Charlotte Chamber bound for London?

Ron Stodghill

Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, wore a yellow bow tie to the organization’s annual meeting Tuesday night. He wasn’t alone; I saw a few other members sporting similar neckwear.  We won’t weigh in on whether that look suited them (OK, not really).

The question is what’s behind the sartorial statement. Was it a nod to the big Chiquita HQ announcement? Or, is the Chamber heading to London  for its 2012 Inter City Visit?

We could take Morgan at his word. He said the Chamber crew was simply showcasing fashion from one of Charlotte’s cool new entrepreneurs and companies, Judy Hill of High Cotton Ties. Such a gesture surely would reflect the Chamber’s amped up cheerleading for small businesses.

But being that the night’s Chamber theme was “Outrageous Aspirations,” my hunch is that Morgan’s neckwear was pointing outrageously across the Atlantic.

The other is that for the past several months, Chamber officials have engaged in rather pitched debate over where to hold the annual sojourn – Minneapolis, New York or London?

Here’s a fact: Morgan leaves Sunday (Dec. 4) forLondon to scope out plans, from potential speakers to lodging accommodations. The rub among some board members is the price tag, or perception of grandiosity while the rest of us are back home penny-pinching.

The Chamber generally announces its Inter Citydestination right around now. Unfortunately, those of us expecting to hear the big decision at the Chamber’s event pretty much got bananas: All the talk was Chiquita’s decision to move its headquarters to Charlotte.

Some of you might be asking, who cares about the Inter City Visit? It’s just another boondoggle for Charlotte’s boosters. But let’s be fair. This boondoggle is steeped in tradition. The junket, er, learning tour, dates back to 1955 when Charlotte’s movers and shakers visited New Orleans. Since then, we’ve been to Denver and Houston four times each and four foreign trips.

 In 2010, it was Boston. In writing about the trip, Bob Morgan quoted Dick Spangler to explain the purpose of Inter City visits:

“When 130 bright people who care about their city take the time to visit and educate themselves about another city, something good will result.” Last year, Chamber members hit Seattle.

It’s clear that Mayor Foxx wants to visit the Big Apple in 2012. The Chamber’s web site features Foxx sauntering Manhattan, waxing about everything from NYC’s robust transit system, Brooklyn’s revitalization, to yes, tasty street corner hot dogs.  “Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today,” Hizzoner sings.

There are also chamber “correspondents” who make their pitches for London and Minneapolis.

But here’s why some, including one rather hard-lobbying Chamber member Steve Kaplan, believe London is the right next spot. “It’s a world class global city, which Charlotte aspires to become,” he told me Tuesday night.

Among the other reasons he’s pushing London: Like Charlotte, it boasts an impressive cultural mosaic.  As he wrote to me, “The election leaflet that would come out prior to an election was printed in 14 languages – Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Arabic, Swahili, etc. And, oh yeah, English, too.”

Like Charlotte, the UK enjoys a long tradition of public-private partnerships, including most recently the rapid transit system London Underground. And yes, coming in August the summer Olympics will be held in London.

 Since there won’t be an Olympics in the U.S. until at least 2024 or 2028 – one of those should come to Charlotte and we should start planning for it quietly now,” Kaplan said.

Maybe somebody’s listening. On Tuesday night, attorney Frank Emory, the incoming Chamber chairman, proclaimed that Charlotte should set its sights on hosting a World Cup or Summer Olympics. Yes, Outrageous Aspirations. For the record: Emory wasn’t wearing a bow tie.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Charlotte Chamber bound for London?

  1. Robert Long View

    I can not believe those Chiquita jobs pay $106k! They may not be in the Upper 1% but surely 5%. I guess they are careers and not jobs,eh? Goes to show how stratified (skewered) our democracy has become over the past 30 years. What will they pay the hopeful 200 new hires at Chiquita in Charlotte.

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