not going to do it.’ However the Governor does recognize the importance in ensuring that North Carolina remains competitive as a place where businesses will want to relocate to continue driving our economic development.
The Governor commented that on several ways the business community could assist in the economic development and long term plans for Charlotte and the entire state. He mentioned that he is looking for talented individuals to assist his team. Most importantly, Governor McCrory indicated the need for the business community to get involved and be leaders like they have in the past as too many times prominent business leaders are ‘sitting on the sidelines and not taking on issues.’
The next discussion topic was related to the significant unemployment rates that North Carolina has been facing in the current economy. Governor McCrory indicated that drivers of the unemployment rate in our state were due to the significant number of rural towns that have lost major industrial manufacturing plants as well as the trend of people moving to the state without jobs in place before relocating. Peter Pappas, founder of Pappas Properties, introduced land use into the discussion with that communities could get credit by helping connect those rural areas of the state to urban areas in an effort to help North Carolina’s high unemployment rate, specifically driven by those rural communities that no longer have the major industrial manufacturing plants to create jobs.
In summary, Governor McCrory will be focusing on “the things that will make a difference.” He ended on a positive note with a reflection of the many positive aspects of living and quality of life that North Carolina has to offer. His message in trying to grow economic development wrapped up with the comment, “Let them underestimate us. Let them not know we are here then sell them.”
As the evening wound down, Greg Ross, Grant Thornton partner in charge of Real Estate and ULI committee member for the Executive Leadership Series asked for feedback on the night’s event from various attendees. Lela Agnew, Executive Vice President for Strategic Communications at ULI in Georgetown was very complimentary of the event and indicated that the format of the evening was ‘perfect.’ Ned Curran, President and CEO of Bissell Companies was impressed to see that every past chair of ULI Charlotte was present at the event and commented, “What organization wouldn’t envy that? It is pretty remarkable.”
Debra Campbell, Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Director also acknowledged the benefits of having networking opportunities at events with leaders in the business community. And Peter Pappas, founder of Pappas Properties, stated “It is a great event when you can get representatives in a room who are industry leaders and speak candidly with the Governor regarding the Charlotte economy and community.”