Monday , September 21, 2020

BizFaces

     When Jim Snyder first came to Charlotte, he didn’t know anybody. But he felt it important on becoming CEO of ODELL to reach out to Charlotte’s decision-makers.

     Much to his surprise, each and every one he called readily accepted his invitation to meet. To say he was impressed is an understatement. It spoke for itself about the quality leadership of the firm’s founder and the good name and reputation the firm had developed over the years.

     Arthur Gould Odell Jr. of Concord founded Charlotte-based ODELL in 1940. “He was part of the group of community and business leaders that created the vision and foundation of the Charlotte we enjoy today,” offers Snyder.

     “ODELL has never been just an architectural firm,” continues Snyder. “We have always believed in being a stakeholder and steward of our community, helping to influence creating special places to live, work and play.”

     Indeed, founder Odell worked alongside business and community leaders such as John Belk, Hugh McColl, Bill Lee, Ed Crutchfield and other visionaries to grow Charlotte into an important southern city. In the early 1970s, he developed the city’s first comprehensive Master Plan. Today, Charlotte’s uptown, medical centers and sports arenas reflect the vision of that Master Plan and all reflect close to 75 years of Odell’s and the firm’s continuing impact.

     Most of ODELL’s design projects are familiar household names: Bojangles Coliseum, Ovens Auditorium, Time Warner Cable Arena, the former Charlotte Coliseum, Independence Center, Bank of America Plaza, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the first Charlotte Convention Center, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, The Federal Reserve Building, Westin Hotel, 525 North Tryon Plaza, the original Knight’s Stadium and now, the soon to be completed BB&T Ballpark, to name a few, plus numerous projects for the Carolinas HealthCare System—from the original bed tower built in the 1950s to recent buildings—as well as the Novant Health Care System.

     Together, these projects form a timeline of Charlotte’s progress towards becoming the banking, health care, international transportation, hospitality and professional sports city that it is today.

 

Building Up to Success

     From its founding, ODELL has maintained its headquarters in Charlotte. The company opened its Richmond, Va., office 35 years ago. Snyder, with ODELL for 27 years, ran the Richmond office as president until relocating to Charlotte two years ago. He was named chairman and CEO of the entire firm in 2008.

     The firm’s footprint was enlarged again in 2011 with a client-driven expansion to Houston, Tex. “Now, we are in the three strongest growth states in terms of economic development,” claims Snyder. Overall, the firm expects to reach $15 million in revenue in 2013. Over half of its 76 employees are licensed architects. Eight principals lead and direct the firm’s activities and include (in addition to Snyder and Woollen) Brad Bartholomew, Terry Moore, Bruce Brooks, Max Gray, Richard Morton and Dale Hynes.

 

     ODELL’s work in Richmond is represented by a similar list of landmark places, and spans Florida to New York in work for the Bon Secours Health Care System. The firm’s major client in Houston is the Memorial Hermann Health Care System, part of the largest health care system in Texas.

     Other projects around the country include the world-recognized BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.; the RBC arena in Raleigh, N.C.; the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.; the Raleigh PNC Arena; and the North Carolina Blue Cross Blue Shield Headquarters in Chapel Hill. International projects range from the Middle East to India to Latin America to China and represent approximately 10 percent of ODELL’s work.

     ODELL offers integrated architecture, planning, engineering and interior design services. The firm is structured around market sectors as opposed to geography. Aptly named Heal, Work, Play, Move, Learn and Live, the firm focuses on the design of environments supporting health care, corporate and commercial business, sports and entertainment, aviation, higher education and senior living and multi-family residential clients.

     “I am the director of Play,” laughs Woollen, obviously delighted by the concept and play on words. “It’s a great job.” Woollen also heads up the office in Charlotte. The firm’s architects primarily work in one market sector although they are very active in the various locations where the firm has presence. Moore leads the Work sector; Brooks leads the Heal sector and heads up the office in Richmond. Health care has become nearly 70 percent of ODELL’s business.

     “Instead of being reactive, waiting for work to come to us, we seek opportunities for providing transformational ideas to help move important projects along,” says Woollen.

     “Strategic partnerships and collaboration are key,” adds Snyder. “It’s not just about now—it is looking beyond today in creating special places informed by the client’s vision designed to optimize the enterprise.”

 

Hitting Some Home Runs

     Woollen’s job has been especially exciting through the design and building of the new BB&T Ballpark which is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2014.

     “We are thrilled to be a part of bringing the Charlotte Knights to uptown. That it will be in our own neighborhood is particularly rewarding,” says Woollen. ODELL was also the architect of the current Knight’s stadium located off Interstate 77 in Fort Mill, S.C.

     In the 1980’s, Knight’s owner George Shinn anticipated rapid growth in the South Charlotte area that would leapfrog the state line. “His assessment was that the area would grow a lot faster than it has,” says Woollen. That property is now scheduled for redevelopment for a distribution and mixed-use development.

     The trend now is to build sports stadiums in center city in creating unique mixed-use live, work and play destinations.

     “The new ballpark will be much more user friendly with superior sight lines, amenities, two club areas, more picnic terraces and easy access,” continues Woollen. “Because of the ballpark there will be new development along 4th Street and along Graham Street which will continue to revitalize the Third Ward.”

     Several features make the new ballpark unique, according to Woollen. A pair of dugout suites at home plate provide for a worm’s eye view where he says, “You’ll be looking at the field like a catcher or umpire does.”

     The lower home plate club will hold approximately 900 people and will have fixed bars, indoor and outdoor seating. The other will be able to accommodate 300-400 people for game days and other catered functions. “It will be busy every day of the year,” anticipates Woollen, proudly.

     Construction of the stadium is 65 percent complete. The first game is scheduled for April 11, 2014.

     ODELL entered the Play sector in the mid-1950s with the design of what is now the Bojangles Coliseum. The firm also designed Ovens Auditorium next door. Next came the Coliseum on Tyvola Road in 1984 which was replaced in purpose 22 years later by the Time Warner Cable Arena in uptown. In between those, ODELL designed the Barnhardt Student Activity Center at UNC Charlotte.

     “It’s a more specialized field now,” says Woollen. “When we were working on the Coliseum, I knew that I could do this for the rest of my career.” Undoubtedly, ODELL has been a huge player in preparing Charlotte to be a center for professional sports.

     Like most others in the building and construction industry, ODELL was impacted by the downturn in the economy. “It sure wasn’t a very good time to become CEO of an architectural design firm—when the bottom fell out of the economy,” states Snyder referring to his taking over the reigns in 2008.

     “The reason why we’ve done as well as we have is that we have changed our firm by adapting our business model to the times and we are relationship-minded in everything we do. Consequently, with our 90 percent repeat business track record, our clients believe in us as much as we believe in them.”

     Both the diversification and specialization of the firm were also important factors, according to Snyder and Woollen. “If anything has changed all our lives, it’s 2008,” says Snyder. There were lots of very reputable firms that are not here any more. Firms that see change and embrace change are the ones that will weather the future.” This is true whether referring to the economic climate or competition, according to Snyder.

     “Most architectural firms are small; with less than 10 staff. The 1,000-plus firms are unusual. However, at 76, our staff is strong across our footprint. We are considered a large firm,” continues Snyder. “But in our particular market sectors, the competitors are usually 10 times bigger than we are. When we compete for projects in our markets we have to be more creative and savvy in terms of how we respond; we have to be able to respond and adapt very quickly,” continues Snyder.

     Woollen sums it up: “We’re the swift boat; our competition is the cruiser.”

 

Design for the Future

     Snyder was raised in a military family that moved around a good bit—from Kansas to Europe, Texas and Bowie, Maryland. “I was an artist—a sculptor—and there was very little creativity around me as I was growing up,” remembers Snyder.

     “My father said if I wanted to pursue art, I could pay for my own education. He recommended that I go to Texas A&M and join the military to serve our country like my brother did. So, I did. I joined the Corps of Cadets and ultimately discovered architecture.”

     Owing Uncle Sam some time after graduation, Snyder worked for the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army stationed at the Pentagon and designed hospitals all over the country as well as in Asia and Europe. “I learned how hospitals work from the nurses, physicians and clinicians from the inside out. We hired ODELL to design a project for us and that’s how I came to know the organization.”

     Snyder came on board at ODELL in 1986, the same year Mr. Odell sold the company to seven partners. “We bought the last partner out a few years ago,” says Snyder. “Mike and I, along with Brad, Terry, Max, Bruce, Dale, Richard and our senior team—we’re third generation partners.”

     “When I think, I diagram. I think through my hand when I draw,” continues Snyder. “There are few things that people do to create peace of mind—that’s what my art does for me. When I draw, I don’t think about anything else.”

     Still, Snyder didn’t connect the dots until graduate school spending time in Chicago exposed to the works of master architects. “I realized what architecture is all about. It’s a journey you’re on to develop your ideas about how space can enhance and influence the lives of those who experience the space.”

     Snyder moved to Charlotte in 2011. His partner, Max, had called him up and said, “Jim, it’s time you came to Charlotte.”

     “Charlotte is a great, great city, says Snyder. “You won’t see anything like our urban environment anywhere else for the size we are.” Snyder has both a son and daughter, both schooled at the University of Virginia.

     Woollen grew up in southeast Charlotte. He acknowledges, “That area was very rural then—not much architecture to look at.”

     As a boy, Woollen loved to hang around construction sites and watch the builders, especially the carpenters: “I would gather scraps of wood and go all over the neighborhood building treehouses. The first time I saw a modern building, I freaked out—loved it! From then on, I admired all things modern—buildings, cars, art, clothes.”

     Woollen graduated from North Carolina State University and started with ODELL in 1981. In the mid 1990s, he was recruited away by another firm and moved to Florida for 12 years where he worked on the Miami Heat arena and then to Dallas to work on sports and entertainment projects domestically and internationally including a great project for the Dallas Cowboys.

     “Over time, several of our former partners tried to recruit Mike back to the firm,” says Snyder. We finally did in 2010. I feel really great about Mike being with us in Charlotte.” Woollen is married and has a daughter and granddaughter who reside in Charlotte.

     “I tell people I meet all over the country Charlotte has boundless aspirations. After the bright light that shined over Charlotte for the DNC, now the conversation is about bringing home the Super Bowl,” exclaims Snyder. “There are many communities this size that wouldn’t dream of that; this community dreams of that and more each and every day.”

     The firm is also involved with the city now to redevelop the Bojangles Coliseum to create an amateur sports destination.

     “This brings in tens of thousands of kids,” says Woollen who envisions a renovated arena, new indoor facilities, hotels and other developments around the project.

     “I’ve witnessed an energy and pride in ODELL that I’ve never felt before,” says Snyder. “We believe in and inspire each other to do great things. Our passion is in making a difference.”

     “It’s more about the whole than yourself or the part,” he continues. “We believe that being active leaders in our community is truly important to our enterprise. If we’re part of a dynamic, growing, aspiring community, there is opportunity to create wonderful places.”

