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Economic Development
Dec 17, 2020

Catalytic Leadership

Sponsored Content provided by Natalie English - President & CEO, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

Over the last month, your Wilmington Chamber staff team spent several afternoons participating in a virtual version of the annual Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) annual conference. We also spent some time participating in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal's BizExpo. We have reflected with each other on how educational and motivating both experiences were for us. More recently, we've had the opportunity to learn more about each other through DISC assessments and how that knowledge can make us an even stronger team.
During our ACCE conference, we were reminded that the work of the chamber of commerce is demanding and rewarding in any year. This year, the layers chambers and many other businesses are facing seem very daunting at times. And it remains very rewarding. We were reminded that we need to provide catalytic leadership while engaging the public sector and our members.
Chamber of commerce staffs wear many hats. At the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, our vision is to promote prosperity by cultivating business growth. We do that through member programs, lobbying efforts, building a community conducive to economic development, and advocating for things that affect the quality of life for our businesses and our citizens.
We get the opportunity to work on many issues and initiatives that improve the communities we work in and for. We lay our heads on our pillows with gratitude for the chance to affect those communities positively. We very rarely become the people whose names show up on buildings or streets. That isn't what motivates us. As a collective, we are motivated by that sense of pride and belonging that comes with participating in or leading these advocacy efforts. I suspect most chamber executives would say there are few times they participated in an effort that would radically change their community. There just aren't that many opportunities. The time and effort that goes into them would severely shorten the tenure of most chamber executives.
I can point to two in my chamber tenure. The first is one I call "Mommy's train." As Chief Policy Officer in Charlotte, Mommy's train was the result of over ten years of advocacy efforts following years of work by Charlotte leaders before I arrived to join the team. The advocacy steps involved legislation for a funding source, a ballot campaign to obtain support to implement that funding source, and a ballot campaign to prevent that funding source's repeal.
In 2007, Charlotte's first light rail line opened to great acclaim on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. For the vast majority of the time since that opening, ridership has exceeded projections. A second light rail line has opened. Part of a streetcar line has opened, and other investments continue to be made. The system, and the investments made and planned, are a great economic development tool. Even if the person or company doesn't plan to use public transportation, those investments depict a community willing to be innovative about how they address the community's needs. 
On that Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2007, my son wanted to ride the train. I didn't realize how much he had paid attention to things I said around him at only three years old. The child of a friend told Rick he was going to ride on the "Tax Train," hearkening back to the tax repeal campaign we had worked to defeat. My son stood up proudly and said, "No, I'm riding on Mommy's Train." It was another meaningful reminder to me of the impact my work has.
Fast forward to 2019, and my second opportunity to be involved in a radical community impact project presented itself. I had a gut feeling it would be big. I'll be honest and tell you I wasn't fully aware of how big. When County Manager Chris Coudriet and NHRMC CEO John Gizdic first presented the need to fully vet our healthcare system's future. I knew it was the right thing to do. We should never get complacent about the important things in our community and our lives. I was grateful that the Wilmington Chamber board agreed. We encouraged the county commission to fully study and vet our healthcare system's needs to be certain how we fulfill a solid future for our region's well-being. This project doesn't have a nickname yet. I'll have to ask my son to reflect on my conversations over the last year.
In my opinion, the processes Coudriet and Gizdic created to study the issue were very thorough. I certainly received a crash course in healthcare management as I followed the Partnership Advisory Group meetings. While many of the PAG members did not enter the process with an open mind about the outcome, they stuck to a process to become even more informed. I must admit that I was surprised by the unanimous vote to recommend a partnership that would result in a sale of the assets of NHRMC.
That unanimous vote, and the overwhelmingly positive vote of the NHRMC Board of Trustees, led to encouragement by Commissioner Barfield, urging all parties to fully educate our community on the partnership opportunity and why it was needed. Over 70% of citizens in the region voiced support for the partnership once they were educated on its impact on our region and our economy. 
I have no doubt that the community foundation being created to invest, manage, and spend the money associated with the sale will truly transform our community. It has been compared to the Duke Endowment, which has impacted our state for generations. Generations from now, our community leaders will be grateful for the foresight of our current community leaders. Generations from now, our county's citizens will be more prosperous, better educated, and healthier.
Just as your chamber staff has been reminded that we should be catalytic leaders in our community, I encourage you to be a catalytic leader in your community, home, and business. Encourage creative thinking that will lead to innovation. Encourage those around you to accept change even when it isn't comfortable. Encourage your children, neighbors, employees, and co-workers to accept change and be catalytic thinkers and leaders.
Together, we can continue to encourage the kind of growth in our community that will positively affect everyone's lives, no matter their background, zip code, or the color of their skin.  It may not be another "Mommy's train" or another health care partnership. Still, we can and should keep our eyes open for ways we can support future projects and initiatives that will transform our community.
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is the largest membership-based business association in Southeastern North Carolina. The Chamber’s mission is to ensure economic prosperity throughout our region. This is accomplished by: creating a diverse, inclusive organization that serves as a strong voice for businesses in the Greater Wilmington area; offering unique membership benefits, services and education; and challenging government officials to address long-term community and business interests.

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