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Opinion: The art of selecting North Carolina’s most influential leaders

 In February 2020, Up Front

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Producing our annual list of the most influential North Carolinians is among our magazine’s most challenging projects. To call it subjective is a big understatement. We know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other influential business leaders across the state, many of them loyal readers of this magazine.

Like a baseball umpire calling balls and strikes, we know there’s inevitably a call or two that we missed. But we just call it our best effort after seeking nominations from all parts of North Carolina, talking with lots of insightful people, and reporting and observing the statewide business community for many years. 

Leaders of major companies and institutions are obvious choices because of the power entailed in running huge enterprises or employing lots of people. A newcomer to the list is CEO Darius Adamczyk, whose decision to relocate Honeywell’s headquarters to downtown Charlotte sent another signal to the world about North Carolina’s emergence as a viable international-headquarters state.

The list also factors in the impact of those who exert considerable influence in their communities or the state, often with limited notice. Lumberton businessman Bo Biggs, who has been a longtime champion of southeastern North Carolina interests, became chairman of the $1 billion asset Golden LEAF Foundation last year. The Zimmer family, which runs a large retail jewelry chain, is among the biggest backers of Wilmington’s dominant hospital, New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

Fortunately, my talented colleagues again stepped up to the challenge of producing the list and ensuring accuracy of the hundreds of facts included in this edition. Taylor Wanbaugh, Harrison Miller, Ed Martin and Alyssa Pressler wrote much of the copy. Ralph Voltz directed the photography and section design. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the list.

January is the month for economic forecasts, and this year was no different. Our magazine took part by sponsoring an annual event convening a few thoughtful folks to prognosticate about the coming year. Some interesting comments from our gathering at UNC Greensboro are included in this edition.   

But my favorite comment from this year’s round of forecasts came from Chris Chung, who heads the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, at an event sponsored by the N.C. Chamber. Tired of hearing criticism that South Carolina has an edge in recruiting business, he noted, “They can’t touch us in technology and life sciences and biotech and financial services. So let’s kill this notion that we are surrounded by states that are going to eat our lunch every day.” He hinted of big deals to come.

Two weeks later, Eli Lilly announced a $470 million expansion in Durham, picking a Research Triangle Park site over competing bids from Indianapolis and Philadelphia. The site could employ nearly 500 people if demand for its diabetes-related products meet projections.

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