     Based on its success and longevity, the ODELL firm will always be a stakeholder and steward of Charlotte.

Photo: Fenix Fotography

     It may sound odd to call an insurance broker a boutique firm, but it’s the preferred term for Alan Wise, president of Charlotte’s Trinity Insurance Group.

     “We offer customized insurance solutions for our clients,” says Wise. “We are a strategic, consultative partner and we operate our business with a high-touch relational approach. Trinity is a boutique agency.”

     Trinity offers insurance products in three areas: employee benefits, property and casualty, and 401(k) retirement plans. Wise describes it as a middle-market firm, a company that works with businesses who employ from 50 to 2,000-plus employees, meeting a “huge growth opportunity.”

     While large insurance brokerages siphon off the big companies and the small mom and pop shops take care of smaller businesses, Wise says mid-sized companies are seeking the services plus extra guidance that they can’t afford to have in their own staffing.

     “We work to demystify how brokers are paid,” says Wise. “We offer an a la carte cost ‘menu,’ or fee-based services, so that we can be transparent and build the programs our clients need. We charge only for what they need.”

     With its footprint in Charlotte, Trinity also has clients in Greensboro, Raleigh, Spartanburg and Greenville. Most clients are from the Carolinas with some national clients in Texas, Florida, Kentucky and Atlanta, Ga.

     “We have the resources of the large national brokerages and the touch and feel of a local firm,” says Wise, who credits it with much of their success to their customers, clients and employees.

     Trinity works with about 200 clients, Wise says, and about 20 of them have been with Trinity for 20 years or longer, earning a place on the Trinity’s new Wall of Fame, a display space in the office that includes photographs and descriptions. Wall of Fame clients are treated with “cupcake ceremonies,” annual celebrations of the partnerships. Trinity brings cupcakes and milk to clients’ workplaces for employees.

     “It’s a good way to pause and say thank you,” says Wise, who boasts the firm’s 99 percent client retention rate, expecting the number of Wall of Famers will continue to rise.

 

Building a Firm Foundation

     Starting with just a handful of employees in 2001, Trinity was opening in a tough business environment surrounding the 9/11 tragedy. But Wise says he had planned in advance and was able to bring with him several larger clients to help carry the young company. In just one and a half years, the company grew to 30 employees.

     Each client at Trinity has an account manager and support team. One of those clients is Warco Construction, Inc., a business that began working with Wise more than 20 years ago. Hans Warren, CEO of Warco Construction, says the people who work at Trinity are one reason why he appreciates working with the insurance broker.

     “Trinity is a smaller firm that has experienced fewer turnovers in its personnel,” says Warren. “We have been dealing with the same representatives for many years.”

     “In fact,” Warren acknowledges, “they attend our company picnics and outings in an effort to get to know our employees and be available to them.”

     Wise says that employee retention is an important metric at Trinity. “In 12 years, only one employee has left the company. Bonding and community service days encourage employees to believe they are ‘part of something bigger,’ and provide value-added service to customers,” he affirms.

     “This is how we carry out our core values which include serving our customers, employees and carriers in a way that brings glory to God,” says Wise.

     Those values and exemplary service also extend to the Charlotte community where Wise, as a member of the Charlotte Leadership Forum, helps mentor young leaders in the community to be leaders in their families, occupations, communities and churches.

     In 2008, Wise’s former college roommate Harry Floyd joined at Trinity, and brought his expertise in CPA processes to help build deliverables for the growing company.

     “We had a vision for the company,” says Floyd. “Business is always changing, so we needed a dynamic business model. We brought a unique service model to the table. We will listen, learn and surround ourselves with successful practices.”

     Floyd emphasizes that Trinity works hard to court new customers and show clients that they are valued within the company. “The competitive insurance market in the Charlotte region means that clients make decisions based on the capabilities of the firm and the right fit of the people,” he assures.

     Initial client meetings focus on the culture, resources and capabilities of both firms to see if there’s a “good fit,” between them. Trinity spends time “learning about the client’s issues and concerns, not just quoting insurance prices,” describes Wise. “Our goal is to consult and provide advice and counsel to our clients. Our clients want to find out the best way to provide services for their employees and they are looking at the value of adding differentiated services.”

     “How can we help you? What are the services you are looking for in a brokerage?” questions Floyd. “Marketing is a part of what we do, so after we learn about the client company, we can show different products with different prices.”

     Trinity provides consulting services in three main areas: benefits work which comprises about 60 percent of the business, property and casualty work which comprises approximately 35 percent, and 401(k) and retirement planning, a new line of business they’ve begun this year.

     Trinity analyzes the risk of the company, looking at the benefits and the property and casualty lines to determine the company’s exposure. After reviewing the loss control and claims management, Trinity looks at how the processes can be improved.

     For health benefits, that might be in offering wellness programs, reviewing plan benefits, or communicating with employees. For property and casualty, that might be reviewing loss control and claims management. For 401(k) or retirement plans, it might be looking at employee education and compliance issues.

     “By operating as a fee-based company, Trinity can craft and price 13 or 14 service items and build a program around the client’s specific needs,” Wise says.

     “We are very transparent with our pricing,” he continues. “Our goal is to match what you want with what we have and price it fairly for both parties. We want to demystify the broker commission process. We work especially hard to ensure that each and every one of our clients has positive experience.”

 

Making Sense of the Affordable Care Act

     The Affordable Care Act poses potential hurdles to mid-size companies as they work to implement the new requirements to provide health insurance. Trinity can help, says Wise, by providing counsel about the changes in the law.

     “There is great concern in the business community about this new health care act, which gives employers and employees the opportunity to review coverage, care and premiums,” says Wise, “and, it comes down to two main issues: quality care and choice.

     “What will the exchanges offer and what kind of subsidies will be available?” asks Wise. “How can I educate our clients to make good choices—both for their companies and for their employees?”

     Employees are the most valuable asset for any company, according to Wise, so it makes sense to spend the time to both educate them about their health and offer valuable benefits to retain them. A new wellness program, he says, can be put in place in three to five years, including design, implementation and execution.

     “Trinity is able to offer a comprehensive solution for companies,” assures Wise.

     Trinity offers year-round support for health care benefits including business analytics, planning, wellness measures, and communication portals for employees, and compliance monitoring to help provide and measure the effectiveness of employee health benefits.

     Wise acknowledges that, “one size doesn’t fit all in wellness.” He touts the Trinity Health Quotient, which is a product developed in-house, which uses biometric employee data to provide individual health assessments for employees, making them more aware and accountable for their health status. Employees receive a personal health report and measures to help monitor their own health concerns such as weight management, smoking cessation, hypertension, or heart issues.

      “Technology is an important part of the mix,” affirms Floyd, “Picking the right technology can help employees with enrollment and engagement around health benefits and healthy lifestyle choices.”

     It’s important to get employee buy-in to help control health care costs, explains Wise, since 75 percent of all health care costs are related to lifestyle.

     “Robust educational measures can help drive behavior and lower premiums,” he says. “When we help high-risk employees manage their conditions, we help them improve their health, and that improves the health care costs to the company.”

     It can also lead to employer incentives that could be used to prompt healthy lifestyle changes. They might include a lower premium cost to employees who lose weight and have lower hypertension, for example, or a contribution to a charity for improvements in lifestyle conditions.

     Warco Construction uses Trinity for its group health, dental and vision benefits.

     “Trinity is important each time we come up for renewal,” says Warren. “They help us navigate the increases in health care expenses by sharing different options we us so we can pursue both plan designs and carriers.

     “Whenever questions or concerns arise about claims, they do an excellent job in supporting our staff and employees,” he says.

 

Maximizing Value by Minimizing Risk

     Property/casualty insurance, says Wise, helps companies protect their investments. Property insurance helps protect a company’s physical property, while casualty insurance helps protect the company against legal liability for potential losses caused by injury to people or damage to property.

     Understanding the choices in environments where risks change and compliance is the service provided by Trinity. Trinity can provide advice based on staff assessment that includes engineering and environmental experts.

     “We work hard to help clients make good choices—first when it comes to choosing the carrier, and second when it comes to working out claims with the carrier,” says Wise.

     Edifice, Inc., a general contractor for construction based in Charlotte, uses Trinity to cover its general liability issues. “Alan has been a great business partner,” says Eric Laster, president and CEO, who has worked with Trinity for 20-plus years. “We moved with him when he formed his business.

     “He’s handled my liability coverage and managed my health care,” says Laster speaking for his firm of 55 employees with annual services of $125 million. “Year after year, Trinity has provided health insurance and worked to manage the continuing and escalating health care costs.”

     “If you are not happy with a carrier’s action, we’ll be the intermediary, the person who is there to solve the problems in a high-stress environment,” explains Wise. “We are the servicing arm.”

     “I’ve found Alan Wise to be an honest, resourceful and creative partner,” attests Laster. “I would recommend him to other businesses.”

     With its new full service retirement planning division started in January, Trinity now helps its clients design and provide employee benefit plans. Meeting regulatory requirements is a necessary part of the review process, and Trinity, with its fee-only service, can offer non-biased consulting on current plans, says Wise.

     Service is the key differential, maintains Wise, and helps drive all of Trinity’s actions.

     “We have a service heart,” says Wise. “Our DNA is around serving and helping others to achieve their goals and dreams. Trinity is a conduit for our clients. To the extent that our clients are successful, so will we be successful.”

     Under the header of “Not Your Father’s Biology,” the National Research Council (NRC) issued a report entitled A New Biology for the 21st Century. In it, the writers coined the term “New Biology” to describe the dynamic needed for the life sciences to address some of our nation’s most pressing problems—in loss of ecosystem services, alternatives to fossil fuels, and individualized health care.

     The writers see this New Biology initiative as a sea change: “Biological research is in the midst of a revolutionary change due to the integration of powerful technologies along with new concepts and methods derived from inclusion of physical sciences, mathematics, computational sciences, and engineering. As never before, advances in biological sciences hold tremendous promise for surmounting many of the major challenges confronting the United States and the world.”

     The NRC report advocates addressing our nation’s most pressing problems in the areas of food, climate, energy and health—sectors that in their larger aspects represent 50 percent of the U.S. economy. It makes clear the need for biologists to reach across the hierarchy of science allying themselves with physicists, chemists, computer scientists, engineers and mathematicians in multi-disciplinary teams to solve the most urgent multi-disciplinary problems.

     The NRC anticipates that lines between disciplines will be blurred; physicists and mathematicians will study cell structures and living systems while biologists develop data mining programs and design homes. As you’ll see in a case study discussed later, Dr. Cory Brouwer of the P2EP Project at the North Carolina Research Center has already made the leap with one foot in genomics and the other in bioinformatics.

     Businesses are unknowing practitioners of the New Biology as they increasingly cross industry sectors seeking more scientific and efficient methods of operation to produce food for the global marketplace. For example, in the agribusiness sector, Circle S Ranch in Union County uses ecologically friendly, sustainable operations in raising live poultry. Similarly, Simpson’s Eggs subscribes to science-based farming methods designed to ensure hen welfare. These companies are profiled in companion agribusiness profiles in the magazine.

