The forum was indeed, “A Tale of Three Cities,” as we heard from Chamber leaders from three metropolitan Chambers (Indianapolis, Nashville, and Raleigh), each experiencing tremendous growth. More than 200 people attended the forum. As Michael Haley, executive director of Wake County Economic Development, put it at the outset of the forum, “This is a chance to look at how other communities handled growth and how they are addressing their own challenges. We’ll be able to share what we are doing and what we can learn from each other.”
Haley first introduced Michael Huber, the president and CEO of the Indy Chamber in Indianapolis.
“There has been explosive growth in Indianapolis since the 1970s,” he said.
Huber pointed out that Indianapolis also is seeing growth in the poverty rate and inequality in the city.
“What’s disturbing is that, if you were born poor, you are likely to stay poor,” said Huber. “The solutions are really complex. No one has the perfect five-point plan, so we need to learn from each other.”
Huber said the closure of several major plants has impacted the income level of certain neighborhoods.
He also referred to Raleigh when discussing higher education. “You have that cluster of research universities right here,” Huber said. “You are the envy of the country.”
Those who attended the forum then heard from Courtney Ross, the chief economic development officer with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Ross said that the population of Nashville has grown 156 percent since 1990.
“Sixty-six net new people are moving in each day,” she said. Ross then compared that number to the growth in Wake County and got smiles from the audience. “We’ll call it 67 and we’ll call it even,” she said.
Ross said Nashville has been a top-10 metro in the U.S. for growth in the last ten years.
“We are a healthcare town,” she said. “This is what drives us. But, we have got to compete with Raleigh on healthcare IT. We’ve got that next-tier advanced manufacturing and, of course, music and entertainment. We’re seeing more companies move to Nashville for that lower cost of living from New York and Los Angeles.”
Ross also pointed out that Nashville’s poverty rate is growing.
“We’re doing so great, but not everyone is benefiting from prosperity,” she said.
Ross and Huber then were joined by Adrienne Cole, the president and CEO of the Raleigh Chamber, for a panel discussion.
“We know we’ve got a lot going for us,” said Cole. “We’ve got an incredible education system. We heard in Seattle that we’re really getting a lot right.”
She was referring to the recent Inter-City Visit and Leadership Conference where more than 150 business and elected leaders from the Raleigh area went to Seattle to learn about the growth that city experienced and the challenges it is facing.
Cole said our area has a lot going for it right now, but she said the Chamber and its members are taking “an eyes-wide-open” approach to framing the future.
She added that diverse teams are more profitable teams.Ross said, “Chambers bring people together. That’s what they do best. We bring people to the table to have the conversations to solve problems.”
This issue remains a top priority for the Raleigh Chamber. Danya Perry, who joined Wake County Economic Development in January as the equitable economic development manager, also spoke at the forum.
“Collectively, what can we do to start to remove some of the barriers for some of our communities,” he asked.
Perry said he will be assessing community needs through a listening tour, identifying key partnerships, and creating program of work.
“I’m going to be focused on inclusive economic mobility, small business and entrepreneurship support, and talent and workforce development,” said Perry.
Audience members were engaged with Perry and the panelists. They also were active on social media. During the forum, the official hashtag, #EDForum18, was the top trending topic on Twitter in the Raleigh area.
Thank you to everyone for participating and to our many sponsors for making the forum possible.