CORNELIUS – Bill Russell has visited Washington, D.C. nearly every year since 1999 as the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce’s representative.
Russell, the Chamber’s president, brought with him a contingent to the North Carolina Business and Economic Development Summit that was larger than ever this year – including Visit Lake Norman Board Chairman Randy Marion, Cornelius Mayor Lynette Rinker, and Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber President Kirk Ballard – to discuss state and federal issues with members of Congress Sept. 9-10. Chamber Chairman Wendy Moran and Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins also traveled with the group.
Working and building relationships with members of Congress, including Robert Pittenger, were the biggest positives during the two-day trip.
“Part of it is being informed and part of it is going up and spending face time with our legislative delegation,” Russell said. “It’s about taking care of business.”
Transportation, job creation and healthcare, three subjects which have drawn much attention from residents in the past year, dominated conversations with politicians.
“Number one, we shared that we as a chamber have been supportive of commuter rails since 1997," Russell said about transportation. "We’re still in favor of a holistic transit plan, whether it be buses or commuter rails. All of that is extremely important. We’re still supportive that we can get that together.”
The trip was more than simply reminding politicians of local leaders’ priorities, however.
“We took a van up there, and in the six hours we traveled back and forth, we had an opportunity to figure out how, as Chambers, Lake Norman and Mooresville-South Iredell can do more to help one another,” Russell said. “We received a lot of positives from the trip, some of which just came from the traveling.”
Russell also highlighted the region’s need for more H-1B visas, which give foreign workers the ability to move to the U.S. as highly skilled laborers for businesses like ABB in Huntersville.
“We’ve got to be able to get these well-trained workers to come to the U.S. and work in our plants,” Russell added, “because without them, it’s tougher to attract larger businesses. They’re not coming over illegally. We’re going to need to have more H-1B visas, so they can come here and do what they’re more qualified to do than others.”
Job creation also figures into the visa equation, Russell said, because companies would be more inclined to relocate to the lake area if all their workers were more likely to obtain H-1B visas. The new jobs wouldn’t be limited to overseas employees, either.
Russell said the event also gave the group an opportunity to discuss President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and its effects on local businesses, including possibly cutting hours to offset the cost of healthcare.
Ballard called the event a great opportunity for the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber to develop working relationships with other chamber leaders and government officials.
“We want them to make sure they know who we are and what we’re interested in,” Ballard said. “It was an eye-opening experience. Locally, we have direct contact with our leaders, but when they get to the federal level, there can be a disconnect.”
Ballard echoed Russell’s transportation priorities. In addition, he made sure to remind politicians of the economic benefits Mooresville received from television shows "Homeland" and "Banshee" filming in town.
“That’s a big deal for us and something we definitely want to keep having,” he said. “A lot of our residents take pride in that and are interested in having shows come film in town, so it was good to be able to discuss that.”
The chance to build a better networking relationship alongside Russell wasn’t lost on Mooresville’s Chamber chief.
“It’s always a great thing to be able to do that,” Ballard said. “Mooresville, south Iredell and the towns in north Mecklenburg are all regionally connected. What’s good for one is often good for the other.”
2013 Lake Norman Chamber Legislative Agenda
Support efforts to:
• Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system at the state and local level, specifically, to address technology and staffing issues;
• Obtain and fund a magistrate for North Mecklenburg; and
• Promote access and use of public records and data.
Support efforts to:
• Improve public, charter and private schools, community colleges and universities and to fully fund their enrollment increases; and
• Reform K-12, community colleges and universities to allow for flexibility in managing budget cuts with minimal impact on students.
• North Carolina’s right-to-work laws for public and private employees; and
• An employer’s right to ask applicants about prior criminal history.
• Efforts to pass an assessment model for funding Medicaid;
• Efforts to create the federal Health Care Exchange program to address affordability to business;
• Incentives for businesses that offer wellness programs for their employees; and
• Solutions that adequately fund our health-care delivery system while preserving the incentives that have made our country the leader in health care innovation.
• Incentives to attract jobs that compete better with surrounding states and to fully fund job recruitment efforts including the Economic Development Partnerships and the Department of Commerce;
• Actions to ensure adequate supply of energy and promote regulatory tools to manage cost and rate impact to customers;
• Funding for the arts, travel and tourism in the Lake Norman region and North Carolina as it spurs economic development; and
• The chamber recognizes that every effort should be maintained to assist Commerce Station and existing business parks as it markets to site planners.
• Promote “regionalism” between the lake towns in particular as we address infrastructure, economic development and quality of life issues of common interest to the lake region. The chamber should also advocate a Charlotte metro regional approach to infrastructure and legislative issues with neighboring counties;
• Reform of local building codes which make the approval process more efficient and makes it less burdensome to applicants; and
• The chamber advocates that any local, county or state tax reform or re-evaluation should promote business growth and vitality while achieving revenue and budget neutrality and administrative simplicity. Any reform or revaluation should avoid double taxation and should not disproportionately impact the business community.
Quality of Life
• Public access swimming at county owned and operated lake parks in north Mecklenburg.
State and Federal issues
• Legislative remedies to air quality issues rather than regulations;
• Efforts to reform environmental laws and regulations that encourage growth.
• Efforts to increase the efficiency of Mecklenburg County’s Board of Equalization and Review;
• A process to modernize the N.C. tax code in an effort to stabilize revenues and enhance economic development factors within a reasonable time period that would have a positive overall impact on business investments. Key factors: N.C. needs a competitive tax position; tax policy should avoid taxing investments and production; provide certainty; limit sales tax on business-to-business services;
• Reductions in the corporate and personal income tax rates.
• Local road improvement projects including but not limited to, the widening of I-77, improvements to N.C. 73, Exit 28 divergent diamond and widening of Catawba Avenue from Jetton Road to Sam Furr Road;
• Mass transit efforts that are reasonably calculated and expected to lower congestion on roadways and that are financed in a manner that does not put a disproportionate burden on businesses;
• Reform of NCDOT and remove conflicts between state and local policies and regulations; and
• Work with elected leaders, NCDOT officials, the N.C. Highway Council of Planning and the Regional Roads Committee to expedite road projects slated for the region.