 

Food: Plant Pathways and Plant Genomics

     Plant pathways and plant genomics are expected to be leading players in the biology of the future. Americans may not realize the extent of the world’s food shortages. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that 923 million people were undernourished in 2007, the most current data for the NRC report. The New Biology promises the world faster growing, less expensive and more nutritious sustainable plants.

     Genes of these super-efficient plants will be identified through quantitative trait mapping. Using what the NRC report calls genetically informed breeding, the genetic sequence of millions of plants can be determined from seeds and seedlings, not after their full life-cycle rotation.

     Biologists are now considering breeding plants with an alternative photosynthesis pathway. Dry climate plants are less efficient in turning carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. If they were bred with a more conventional photosynthesis pathway, the adaptation could increase photosynthesis rates in most of the world’s food crops.

     Within genomics is the sub-specialty of metagenomics or environmental genomics. Its purview includes temperature, moisture, light, viruses, bacteria, insects, fungi, birds and other factors. Studying plant-insect or plant-bacteria interactions could prove beneficial to crop yields. There is much to learn from these associations.

     “Ninety-five percent of all bacteria on earth are invisible to us,” says UNC Charlotte’s Lawrence Mays, chair of UNC Charlotte’s Department of Bioinformatics and Genomics. “That’s because we can’t culture them in a petri dish.” But genomic scientists can extract DNA from bacteria samples and examine their genetic profile. The field has built up a sizable library of its bacteria findings.

 

Climate: Major Environmental Issues

     The New Biology faces two major environmental issues: diagnosis and treatment. No single federal agency, scientific community or philanthropic foundation can develop a comprehensive set of tools to diagnose our ecosystem. At present there are eight federal agencies and departments that monitor our air, water, forests, soil and carbon dioxide levels. Even with that level of scrutiny there are mismatched datasets that make it difficult to detect trends or make comparisons.

     In regard to treating at-risk ecosystems, the NRC report does not quibble: “We do not currently have the tools needed to manage the biosphere.” There has been some progress in removing carbon from the atmosphere and in the growing subfield of restoration, but here the New Biology is in its early stages.

     Long-term and effective measurement and repair of our natural resources will require the combined efforts of biologists, engineers (civil, environmental and systems), mathematicians, modelers and computational scientists.

 

Energy: Biofuel Alternatives

     Most of the worldwide increase in energy demand is coming from rapidly developing economies like India and China. Three-quarters of their needs are met with fossil fuels. Worries about fossil fuel depletion and pollution are longstanding.

     Old Biology reminds us that the world’s first fuel was plant material, now referred to as biomass. The challenge for New Biology is to find plants that produce the most biomass with the least input of fertilizer and water and the least impact on the land needed to grow food. Corn accounts for most of the biofuel produced in the United States.

     “In parts of the American Midwest, 100 percent of the corn crop is used to make ethanol,” says Brouwer.

     The New Biology regards corn as a first generation biofuel. Second generation biofuels with higher alcohol content are now within reach. Crops in line to take away corn’s crown are sugarcane, sweet sorghum, switchgrass and miscanthus. Agricultural and forestry byproducts are also in the race.

 

Health: The Big Question

     Present day health and medical decisions are often based on probabilities. We abstain from high calorie, high cholesterol foods because of the high probability of heart disease. Probabilities are derived from populations and apply to some, not all, people. Understanding how an individual’s unique set of genes and an equally unique environmental history relate to the person’s health risk, disease susceptibility and response to treatment “is a challenge well beyond current capabilities,” according to the NRC report. In other words, neither genomics nor the New Biology is presently in a position to answer the smoker/athlete question.

     New variables have been found that make the question even more complex. Altitude, diet, exercise, exposure to sunlight and chemicals, as well as air- and surface-borne viruses and bacteria all influence the connection between our genes and our traits. New Biologists now think that the genes of each microbe that lives and works inside us also influence our development. Few of those connections have been studied.

     Despite the sheer complexity of this vast web of interconnections, genomic scientists have made progress. They have identified large numbers of human and microbial genetic variations and environmental factors that are associated with specific diseases. However, association or correlation does not mean causation.

     Causation will inevitably follow and genomics will move us from treatments based on statistical probabilities to treatments based on each individual’s specific circumstances. Individualized medicine and individualized nutrition are on the horizon. Experiments using fruit flies, Arabidopsis, mice, sea urchins and other model organisms will uncover networks, systems and pathways that are similar to humans. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a few genomic baby steps.

     The gap between research and application in biology and medicine is extraordinarily long. We are dazzled by advances in technology and frustrated by decades of tiny steps in biology.

     Yet the tortoise slogs forward. Scientists once thought that one gene mutation caused one cancer. They now follow a finite number of pathways from genes to disease. The Plant Pathways Elucidation Project and other collaborations emphasize nutrition and disease prevention, not crop productivity. The humble Arabidopsis is doing its part to move society from treatment by probabilities to individualized medicine.

 

 

Case Study: NCRC’s P2EP Project Fuses Plant Science With Human Health

     The NRC report writers make clear that plant pathways and plant genomics are expected to be leading players in the New Biology. Genomics is the study of genetics and biology.

     Genomics examines the interplay of genes with each other, the environment and human lifestyle factors. Genetics, on the other hand, looks at specific genes and traits and how they are passed between generations. Genomics may be able one day to unravel why a cigarette smoker who abhors exercise and overindulges lives to be 90, while a non-smoking health-conscious marathon runner dies at age 40 of a heart attack. By including variables such as diet, exercise and smoking under its research umbrella, genomics may one day be able to prevent cancer and heart disease.

     Genomic scientists moved closer to cancer prevention when they discovered that a wide array of genetic mutations grew and developed into the same cancer in different patients. Different mutations, different people, the same cancer and a finite number of pathways between genetic glitch and disease. That discovery had immense practical significance.

     “Rather than designing dozens of drugs to target dozens of mutations, drug developers could focus their attention on just two or three biological pathways,” suggests the National Human Genome Research Institute. “Patients could then receive the one or two drugs most likely to work for them based on the pathways affected in their particular tumors.”

 

Personalized Approach

     That personalized approach to better health is one of the factors motivating Dr. Cory Brouwer and his team at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. Brouwer is an associate professor of bioinformatics and genomics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) and part of the P2EP leadership team. His current interest concerns pathways in plants, and the labs at the North Carolina Research Campus proved ideal for this type of research. Brouwer’s mission is to learn how plants can produce better nutrients.

     Brouwer envisions a personalized nutrition. “It should come as no surprise that our nutritional needs are different from person to person because of our genetics,” he said. “We may someday sit down with a nutrition consultant who informs us that, based on the sequence of our genome, we need to be eating veggies with vitamins X, Y and Z and probably none of M, N and O. All vitamin supplements would become My-One-A-Day.”

     Brouwer hopes to achieve that goal through the Plant Pathways Elucidation Project or P2EP (pronounced “Pep”). The $1.5 million, four-year collaboration was launched this summer. Participating are UNC Charlotte’s Bioinformatics Services Division, North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute and UNC General Administration. Industry leaders include the David H. Murdock Research Institute, Dole Nutrition Research Laboratory, General Mills and the N.C. Research Campus.

     The program addresses the overarching theme of “plant pathways” which are a series of chemical reactions in plants that help them to make the compounds they need to survive and adapt to environmental stressors such as disease or climate change. Each chemical reaction forms a part of a “pathway” to the formation of a specific compound, because it’s the natural path a molecule takes when changing from one form to another.

     Ultimately, the pathway leads to a new product like an amino acid, phytochemical or a type of fiber. Having been created to help a plant survive its own health risks, these newly formed compounds are often beneficial to human health when consumed. A primary goal of the P2EP program is to identify and map plant pathways in food crops—that is, decode the steps taken to produce the beneficial compounds—and better understand how they function. The P2EP project will conduct research on four foods—blueberries, strawberries, oats and broccoli—and mine data to generate a research knowledge base.

     “We’re mainly interested in metabolic pathways for this project,” says Brouwer. “These are a series of chemical reactions that occur within the cells. We elucidate the pathway by identifying the specific enzymes and chemical reactions that the plant is using to produce compounds important to nutrition.”

     Presently little is known about plant pathways. It’s surprising that neither nutrition nor edible plants have been the main focus of plant science research. Factors that affect plant yield like disease and drought resistance have always topped the research agendas, not nutrition.

     The flowering weed, Arabidopsis, has been the model organism for genomic research, not the four P2EP plants. Like the fruit fly of biological research, Arabidopsis is small and grows quickly. It also has a small number of genes and was the first plant to have its genome sequenced. Despite its fame, Arabidopsis is inedible.

 

Tools for Agribusiness

     Missing from previous plant genomic research have been the tools needed to produce nutritious fruits and vegetables. “Genomic sequencing is of no use to plant breeders until we connect those sequences to traits and markers that fruit and vegetable breeders can use,” Brouwer points up.

     Of the four plants studied in P2EP, oats may be America’s most neglected crop. Although it is the vital ingredient in cholesterol-lowering oatmeal and General Mills’ Cheerios, oats are no longer produced in the United States. They are raised only as a rotational crop in Canada. Corn and soybeans dominate U.S. agriculture.

     Beyond identifying and mapping plant pathways in food crops—decoding the steps taken to produce the beneficial compounds and understand how they function—the project is already producing terabytes in a knowledge base which Brouwer says will require “bioinformatics expertise and high performance computing to do the analysis that will lead to new and exciting discoveries.”

     Generating a knowledge base dedicated to plant pathways research from around the world first requires compiling the data to populate it, and that’s what Brouwer’s project is accomplishing. “The knowledge discovered within this project will be made available online to the public and the scientific community,” he says.

     “The Plant Pathways Elucidation Project represents the way big science can solve big problems for society—collaborations across disciplines involving industry and academia,” concludes Brouwer.

     Mary Ann Lila, director of the North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the North Carolina Research Campus and a member of the P2EP leadership team, sums it up: “By answering the questions of how, why and what healthy plant compounds are produced, we’ll be able to advance scientific research, create opportunities for industry and consumers, and ultimately enhance human health.”

     There’s a lot happening uptown. The outline of the BB&T Ballpark continues to reshape the skyline of Third Ward, and nearby Romare Bearden Park is expected to open at the end of the month.

     Charlotte center city continues to be a leading Southeast business hub with the more recent additions of Chiquita Brands, Chobani, Tire Intelligence and Heels.com.

     Uptown is quite the center for higher education featuring colleges and universities, home-grown and satellite campuses, as well as schools of law, nursing, health sciences, divinity, and hospitality.

     In the past year center city added more than 350,000 square feet of new office space, and $300 million in residential projects are currently in progress.

