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Q and A with Bob Morgan

by Jennifer Garner

January 6,2007

How much influence do you think the Chamber has in this city?

The Chamber has a long history of strong influence and voice in shaping Charlotte’s growth. I want to continue that legacy. But we have to adapt to the reality that there are new voices at the table that will be a part of shaping the future.

How would you describe the relationship between the Chamber and City Hall?

Very positive. 95% of the time we are working together on important public/private partnerships for the greater good. One program that doesn’t get a lot of press is our work on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Development Corporation that works to brings jobs to the inner city. I don’t know of any other city in the country that does private/public partnerships as well as Charlotte. Rarely do we have to oppose government in speaking up for business. For example, we encourage state government to lower our corporate and personal income for rates that are uncompetitive.

How influential are the banks in determining Chamber strategy and programming?

Well, there is no denying that the two banks are influential in Charlotte; we are the second largest banking center in the country. The banks are the largest investor in the Chamber, the largest employers in town and the largest investors. The banks are members of the Chamber like everyone else and our policy and direction is set by a Board of Directors. Retaining the corporate headquarters of Bank of America and Wachovia is a major priority. We can best do that by creating a climate that allows them to attract the workforce they need to compete.

The Chamber has talked recently about “re-energizing its diversity programs.” Why is diversity still an issue for the Chamber?

We have an opportunity to take a new look at these programs. We have new leadership in the area of strategic partnerships and I am excited about the direction we are going. In a changing economy, programs that worked 10 years ago aren’t necessarily relevant today. We want to play a proactive role in making Charlotte a destination city for a diverse work force.

What do you spend most of your time on? What has been different about the job than what you expected?

Well, I was on staff at the Chamber for eleven years, so I was familiar with the operation. But I was away from Charlotte for 3 years, so a lot had changed. There were new people to meet and new issues to address. We had a large organizational change in the last year at the Chamber; we had a 12% reduction in staff and lowered our operating budget by $1 million. We have got to now focus on our core mission – to grow the Charlotte economy, be a voice for business in setting public policy and be of value to our members. Historically, we are good at economic development and public policy. Going forward, we will become just as strong at delivering member value.

What did you come away most impressed on the Inter City Visit to Philadelphia?

One was their focus on tourism as a major economic component. We can learn a lot from that as we open the NASCAR Hall of Fame and market our new arts district on Tryon Street. The other was their focus on research in higher education and using that to economic advantage. UNC Charlotte and our other schools are full of potential that needs to be developed. The other issue that was particularly relevant to Charlotte was the story of Philadelphia’s public school reform. We had our new superintendent, Peter Gorman, with us on the trip and we heard that the success to school reform was to keep the business community at the table over the long run as a voice for change. There are a lot of good lessons that we all took away from the visit.

What legacy do you want to leave behind at the Chamber? Where would you like to see Charlotte in 5 years?

I really have two goals for the Chamber, an internal and an external goal. Internally, we must do a better job of recruiting and retaining members. We currently have 3,800 members and our goal for 2026 is 8,000 members. Charlotte is a growing market and we want the Chamber to grow with Charlotte. Externally, I think Charlotte’s biggest challenge in the next 20 years will be how to fund the transportation infrastructure necessary to support our growth. I think it is important for the Chamber to help be part of that solution and work together to find funding solutions. I would like to see Charlotte continue to grow and to have a better educated work force to compete in the global marketplace. This means better secondary education and new skills training for post-secondary education. We have got to have a work force that is capable of competing in the global economy.

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