[media-credit name=”Business North Carolina” align=”alignright” width=”350″][/media-credit]
The Charlotte region’s two main industry-hunting organizations are joining forces, a move applauded by business leaders disenchanted with perceptions of internal competition between the groups. But merging the seven-employee Charlotte Regional Partnership organization into the 35-employee Charlotte Chamber is raising questions about how interests outside Mecklenburg County will be represented. The 27-year-old partnership’s thrust is to provide equal service to its 16 member counties, including four in South Carolina. Local governments provide the partnership with much of its $2.3 million annual budget, including about $310,000 from Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The chamber doesn’t receive public support for its $8.2 million budget, which peaked at $9.6 million in 2015.
“For Charlotte, this is absolutely the right thing to do,” says Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Commission, which spends about $45,000 annually for its partnership membership. “But counties on the outside are looking to see how we are going to fit into this.”
A 10-member transition committee is steering the merger, aided by the Wray Ward marketing firm, which is working on branding, and veteran Charlotte lawyer Ernie Reigel, who is transition director. None of the committee members live outside Mecklenburg County, though some have regional responsibilities. The process is expected to cost $1 million and be completed by Jan. 1, including the hiring of a new president after a national search.
Reigel, a partner and former chairman at the Moore & Van Allen law firm, will not be a candidate for the position. Bob Morgan, who has led the chamber since 2005, is seeking the job, while Ronnie Bryant, who became CEO of the partnership that same year, isn’t applying.
Prompting the merger is a sense among business leaders that Charlotte needs a more unified business-recruitment effort and a peppier image akin to Austin, Texas, or Nashville. Some point to New York-based money manager AllianceBernstein’s selection of the Tennessee capital for its new 1,050-employee headquarters as an example of how the city has lost its edge.
Building a regional group, though, requires regional support. Potentially greater funding and involvement by Mecklenburg government in the merged group has raised the eyebrows of neighboring industry hunters. “They are trying to figure out a structure, and no doubt they will reach out to the counties,” Edds says. “We are really hopeful, and we want to be part of what’s happening.” For example, he notes that Salisbury and Rowan County are “filthy rich with available industrial land,” a critical asset to attract businesses.