     In the heart of all this dynamic growth is 7th Street Public Market. Located in First Ward between College Street and Brevard, 7th Street Public Market is carving out its own unique role in uptown.

     Exposed pipes, industrial lighting and concrete floors give the 13,589-square-foot 7th Street Public Market an open, urban cool feel and creates the perfect backdrop for its 18 vendors who offer products ranging from organic and local produce to wines and beers, cheeses, specialty salts, vegan body products, fresh meat and fish, teas and spices, chocolates, fresh flowers and baked goods.

     The Market also hosts several eateries where customers can enjoy coffee, pizza, sushi or sandwiches made from artisan breads baked on site.

 

A Place for Everyone

     Adjacent to the current last station of the light rail, the 7th Street Public Market is a natural stopping place for commuters to grab an early morning cup of coffee or pick up healthy snacks. Mike Restaino, 7th Street Public Market’s executive director, attests to the many different groups of people that transition through the Market daily.

     “During the weekdays, the early crowd consists of ‘grab and go’ professionals,” Restaino explains, “but by midmorning I see a huge influx of either families, or mothers and their girlfriends with babies. It’s a large, open space so families feel comfortable bringing in strollers, and it’s near ImaginOn so people come here before or after their ImaginOn visit and kids love to sit outside, have a treat and watch the trains come in.

     “Then there’s the lunch crowd of uptown workers, and in the afternoon we get another family crowd. At night, it’s the people from work again or residents from First or Fourth Ward who want to come to a location where they can just relax and eat with their friends.

     “It’s also turning into a destination for business meetings,” Restaino adds. “One businesswoman, who does recruiting for a local bank, conducts all her business interviews here at the Market.”

     7th Street Public Market continues to grow; 2013 revenues are up roughly 70 percent over 2012, and two new vendors came aboard this past year. Restaino comments that all of the Market vendors are either hiring or expanding.

     “Some businesses like Not Just Coffee are now expanding to two other locations, and because of its phenomenal success, barChocolate has recently hired both chefs and accountants.” Affirms Restaino. “We’re getting the sense here in the Market that we are ready to give back to the community in the form of an economic engine.”

     And giving back is key because 7th Street Public Market is a market with a mission.

 

A Place for Wellness

     “7th Street Public Market is a nonprofit,” explains Restaino. “We’re a 501(c)(3) whose primary mission is to support wellness and healthcare by supporting local farmers and food vendors and artisans to promote better eating.

     “Buying local, eating local and educating people about how they can use the fruits, vegetables, meats and other products available at the Market can lead to a better, healthier lifestyle.”

     The Market’s mission fits well with the goals and businesses of its founding sponsor, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and its presenting sponsor, Carolinas Medical Center.

     Ellison Clary, director of Charlotte Community Relations for founding sponsor Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, agrees: “Blue Cross Blue Shield was looking to play a major sponsor in something like this Market because we’re all about healthy lifestyles, life improvement and fighting obesity. The Market does all three.”

     One of the 20 stations for Charlotte B-cycle, the largest urban bike share program in the Southeast, is outside the Market. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina provided the grant for the program.

     “In the future there’s going to be a park across the street from the Market,” Clary continues. “The park, the bike share program, and the Market—all of these make perfect sense for us.”

     7th Street Public Market has 14  supporting sponsors: Allen Tate, Bank of America, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte Center City Partners, Compass Group, Conder Flag, Foundation for the Carolinas, Grant Thornton, Johnson & Wales University, OrthoCarolina, Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, Rodgers Builders, and Winstead Attorneys.

     Supporting sponsors are active in the Market’s fundraising Farm to Fork Dinner Series. Restaino explains, “We have four dinners a year where businesses can bring associates and clients or solicit business. They can give them a special night out that’s different from a steakhouse or restaurant.

     “The Market is a very different environment and as you can imagine, the food is wonderful. It’s a positive, high energy kind of experience and guests realize they’re doing something good to support the Market.”

     Outside parties have also discovered the Market as a unique venue. “We’ve hosted the Latin American Chamber of Commerce’s Tapas Night and in July, the French American Chamber of Commerce held their Bastille Day celebration here.

     “It was unbelievable, with jugglers, accordion players and a performer on stilts. For the first two hours, it was open to the public who could buy tickets and try all the French culinary treats like crepes and macaroons and quiches that our vendors had specially prepared.

     “At one time that night we had over 300 people here. Every table was full. There was music. It was pure energy. People are beginning to see that the Market can be a tremendously dynamic place.”

     Supporting sponsor Charlotte Center City Partners is heavily involved in helping the Market with the dinner series. The organization, whose goal is to facilitate and promote economic and cultural development in Charlotte’s urban core, also provides the Market with assistance in areas of marketing, promotion and operational administration.

     “Charlotte Center City Partners has always been invested in the vision of a green market in Center City,” explains Lelia King, Charlotte Center City Partner’s director of communication. “7th Street Public Market is exactly what we need here.”

     King cites the growth of 20 to 30 year olds moving into uptown. “People who live here, people who work here and the roughly 11 million visitors to the city annually are all a huge customer base for the Market,” she adds. “It’s the kind of place people want in the city.”

 

A Place for Growth

     7th Street Public Market not only provides a unique experience for its customers, it also provides a unique opportunity for its vendors. Restaino explains, “The second mission of 7th Street Public Market is to be an incubator for new businesses. We work with new businesses to see if they have a viable business plan.

     “I’ve also talked with the board recently to see if there are further opportunities, from an educational standpoint, to provide these businesses with information on systems, technology, accounting or insurance. We’ve been brainstorming to see how we could provide these resources to them.

     “What’s unique about the Market’s business model is that we are looking for business synergies. Prospective vendors go through a selection process to determine not only their viability but also to determine if they can ‘lift’ the Market. Their business has to fit within the mission of the Market and work well with the other businesses here.

     “For example, I didn’t really envision a vegan baker for the Market, but after listening to the customers, I knew that having Novel Sweets here would be an opportunity to service the market and educate the consumer about a different business. The businesses here all have tremendous knowledge about their products that they can share.

     “The synergies here are really special. The vendors support each other. Novel Sweets uses ingredients from Salts of the Earth. Homeland Creamery, with their local dairy, supplies the milk used at Not Just Coffee. Local Loaf uses Homeland Creamery products for their baking.

     “Not only do these relationships create camaraderie among vendors, but it also helps each other financially. It’s a unique environment that goes back to the business selection process.”

     Local Loaf was chosen as a vendor from among 15 applicants. Owner and Executive Chef Adam Spears always had the goal of starting his own business and after graduating from Ohio State and getting his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University he worked in town with Chef Charles Catering as well as Global Restaurant and Heist Brewery.

     When it came time to realize his goal, Spears says the 7th Street Public Market was a natural choice. “When I moved here I started baking breads and traveling to farmers’ markets. I loved selling one-on-one to customers so I purposefully targeted this market for my first business.

     “The Market allows me to have a good rent price, a great location and the ability to work with multiple talented vendors to make what I do a success.

     “The best thing about the Market is the partnership we have with each other. It’s definitely a community atmosphere.

     “There’s a mentality that all of us here are stepping out on our own with everything that we have and putting it forth to give the customer the best opportunity to get not only great foods and products but also a great atmosphere.”

     The aspect of community was important to Restaino too, who comes to 7th Street Public Market after more than 40 years in retail with industry successes like Belk Store Services, Goody’s Family Clothing and JC Penney.

     “I thought everything within these walls could make a great urban community market. I had a vision of what it could be,” says Restaino.

     Restaino, who lives uptown and serves on the board of directors of The Friends of Fourth Ward, The 10th Street Townhome Association and the nonprofit Joedance Film Festival, wanted to make a difference.

     Initially, Restaino thought his comprehensive experience in areas like store management, marketing, sourcing, buying, importing, logistics, compliance and store presentation would be the primary tool he would use to grow the Market.

     “I talk to the vendors on a daily basis to give them suggestions on visual presentation, assortment mix or inventory control, and some have come to me and asked for input about the right time to expand or advice on what might support their brand.”

     But Restaino has found that his people skills have been the most helpful. “The Market has 18 vendors. That translates to 18 different personalities I need to motivate and to make sure we’re all pointed in the same direction. I also have to successfully work within our board and with our sponsors to support our vision for the Market and to be the face of the Market within the community.”

     The Market has become a destination place for the community by hosting special events every Saturday like July’s Firefighters’ Pancake Breakfast, the upcoming Cookie Crumble and the season-long Green Market Saturdays with an expanded array of vendors and themes like ice cream, camping or peaches.

     “When people learn how the community is benefiting from the Market, I’m hoping that more individuals and businesses might want to become more engaged in the Market, maybe even as sponsors,” says Restaino. “Our hope is that 7th Street Public Market becomes an iconic location in uptown Charlotte.”

Photo by Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com

     ‘Tis the Scottish way for business people to proceed with caution and to minimize risks, according to Peter Wilson, president of Great Scot International, Inc. Nevertheless, he and his son James are braving the sometimes unpredictable world of importing to bring Scottish products to a welcoming American audience.

     According to the 2000 Census Report, some 11 million people claim some heritage connection to Scotland or Ireland. There is a heavy concentration of Scots and Scots-Irish in the Carolinas and neighboring states.

     Great Scot International, Inc., based in Charlotte, was started in 1997 and specializes in supplying food products like shortbread, oatcakes, heather honey, candies and beverages (including the iconic Scottish soda, IRN-BRU), as well as tartan (plaid) fabrics and apparel all manufactured in Scotland.

     Food items are made from all natural ingredients with no artificial flavoring or coloring. Tartans are woven from pure new wool and non-wool fibers. “We have the largest range of tartan fabric and apparel in the Charlotte region,” says Peter, “and there is one retailer we supply in Mint Hill called Near and Far Scottish.

     “There is a vast market out there for Scottish products—lots of people that have a huge passion for all things Scottish, whether it’s the Highland games, music, clothing or food. There are dozens of retailers throughout the U.S. selling Scottish, Irish and Welsh merchandise and we are suppliers to a good majority of these companies.”

 

Great Scot—Great Products!

     With a growth rate of almost 30 percent for the past couple of years, Great Scot International earned $1.1 million in revenue last year. Representing 60 percent of revenue, food products are the larger side of the business.

     “The food business counts on repeat sales,” says son James, the company’s vice president. “It’s tough to get a place on the shelf in extremely competitive markets, but once you get it, it’s easier to keep it.

     “The tartan business is dependent on the ‘Scottish goods’ vendors we supply across the country. However, there is a growing demand for tartan fabrics from the likes of interior designers and wedding planners. In some cases we have done custom design and weaving. We are always on the lookout for other opportunities outside the Scottish market.”

     On the food side, most customers are large-scale distributors supplying stores such as Harris Teeter, Wegman’s and Publix supermarkets.

     “Business generally goes through big distributors and works down to small retailers,” explains James. “We also have many independent grocery stores. It’s quite a big market that is growing through word of mouth.”

     The company currently markets 15 imported food brands.

