Sunday, July 14, 2024

Charlotte business group expects to hire new CEO by September

Five years ago, the newly formed Charlotte Regional Business Alliance hired its first CEO after the merger of the city’s chamber and Charlotte Regional Partnership.

Janet LaBar was an unconventional pick in March 2019 because she had worked in key economic development jobs in Phoenix and Portland, Oregon, which have different attributes and corporate cultures than the Charlotte region. She is a female in a male-dominated profession.

Janet LaBar

LaBar also had the challenge of melding two groups that had been led by veteran leaders, Bob Morgan at the Chamber and Ronnie Bryant at the regional group. Leaders pushed for the combination because of concerns over duplication and costs and a desire for greater unity among economic developers in the 16-county, two-state region.

That desire for unity is a never-ending challenge, with each entity that invests in the Alliance having different needs and goals. The group has a $10 million budget and about 30 employees, which is slimmed down compared with the merged organizations.

In April, LaBar resigned at an Alliance meeting. The group said it was her decision. She was replaced on an interim basis by Andrea Smith, who retired in 2001 after more than three decades at Bank of America, including nearly nine years as chief administrative officer. Banking publications ranked her among the industry’s most influential female leaders.

At a recent Alliance event, Smith said she expects the search for a permanent CEO to be completed by August or September. Charlotte’s Nexus Search Partners is talking with economic developers at the 14 counties that invest in the Alliance, along with other civic leaders, to get their input on the next CEO’s attributes.

“We don’t need a CEO who has a 20-year resume in economic development,” says David Longo, a Charlotte business owner who is vice chair of the alliance and helping lead the search for LaBar’s successor.  “We need someone who can pick up the phone and connect with anyone in the community.”

The alliance won’t “take a local player over an A player,” he says. “But we recognize the value of someone who knows the community.”

The alliance hasn’t replaced its previous economic development leader, Danny Chavez, who left in December. The new permanent CEO will make that hire, Longo says.

LaBar hasn’t commented on reasons for her departure. “Janet felt she had done what she needed to do and it was time to move on to do whatever she wants to do next,” Longo says. “The exciting part is that everyone understands what this organization needs to deliver.”

Alliance leaders concur that there needs to be a “tighter alignment” between state and local economic development groups along with public and private civic leaders, Longo says. Considerable effort to address that coordination started before LaBar’s departure, but it will be a priority going forward.

“The different groups in the alliance won’t always be in the same place at the same time, but we need to have a strategy, and building that strategy is really important.”

Some people have assumed that the alliance plans significant shifts in its operations, but Longo says that is unlikely. “I don’t expect big shifts in what we do. I just think we’ll do better.”

After the chamber-partnership merger, Charlotte city officials gained responsibility for negotiating directly with companies looking to expand or relocate in the municipality. For decades, the chamber had handled that work. Tracy Dodson, an assistant city manager, is the city’s key economic-development leader on many transactions. She worked for the Lincoln Harris development company and Charlotte Center City Partners before joining city government in 2018.

Longo is chair and CEO of CBI Workplace Solutions, which he and Bob Flynn started in 1993. The company is a dealer for the MillerKnoll brands with offices in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Florida.


David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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