     The largest customer for the company is Amazon.com, which began doing business with Great Scot International in 2010. “We accept weekly orders from Amazon and currently deliver to nine fulfillment warehouses,” says Peter. “Amazon.com started with us by ordering $200 worth of Nairn’s Oatcakes a week. It now accounts for over $200,000 in revenue per year and currently purchases over 100 SKUs. The Amazon account alone is almost a full time job,” says James.

     You may not know the brand IRN-BRU, but it is Scotland’s top selling soda, Scotland being the only country in the world where Coke has not held the No.1 position.

     “Latching on to the IRN-BRU product, a $400 million dollar brand in the United Kingdom, was the turning point—it moved us to a different level on the Scottish food side,” acknowledges Peter.

     The soda beverage is specially formulated for the U.S. because they use a food colorant in Scotland that is prohibited in the U.S. by the FDA. Great Scot International is the sole supplier of IRN-BRU in the U.S.

     Great Scot International textiles find their way to a diverse sales base including suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, universities, municipalities, and interior designers. The company is the U.S. distributor for a Scottish tartan textile company which offers over 500 tartan patterns and makes everything from neckties to throws in fine wool. Great Scot also distributes for three other woolen mills in Scotland.

     “We just finished up a project where we supplied the tartan fabric for a small piece of a shoe being marketed by a well known women’s clothing store,” reveals James. “Every year there is an interesting high-number job that helps the bottom line,” adds Peter.

     “We also do a lot of custom weaving of plaids that are not otherwise commercially available from any mill,” says Peter. He describes a project underway for Winthrop University, which has recently registered a new tartan design. The company has completed work on projects for UNC Greensboro, Furman University, Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., and the Department of Homeland Security Office of Field Services’ Honor Pipe Bands. Harley-Davidson is another well-known customer.

     Many American states also have their own tartans. Over the years Great Scot has woven The Carolina tartan, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Mississippi, and Texas Bluebonnet.

     Great Scot International completed a recent project for the Cypress Presbyterian Church in Vass, N.C. Tartans for the names of the founding fathers of the church— Cameron, Johnstone and Keith—were all woven into one pattern.

     “Early on I saw the value of going out to the Scottish games with the tartans in tow,” says Peter, proud of his initiative. “It was a simple marketing technique—face-to-face. I’ve worked with several clans who’ve commissioned me to weave designs over the years. Pretty much every state puts on Highland games where you can find upwards of a hundred clans with different names and over 20,000 visitors. It is a very targeted audience.”

     In light of the various products Great Scot offers, the company markets its products on the additional retail websites of www.IRN-BRU-usa.com, www.thescottishweaver.com; and www.thescottishgrocer.com.

 

Importing Challenges

     James clarifies the importing process for Great Scot International: “Suppliers in the U.K. are not always knowledgeable about exporting. We have to make sure that the documentation meets with the correct format and that every item has the correct tariff code.” Containers are not released for shipment without correct documentation.

     Great Scot had been using a contract warehouse in New Jersey, but three years ago moved from office premises to their current headquarters so that they could bring in shipping containers directly, says Peter.

     As a small part of the business, the company offers a special import service (or co-loading) on their monthly containers as space permits. This works well for U.K. companies who may have only a pallet of product to ship. Cargo is then shipped to its final destination within one-to-two days of receiving. Some customers also load some Great Scot International products with their shipment. The logistics, for now, are handled separately by a company called Compass Imports, but the Wilsons plan to take this over in the near future.

     Great Scot International pays for its goods in British sterling. Peter explains that the rate of exchange can be challenging when pricing products.

     “The trouble is, you can’t keep changing prices on your customers, so you have to look a year ahead and settle on a price and a rate of exchange. With forward planning it is possible to lock-in a rate through purchasing tranches of British sterling for a 90-day window.

     “My strategy is, even if the rate looks great at the time, add another 10 percent. Unless there is an astronomical monetary crisis, you should be alright.”

     Working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can also be tricky, according to the Wilsons. With the introduction of the Bioterrorism Act, every overseas food supplier must register with the FDA before they can export anything. The FDA also reserves the right to audit their premises.

     Last year, the FDA put a ban on anything that had raspberries in it due to a certain pesticide forbidden in the U.S.

     “A representative from the FDA came and witnessed us smashing up the bottles of raspberry preserves,” says Peter. “Our supplier was not aware of the ban and did refund us. Currently we are having an issue with mustards.”

     This type of regulation can halt a shipment without consideration of spoilage. The full burden of proof is on the importer, according to Peter and James.

 

Shipped to America

     During the 1970s, Peter was invited to participate in an Environmental Protection Agency program at Clemson University. He went there to be an assistant to a professor, but was also encouraged to enroll in the graduate program for environmental engineering.

     There, he met his wife Suzanne, whom he took back to Scotland where she would survive 14 Scottish winters. In Scotland, Peter worked in his father’s manufacturing business which made equipment for on-line cleaning industrial boilers and heat exchangers that are fired with fossil fuels.

     “I thought my future was going to be in my father’s business until he sold out to a new owner,” says Peter. But, in 1993, an opportunity came along for him to take on sales and project management in the U.S. for the business, and he chose Charlotte as a base of operation.

     “I knew that I would be traveling and needed an airport that readily offered domestic and international flights. I started with a phone and a fax line in a friend’s garage until I bought a home in the SouthPark area,” remembers Peter.

     “But by 1997, I was ready to do my own thing, though. The decision to start my own business was driven by the growing potential of the Internet. So, I began to put together my interests in selling Scottish food products, tartans and giftware online. Working from home I handled all the purchasing, packing and shipping orders through UPS at Office Depot. At the end of the first year, I had barely made $30,000, but it was progressing.”

     Slowly but surely he built up the product lines and sales connections, as well as the Internet presence for Great Scot products. Since early 2000 the business has grown more on the wholesale side which now represents about 65 percent of its revenue.

     Great Scot was fortunate to hold steady during the downturn in the economy, according to Peter. “We are addressing a niche market with both indulgent food products and ‘heritage’ tartans,” says Peter. “We measure by looking at our customers—most are vendors, and they seemed to survive themselves; sales a bit down but they did okay.”

     Great Scot International finances working capital during times of increased buying, such as for the holidays, with a line of credit. The company has not had to obtain any major loans other than personal investment, says Peter.

     Four full-time employees, including Peter and James, make up the small staff.

“When you work in this company, you have to be prepared to work outside of a single job description,” confirms Peter.

     “My office manager, Becki, has been with me for 10 years and is greatly admired by our customers. When we moved to our warehouse over 3 years ago we hired a young man who has done a great job in running the warehouse and order fulfillment. “We are like a family.” Two other part-time workers handle IT issues and bookkeeping on a contract basis.

     Peter says he doesn’t even think of retirement.

     “I will be 64 this year and can sing the Beatles song,” he chuckles. “As long as health holds out, I would like to continue.

     “I’ve turned a lot over to James. I used to do all the ordering of product; now he does. Becki, too, is in for the long-term,” says Peter. “We’re a team; passionate about what we do.”

     Future plans include continued growth and focus on Scottish made goods and becoming America’s No. 1 source for quality tartan fabrics.

 

Photo by Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com

     Eggs are the main source of protein for many people in the world and an important source of protein for U.S. consumers. Producing eggs is a multi-million dollar agribusiness sector, and Simpson’s Eggs in Monroe, the third largest egg producer in North Carolina, is working to meet the demand.

     “Eggs laid today will be packaged and in the stores by tomorrow,” says Alex Simpson, vice president and general manager of Simpson’s Eggs.

     The production of fresh, safe eggs is a process that has evolved to include several steps in a short period of time, all designed to meet customer demand and satisfy government and industry regulators. Simpson’s Eggs, a family business spanning generations, bears testament to just how much the business of egg production has changed over the years.

 

Spanning Generations

     “We are a family-run business,” says Simpson. “My great-grandfather, Z.K., started the egg business in 1925 in his backyard. He would drive his Model-T Ford to Charlotte and sell eggs door to door. After returning from WWII, my grandfather, Leroy, started his own flock and began to expand the business.”

     Then, the reins were passed to Simpson’s father Richard until his untimely death in a car accident early this year, and now they have passed to Alex, who previously served as production manager. Simpson holds degrees in agriculture and business from N.C. State University.

     “While my grandfather satisfied the needs of his customers, my father built this company to what it is today,” attests Simpson.

     “In the 1950s, there were about 700 egg producers in North Carolina,” describes Simpson. “Today, that number has been consolidated to four main players who produce 99 percent of the eggs.”

     Simpson oversees 15 houses totalling 1.2 million laying hens that produce about 900,000 eggs a day. The Simpson’s Eggs operation, the third largest egg producer in North Carolina, provides eggs to customers in the region, as well as surrounding states and internationally.

     “The farm still operates on about 110 acres, the same amount of acreage my great-grandfather started with on his farm,” says Simpson. “It’s hard to believe we can produce that much product in so small an area.”

     Eggs are big business because they are the main source of protein for most people, especially those who live in larger countries like India and China.

     “In the U.S., the main protein source for most people is meat,” Simpson explains, “but in other countries the main protein source is eggs. Eggs are the cheapest source of protein, and account for 30 percent of the world’s protein.”

     According to nutritionists, one egg provides 10 to 13 percent of the daily reference value for protein or as much as one ounce of lean meat, fish or poultry, and egg protein is the highest quality food protein, second only to mother’s milk for human nutrition.

 

Production Life Cycle

     “We focus on quality, but you also have to have quantity to stay in the egg business,” adds Simpson.

      In addition to the laying hens, Simpson’s Eggs includes about 320,000 pullets, or chicks, that are up to 16 weeks old, maturing to get ready to lay eggs. Simpson’s uses Hy-Line birds, receiving them when they are about a day old, and feeding them until they are ready to begin laying eggs themselves at 16 to 17 weeks old.

      The peak egg production time for hens is between 20 and 26 weeks, when they lay about an egg a day, Simpson says. They continue to lay eggs for about 70 weeks. At about 90 weeks, when they are about 70 percent efficient, they leave the farm to become processed into institutional-type food, used for feeding animals.

     “Just like dairy cows are bred for milk production, we breed hens to lay eggs,” explains Simpson.

     The company produces both white and brown eggs—the different color eggs come from different color chickens—although there are many fewer brown eggs, based on customer demand.

     “Brown and white eggs are exactly the same nutritionally,” affirms Jake Simmons, sales manager and Simpson’s brother-in-law. “Some people prefer brown eggs, but it’s a myth that there’s any difference in nutritional value or taste. It’s all in what they are used to. Lots of people grew up with chickens in their backyards that laid brown eggs.”

     “The taste of the eggs is related to the feed that hens eat,” offers Simmons. “Our feed is specially formulated by a nutritionist to produce the right amount of protein for our birds. We use about 275,000 pounds of feed each day for the flock, or about 40 loads each week. The amount of feed each hen eats also helps determine the size of the eggs.”

     In the marketplace, consumers mainly want to buy large or extra-large eggs, so most of the egg production is focused on that size.

     “Overall the flavor of eggs, even organic eggs, is pretty much the same. I tell people to buy the cheapest eggs you can,” says Simpson. “They all taste good and they’re all safe.”

 

Delivering Quality Eggs

     Simmons, who handles customer clients, started with Simpson’s Eggs in 2002 when he was recruited by Richard Simpson.

     “I’m from hog country, the eastern part of the state,” says Simmons. “I’m a big-time sports fan and I thought I would go into sportswriting, like my father, who was a journalist. Richard, who was then running the production business and handling all the sales, wanted a sales manager.

     “There’s no one on Earth that I respected more, so I took the job. Richard meant a lot to me. This is a family operation and we’re hands-on. If something breaks down, Alex or I go and handle it. It doesn’t matter what time it is.”

     Simpson’s Eggs packs and ships eggs according to their customer requirements. Egg prices are volatile and vary along with demand throughout the year.

     “The Southeast has the highest-priced eggs in the country,” says Simpson, “while the Midwest, which has the largest egg producers in the country, has the lowest priced eggs. Still, the price is consistently low, considering the increase in price, over time, for other staples such as milk and bread. Eggs today cost about .90 to $1.70 a dozen, depending on the size and time of year.”

     “Egg prices can double and then halve again in just three weeks,” he continues, resulting in egg producers getting stuck with excess product. “If we have some surplus product, we go to our secondary markets. We call and bid on prices with industry traders who ship to other countries such as Hong Kong, Mexico, Germany, Iraq, and China.”

     Some of Simpson’s Eggs big customers include Food Lion, Sam’s Club, Compare Foods and Aldi. Depending on the customer requirement, eggs are packaged and delivered to individual stores or warehouses for distribution.

     Customers can also request that eggs be packed in plastic foam or pulp (cardboard) cartons. Packaging costs are about 8.5 cents per foam cartons, says Simmons, and more customers request the foam cartons because eggs draw odors and foam does a better job of protecting them.

 

Safe Quality Eggs

     Simpson’s Eggs follow Safe Quality Food (SQF) standards, a global food safety and quality certification and management system with independent certification checks.

     Safety is a top priority when it comes to eggs, and both the FDA and the USDA inspect and certify eggs in addition to regular checks of the flocks and annual audits.

     Consumers have concerns about salmonella or bacterial infections, but Simpson says that statistically the chances of contracting salmonella from eggs is very low because of regulations in place.

     Simpson’s Eggs complies with all safety inspections and other quality standards and industry groups, including the United Egg Producers Board science-based animal welfare guidelines (UEP Certified), whose standards are endorsed by the Food Marketing Institute and the National Council of Chain Restaurants.

     Monitoring continues with the henhouses. Simpson’s Eggs farm has 15 houses of white hen layers, two houses of brown hen layers, and four pullet houses where young chicks are raised to be layers. Hens are kept in cages, eight levels to the ceiling, where waste can be separated from the hen and the egg. The high-rise layer houses developed in the 1970s and 1980s as a way to improve egg safety and environmental issues. Air quality is much improved.

     The houses are environmentally controlled to keep the temperature at 72 degrees. By using cool cells and a tunnel ventilator, air and water temperatures can be lowered by 20 degrees. In the winter, the birds naturally build up heat and keep the inside temperature warm.

     “I can control the temperatures from my computer in my office and from my cell phone,” declares Simpson, although he says that doesn’t stop him from worrying about his hens.

     “If there’s a thunderstorm and a lot of lightning, I’ll leave my house to come check on the henhouses. I want to make sure the systems are working and that the alternate generator is running,” Simpson says. “My wife says I go to take care of the hens instead of taking care of my family.”

 

Egg Production Technology

     While some vocal critics suggest that free-range chickens is a better way to raise eggs, Simpson is convinced of the merits of hens producing eggs safely in cages.

     “As opposed to having them cage-free,” says Simpson, “statistics show that hens producing eggs in the modern cage system use 15 to 25 percent less feed per egg, and have a smaller carbon footprint.

     “We believe we’re doing it right. Hens need to be kept away from the manure that can contaminate the eggs, and from the eggs that could be broken.

     “We take better care of our birds by following the certified standards, making sure the hens have enough space, a continual supply of fresh water, and are fed six times a day.”

     Currently U.S. egg farmers supply American consumers with 76 billion eggs each year, requiring an efficient production method. Simpson points out that Europe’s recent move to cage-free egg production resulted in a net shortage of eggs, forcing Europe to become the biggest importer of eggs from China (the world’s largest producer) and the U.S.

     At Simpson’s Eggs farm, an egg conveyer system transports eggs directly from the henhouses to a warehouse where they are washed and inspected for quality.

     “This technology uses six cameras to take pictures of all angles of the eggs as they move on a conveyer belt to go through two washings,” describes Simpson. “The cameras, almost like an ultrasound, are looking at the eggs to ‘see’ spots that could be cracks or evidence of leaks. Eggs that have problems are dumped off the conveyer belt to be added to the leaks in barrel.

     “The eggs then move across a scale that weighs them and sorts them by size. Then they are packed in egg cartons according to their size. If everything works correctly, no hand touches the egg until the customer buys it in the grocery store.”

 

Simpson’s Eggs-tended “Family”

     Simpson’s Eggs has 48 employees who help with the production process.

     “We’ve got people who’ve been with us for 30 years and different generations of the same family,” says Simpson. “We employ a lot of Hispanic workers and they give me all they’ve got. They get harassed and checked to see if they are legal, and they are. We use E-verify for all our employees. These guys work hard and I consider them part of our family.”

     Simpson’s father, Richard, was a leader in the industry, serving as past chairman of the American Egg Board. Through his role in the industry, Richard was invited to the White House to meet President George W. Bush in 2002. He was accompanied by his son Alex as well as the rest of the family. They presented the First Family with a specially designed Easter egg.

     Following in his father’s footsteps, Simpson is also an industry leader, serving as a board member of N.C. Egg Association, United Egg Producers, and American Egg Board. Simpson’s Eggs is also a member or affiliated with the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture, the Egg Nutrition Center, and the Egg Safety Center.

     The family-run business continues to rely on input from the family.

     Simpson’s 88-year-old grandfather, Leroy who is president of the company, visits the farm each day to check out the production process and step in the warehouse to help out, as needed. Simpson’s 86-year-old grandmother, Nell, secretary of the company, prepares a daily handwritten ledger, “double-checking the computer figures,” says Simpson.

     “Our worries have all changed since my father Richard passed,” said Simpson. “Everybody steps up, everybody moves on.”

 

Photo by Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com

     Over the last 30 years, turkey production has evolved from a primarily holiday-oriented business into a year-round product, thanks to an increasing consumer awareness of nutrition and a variety of new processed turkey products like deli meats and ground turkey. According to the National Turkey Federation, total domestic production has increased 110 percent since 1970 to almost 250 million birds every year.

     Turkey offers more nutritional benefits than other meats, and its relatively mild flavor makes it also easy to use across recipes and easy to substitute for other meats in recipes.

Compared to chicken, beef or pork, turkey offers more protein per portion, as well as the amino acid required for complete protein usage. Just one serving of turkey provides 65 percent of the recommended daily intake of protein. Also by comparison, turkey is richer in calcium, lower in calories, lower in fat, lower in cholesterol (also less saturated fat and a better ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fats) and lower in sodium.

     North Carolina is the nation’s second largest turkey-producing state, raising over 32 million birds annually, trailing only Minnesota’s 46 million. One of the state’s largest vertical integrators in turkey production —Circle S Ranch—is based just down the road from Charlotte in rural Union County, just south of Monroe.

 

A Circle of Family

     It was 1947. Oren Starnes had come back from the war (WWII) and had a desire to make a difference, no matter how small, to alleviate the hunger he had witnessed. Staying true to his farming roots in Union County, he and his new wife Helen started in business to produce eggs commercially. By 1960, they had established wholesale and retail egg routes in addition to selling eggs directly.

     In the mid-60s, they decided to become an independent turkey grower raising around 27,000 turkeys annually. In the early ’70s, Oren’s son Sam decided that he wanted to become part of the family farm business. So in 1972, Oren officially incorporated the business as Circle S Ranch, based on the acronym of his and his son’s initials, SOS.

     Now the second generation owner, Sam works just about a mile up the road from where he grew up on the family farm. Sam had finished high school in 1969 and enrolled in Wingate College, but because he had a low number in the draft lottery, he went ahead and enlisted. It was after his return from a tour in Vietnam that he joined the family’s turkey business.

     “At that time, we were growing about 250,000 birds annually,” recalls Sam. “We had 600 to 700 acres, and we were also growing up to 700 head of beef cattle.”

     “In those days,” Sam continues, “after spending their first eight weeks or so in heated brooder houses, the birds were moved outside in April onto a fenced-in range until they were ready to go to market.”

     It worried Sam that outdoors the turkeys were vulnerable to wild animals and subject to diseases like cholera. It also meant that the business was seasonal, since North Carolina winters precluded the birds from staying outdoors from December through March. So, after a short brush-up at NC State to learn the latest in poultry production, Sam decided to build houses to bring the turkeys inside.

     Circle S Ranch began construction on 18 new turkey houses in 1973, and soon it was transporting a load of turkeys to market every day.

     Sam also knew that about 70 percent of the cost of producing a turkey is the cost of the feed. So to gain more control over feed costs, Circle S formed a co-op with a couple other farmers in the 1970s and purchased the Monroe feed mill that had been supplying their feed. By the mid-1990s, the co-op had grown the mill from 30,000 tons to over 300,000 tons a year.

     Pretty soon they would be needing additional capacity. At the same time, Sam knew they would get a better freight rate if they could increase tonnage on their distribution.

     “We were limited to 15 car trains and we needed 65 to 90 car trains to get a better freight rate,” explains Sam. “So in 1996, I bought a piece of land in Richburg, S.C., and began building a new feed mill. It opened in 1998 and we closed the Monroe co-op. Today we make over 500,000 tons of feed annually, and still supply feed for Simpson’s Eggs, one of the original co-op members.”

     Oren Starnes passed away in 1987, but the family tradition continues as Sam’s two sons—Chad and Travis—now work alongside their father in the business. Both have been working on the farm since they were kids.

     Chad, 39, oversees the feed mill and transportation operations, and is also involved in the administrative functions. Travis, 36, manages over 6,000 acres of corn, wheat and soybean crops, the company’s land clearing division, the Circle S Grain Elevator, and helps Chad manage the company-owned turkey farms. Sam, at 62, remains active in the business and is directly responsible for all grain purchasing.

     “Having Travis and me here has afforded Dad the opportunity to grow the business and make decisions that he may not have been able to make if he didn’t have us here,” says Chad. “We understand the whole concept of Circle S and where we are going in the future.”

     “I’ve got things now to where I can go on vacation and not worry about it,” Sam sums it up.

 

Growing Healthy Turkeys

     The basic process of growing turkeys has changed very little over the last 40 years. Circle S buys the baby turkeys (called “poults”) from a variety of hatcheries, with most coming from eastern North Carolina and Virginia when they are only a day old.

     The poults start out in a brood farm. Brooder houses average 20,000 to 25,000 square feet with about one square foot per bird. At about six weeks of age, the poults are transported by truck to a finishing farm, and over the next two weeks, the brooder house is cleaned, disinfected, and new bedding is delivered for the next flock. This eight-week cycle repeats itself about six or seven times a year.

     Finishing farm houses also average about 25,000 square feet in size, but offer three to four square feet of space per bird. The birds stay there until they are ready for market at about 19 to 20 weeks of age. The 16-week finishing farm cycle also includes two weeks allocated to cleaning, allowing for three to four flocks every year.

     Circle S sells to two primary meat processors—one in Harrisonburg, Va., and another in Newberry, S.C. Most of the birds they produce are male tom turkeys that are usually made into deli meats or other cooked and processed products. Smaller hens may be sold as whole birds and may wind up on your table at Thanksgiving.

     Today, Circle S Ranch has 36 company-owned houses located within a short drive of their southern Union County base of operations. They also work with over 130 contract growers spread around York, Cherokee, Chester, Newberry, Lancaster, Chesterfield, and Kershaw counties in South Carolina, and Union, Anson, and Stanley counties in North Carolina.

     Circle S Ranch and its network of growers produce over 350 million pounds of live turkeys every year. This represents about 8 million toms at 40-plus pounds each and about 1.5 million hens weighing less than 20 pounds each.

     Some of the contract growers operate as brood farms, while others serve as finishing farms. Keeping the brood farms separate from the finishing farms helps prevent the spread of diseases that can endanger a flock. All of the Circle S company-owned houses are finishing houses.

     Each contract grower furnishes the house and the labor to operate it, while Circle S Ranch furnishes the rest—the poults, the bedding, supplies, and the feed. Circle S also provides truck transportation from the brood farm to the finishing farm and from the finishing farm to market.

     “We supply all the birds and we own them the entire time,” says Sam. “Our growers own their houses, but they use our procedures and grow the birds to our exact specifications.”

     It also takes a large trucking operation to transport the poults and feed. Circle S Ranch operates about 60 tractor-trailer rigs, and many of the firm’s 142 employees are drivers and mechanics for the trucking fleet.

     “We deliver over 400 loads of feed every five days, we deliver 33 to 38 loads of turkeys to the processing plants every night, and we have six trucks that move over 200,000 poults a week from the brood farm to the finishing farm,” Sam ticks off on his fingers.

 

A Self-Sustaining Operation

     Circle S Ranch does more than just grow turkeys. They grow grain for the feed, mill the feed, make pine shavings for the turkey bedding, reprocess animal waste to formulate crop fertilizer, and recycle heating and cooling for turkey houses in a truly self-sustaining fashion.

     The Circle S Shavings plant in Pageland, S.C., buys pine trees, debarks them (selling the bark for mulch), and makes pine shavings to use as bedding. Circle S and their growers use over 50 tractor-trailer loads of shavings each week.

     The Circle S row crop operation farms close to 6,000 acres of wheat, corn and soybeans on land they own or lease in the area. They rotate their fields between the three crops, and the vast majority of that production is used as turkey feed.

     “We sow wheat in the fall and harvest it in June,” explains Sam. “We plant soybeans right behind it that will come off in October or November. Then we’ll plant that same field back with corn the next March or April. When that corn comes off around September, we’ll sow wheat back into the corn stubble, and the cycle starts all over.”

     “All our corn ends up at the feed mill to be made into turkey rations,” adds Travis. “About half of our wheat also goes into turkey feed, and the other half ends up as milling wheat for bread products. We sell our soybeans to ADM in Kershaw, S.C., and then we turn around and buy the processed soybean meal back to go into our feed mill.”

     While the row crops help feed the flocks, the turkeys reciprocate by helping the crops grow. The litter from the houses, made up of shavings and associated turkey droppings, is recycled onto the fields as a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer.

     “Except for some liquid nitrogen that we add to some of the corn and wheat, turkey litter is the only fertilizer we use,” says Travis. “We can send samples off, get an analysis, and then take a soil sample to know exactly how much litter we need to use to grow a crop. We are so much more accurate with it today than we’ve ever been.”

 

Science and New Technology

     While the basic process of growing turkeys hasn’t changed much in 40 years, the science and technology behind it certainly has. In the early 1970s, a fully-grown tom turkey might have weighed in at about 20 pounds. But today, that same 20-week-old bird would likely tip the scales at over 40 pounds. In addition to improvements in housing and production, big changes have been made in feeding and in the genetic selection of the flocks.

     Many older finishing houses have curtain sidewalls to promote natural airflow through the house, but newer houses are being built with closed sidewalls and ventilation systems to better control inside temperatures.

     “In summer, we can pull the air in through a cooling cell with running water and we can drop the temperature 10 to 15 degrees from the outside,” explains Sam. “In winter, we can control temperature by using the poults’ own body heat and pulling in the outside air and circulating it with fans. The system will do its best to keep the temperature at whatever we set.”

     “The technology that’s available now for a turkey house would blow your mind compared to 30 years ago,” adds Chad. “I’m tied electronically into my farms and there are alarms that will call me on my phone and let me know exactly what’s going wrong.”

     The biggest changes, though, have been in the genetic selection of the flocks. Sam says that there are really only two main breeds of turkey left, and the various hatcheries will take their stock from the same grandparent stocks and then do their own selection to produce and hatch the eggs.

     “We know the genetic stock each flock comes from and we keep track of that from the time they come in until we ship them out,” he says. “When I started, a bird that weighed 20 pounds at 20 weeks of age might have required four pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat. Today, that same 20-week-old bird might weigh as much as 45 pounds, but we would have only needed two-and-a-half pounds of feed to produce that pound of meat.”

     “We also have a nutritionist on retainer that formulates feeds for us,” he continues. “It’s a corn and soybean based diet. We feed them a certain number of calories each day, and they go through about eight different diets, starting out at about 30 percent protein and finishing up around 16 percent or 17 percent.”

     The row crop operation has also seen big changes as GPS technology and equipment automation allows planting and fertilizer applications to be considerably more accurate than in the past. Rows are aligned perfectly with no overlap and no inefficient gaps.

     While many things have changed over the years, one thing that hasn’t changed at Circle S Ranch is the concept of a family farm passed down from generation to generation. While some say the family farm is dying, at Circle S Ranch, the tradition is certainly still alive and well.

 

 Photo By Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com

     When you listen to Charlotte developer Peter A. Pappas talk, it doesn’t take long to understand why he’s been so successful in the Charlotte real estate market. He absolutely loves what he does.

     “I really enjoy real estate,” beams Pappas. “It’s not just my career. It’s my hobby and it’s my passion. I don’t feel like I’m going to work. I’m just going to do something I love doing every day.”

     Over the last 25 years, Pappas has been at the center of some of the most transformative real estate projects in the Charlotte region—Phillips Place, Birkdale Village, Metropolitan, and now Sharon Square—all innovative developments that have changed the way area residents live, work, dine and shop.

     Guided by two of the most influential real estate developers in Charlotte history—Johnny Harris and Smoky Bissell—Pappas learned the trade from the best and has continued to expand the boundaries with his own firm, Pappas Properties, and a new venture announced in May, Terwilliger Pappas Multifamily Partners.

Mixing It Up

     A native of Charlotte, Peter Pappas joined The Bissell Companies in 1984, shortly after graduating from N.C. State University. Working for Bissell during a key period in Charlotte’s growth exposed Pappas to the full breadth of the real estate business, from marketing to land development.

     “I had two terrific mentors in Smoky Bissell and Johnny Harris,” says Pappas. “It was the best of both worlds. Johnny was a tremendous marketer and advocate for Charlotte, and Smoky taught me the fundamentals of the development business, the numbers, and the financing. His instincts were outstanding, so he knew the right thing to do, and he knew when to do it.”

     In 1991, Johnny Harris saw an opportunity to focus on corporate services, property management, and development. So Pappas joined with Harris, Pat Clayton, and Ben Trotter to form The Harris Group. A few years later, the Harris team had the opportunity to develop an exceptional piece of real estate owned by the Phillips family on Fairview Road near SouthPark.

     “I called on Tom Phillips, who was a family friend, and suggested that when they were ready to do something with that property, The Harris Group wanted a chance to do something special there,” recalls Pappas.

     “Tom called me one day and said they were ready to evaluate options, so I spent the better part of 12 months going around the country looking at different multi-use and mixed-used projects like Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Reston Town Center outside of D.C., Lake Forest outside of Chicago, and Mizner Park in Boca Raton,” he continues.

     Reston Town Center and Mizner Park were newer projects that particularly intrigued Pappas. Both included retail space situated along a main street, with housing and offices located above the retail. To him, this was the ideal concept for the Phillips property, but at the time, Charlotte had no suburban mixed-use zoning that seemed to allow residential to be located atop retail space.

     “We showed Planning Director Martin Crampton our vision for the property and said we weren’t sure if there was a zoning category that would allow mixed-used development in the suburbs,” explains Pappas. “They [the planning staff] actually wrote a text amendment to the CC zoning category for Phillips Place.

     “It was an exciting project for us because not only was it new in terms of mixing uses, but it also created a framework where we could go out and talk to some tenants who were not yet in the Charlotte market. The Harris Group was able to secure early commitments from Dean & DeLuca and The Palm, which helped make the project very successful.”

     The Harris Group’s success with Phillips Place got Pappas even more interested in the trend toward mixed-use development. So in 1999, he decided to go out on his own to pursue those types of projects, and Pappas Properties was born.

National Recognition with Birkdale Village

     As Pappas was transitioning out of Harris, he and Johnny Harris had already begun working with Allen Tate on a building adjacent to Phillips Place featuring high-end retail shops, office space for the Tate headquarters, and penthouse condominiums. He brought that project along with him into his new firm, as well as a golf course community located near Huntersville on which The Harris Group had begun development. That community was called Birkdale, and its residents were clamoring for more retail options in northern Mecklenburg.

     Almost immediately, the opportunity emerged to buy what Pappas felt was the premier development site in the Huntersville/Cornelius market, located on Sam Furr Road near Interstate 77, just across from the Birkdale community. Developing the site to its potential was a larger project than the new firm could undertake alone, so the Crosland Group came on board as a joint venture partner.

     Combining Pappas’s experience with Phillips Place and Crosland’s extensive retail connections, the result was Birkdale Village, a mixed-use project with retail, office and residential. Like Phillips Place, the project included a multitude of smaller shops and restaurants organized around a main street and village “Green,” with apartments located above the retail. But unlike Phillips Place, the new development also featured larger retailers like Barnes and Noble and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

     “Birkdale Village appealed to a different demographic than Phillips Place,” explains Pappas. “The public realm at Birkdale Village was the Green, and the interactive fountain in the center of the project became a great gathering spot for families. We organized the restaurants around the Green with outdoor seating, and the project met the needs of that area very well.”

     Pappas and Crosland earned recognition for Birkdale Village’s mixed-use community including an International Design and Development Award from the International Council of Shopping Centers as one of nine developments around the world recognizing “outstanding shopping center projects that have successfully solved many different problems and can truly be held up as examples of what can be accomplished with a lot of hard work and creativity.”

     Birkdale Village was also honored by the National Association of Home Builders with its Pillars of the Industry Award as the best mixed-use development in America, It was also an international finalist for the Urban Land Institute’s prestigious Award for Excellence.

Adding Metropolitan Value

     In 2001, the Midtown Square Mall property between Kings Drive and Kenilworth came on the market. The Rouse Company owned the mall itself, and the Episcopal Diocese owned the land. Home Depot was interested in the site for an Expo Design Center, so Pappas worked out a partnership with Home Depot to redevelop the site into a new mixed-use development called Metropolitan.

     For many years, city and county leaders had envisioned a park and greenway along Little Sugar Creek between Freedom Park and CPCC. The creek had been capped over for decades to create surface parking for the old mall, but Pappas saw an opportunity to help leaders realize the vision by uncapping the creek and incorporating the greenway into the redevelopment plan. Over the next few years, Pappas worked closely with the city and county to create a project that would be an asset to the larger community.

     “Our vision at Pappas Properties is to create places and build communities that add value to the cities that we work in,” says Pappas. “We’ve always said that any project that we undertake would need to check that box or we wouldn’t do it.”

     It took several years to get the existing mall leases terminated, negotiate public participation in the parking decks, insure the greenway was going to be built, and get the surrounding public infrastructure improved. The mall was demolished, Colonial Properties Trust and Collett & Associates entered the partnership and helped secure Target as a second anchor, and the project broke ground in 2006. Target and Home Depot opened in 2007, but the 101 residential units came to market just as housing was falling off of a cliff.

     “We were very fortunate to get the retail and office space stabilized very quickly with a good tenant mix and a great collection of restaurants and other merchants,” says Pappas. “It took us a while to move through the housing because of the economy, but all of the residential condominiums are now sold, and the office  and retail was sold to JP Morgan in February of this year.”

     Another Pappas project, Charlotte Cotton Mills, is a mixed-use complex located near Fifth Street and Graham in uptown Charlotte. It was developed in conjunction with the Historic Landmarks Commission and Crescent Resources to save two historic cotton mills and build high-density apartments behind the old mills.

     In addition, Pappas is developing Berewick, a suburban master-planned community in southwest Mecklenburg near Lake Wylie featuring first-time move-up housing. He also hopes to break ground within 18 months on a transit-oriented residential development at the Scaleybark Station on the Lynx Blue Line.

Sharon Square and Terwilliger

     In 2008, Pappas, Allen Tate, and four other limited partners acquired a prime piece of property in SouthPark at Sharon Road and Fairview for future development as a mixed-use project. Since 2008 wasn’t the best time to break ground on a new project, the team was patient, waiting for the right anchor tenants to come forward. Whole Foods emerged as that anchor, and in August 2012, they opened their first Charlotte store on the Fairview Road side of the property.

     As soon as Whole Foods opened in August, Pappas and Tate broke ground for the apartment units, which will also feature 21,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space on the street level. On the Sharon Road frontage, steel framing is now rising on SouthPark’s first new Class A office building since 2007. By the second quarter of 2014, the new 100,000 square foot building will house Sun Trust Bank’s regional headquarters. Pappas sees Sharon Square as a very walkable mixed-use environment, featuring restaurants with outdoor seating, small boutiques, and other retailers.

     Pappas also sees more people choosing to rent rather than own, as they make a lifestyle choice to spend their time and money traveling or socializing with the friends rather than maintaining a home. In response to that trend, Pappas has recently announced Terwilliger Pappas Multifamily Partners with former Trammel Crow Residential CEO J. Ronald Terwilliger. The partnership will develop multifamily projects in the Southeast’s fastest growing markets.

     Terwilliger Pappas is currently underway with construction on Crabtree Village, a 292-unit apartment community adjacent to the Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh. In Charlotte, they are developing 239 luxury units that are a part of Sharon Square. The partnership also has two sites under contract in Atlanta, has begun to explore opportunities in the Nashville market, and hopes to acquire additional sites in Charlotte and Raleigh.

Southeastern Growth Opportunities

     Pappas sees good things ahead for the Charlotte real estate market as the economy continues its recovery from the recession. He says Charlotte’s well-coordinated economic development efforts that have landed new employers like Chiquita and MetLife are getting results.

     “Charlotte’s enjoying strong job growth, and I think that’s why we’re seeing such positive indicators on the housing front,” explains Pappas. “The for-sale housing market is improving, and the apartment market is very active. In retail, specialty retail and infill retail are beginning to improve. We have not seen a lot of new retail development in the suburbs yet, but retail follows the rooftops, so now that housing starts are picking up dramatically, I think you will soon see more activity in the suburbs.”

     “The infill markets have had a lot of activity recently,” he continues. “Young people are leasing apartments along the transit line, and there is high quality development for empty nesters that want to stay in the neighborhood but don’t want to continue to maintain a large home. But we’re also seeing good communities develop in the areas around the outer belt for families who need more space and seek different amenities. So you really have both types of offerings in this market. I think that is very healthy for Charlotte.”

     “In about four months we’ve put together a really strong team,” says Pappas. “Terwilliger Pappas is going to be synergistic with Pappas Properties. As we find mixed-use sites, our team at Pappas will work on the retail and the office, and Terwilliger Pappas will work on the apartments. We’ll also be able to pursue standalone multi-family opportunities in all of these markets.”

     “It’s a great opportunity to be involved in a community as exciting as Charlotte,” concludes Pappas. “As the past chair of the Charlotte Chamber, I love Charlotte, and I really enjoy seeing all of these very positive things happening in our community. Charlotte has a tremendous amount to offer, and we’re excited to be a part of that. We want to make sure that whatever we do here is an asset to this community.”

 Photo: Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com

     With the issue of jobs reigning supreme in the minds of business, government and the American family, Charlotte Works has just one thing on its agenda—getting qualified people into suitable jobs. To accomplish this, however, means spending a great deal of time and effort working and collaborating with businesses and organizations, municipal governments and schools and colleges to develop a globally competitive workforce for employers in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

     “We’ve just celebrated our first anniversary rebranded as Charlotte Works,” announces Steve Partridge, president and CEO of Charlotte’s newest one-stop, which is a consolidation of former offices.

     The 501(c)(3) organization was established in 1998 as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Workforce Development Board with the passage of the federal Workforce Investment Act. As in other states, federal funds are provided to the governor’s office and channeled through the Department of Commerce and down to local levels. In 2012, Charlotte’s Workforce Board was rebranded as Charlotte Works.

     “Our goal is to get people out of unemployment and back to work,” says Partridge. “The rebranding was needed to improve employment-related services for both employers and potential employees.”

     “Previously, we were a much smaller organization and subcontracted out most of our services,” explains Partridge. “We realized that to carry out our mission to upgrade and expand services, we were going to have to raise the bar on the qualifications of the people hired to deliver these services.”

     Now, with 24 professional employees, Charlotte Works is directly engaged in a broad array of customized services including coaching, training and networking—all targeted to the ever-changing needs of the Charlotte-area employers.

     “It all begins with the employer,” confirms Partridge. “In order to be effective, we have to know what they want and need by way of skill sets and experience. Perhaps they just need us to post a job for them or to help them find employees. The intensity of services goes up from there.”

     Popular among employers are the screening services Charlotte Works offers whereby only the top, fully vetted candidates are presented to the employer. Charlotte Works also helps when companies seek to achieve mass hiring such as Siemens did in 2010, ramping up staff by 750 to 1,000 people.

     “We set up a web portal for them and moved candidates through a vetting system. These are win-win situations because we own the data and can use it to work with other businesses,” touts Partridge.

Funding Skill Training

     Services become especially critical when employers cannot find employment candidates with the specific skills needed. “You see this more in technical trades, advanced manufacturing and energy fields,” says Partridge. “In these cases, we have the training dollars to subsidize wages while an employee learns the job or earns a certificate for specific work.

     “If a person is unemployed and seeking work, they may qualify for these dollars. It’s an expensive program but a win-win for the employer and candidate. Plus, the retention rate is very high.”

     For small businesses, Charlotte Works can reimburse wages up to 90 percent; for large firms it drops to about 50 percent, according to Partridge.

     “This program has really taken off. Two years ago we weren’t working with employers very closely. Our goal this year was to work with 200 employers. We’ve worked with 433. I’m afraid of the new goal the board will set for us,” says Partridge with a smile.

     Charlotte Works has targeted several sectors for job development including information technology, energy, health care, advanced manufacturing and transportation/logistics as well as aviation, bioscience, defense, international business, tourism, nonprofits, media/advertising, staffing companies and more. Representative companies include Marbach, ClickFold Plastics, Maersk, BAE Systems, ABB, Chiquita, SPS and Siemens.

     “We’re also aligning more with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and area community colleges because they represent the pipeline for talent. They are preparing the next generation of workers,” says Partridge, adding that the academic community is always adapting and growing curricula to meet the needs of a changing workplace.

     “We help find the people and, together—we fund, they train—put them through a rigorous curriculum to get up to speed for the employers. The economic downturn has limited people’s abilities to invest in themselves,” Partridge points out. “We have training dollars. If a person is willing to go into a job in high demand, we will pay for them to go back and get training.”

     The organization’s career counselors and training coordinators work individually, as well as in group and workshop settings, with people who are unemployed and underemployed.

     “We teach people how to find a job and are honest with them about why they may be having trouble,” explains Partridge. “Sometimes people have skills but don’t know how to sell themselves. We offer instruction in networking, developing a personal brand, and other areas such as salary negotiation.”

     Services for both employers and potential employees are free of charge. Charlotte Works operates on a $5.9 million budget funded by the federal government. Two-thirds of the money goes to help job seekers; one-third is designated for at-risk youth.

     “Our efforts with youth are to either get them back into school or get them a job,” says Partridge. “If kids have dropped out, they probably aren’t excited about school. We try to expose them to high-demand areas in manufacturing and allow them to make some money.”

Community Engagement

     Charlotte Works operates under the direction of a 24-member board—all appointed by the mayor of Charlotte who, according to Partridge, has been very involved at both the local level and with the U. S. Conference of Mayors’ Workforce Council.

     “The goal is to appoint people who are economic drivers in the community; people who can speak on behalf of their industry, whose businesses are large enough and connected enough to see shifts in employment and needs,” says Partridge.

     The board currently has representation from Siemens; the Charlotte Area Fund; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; Goodwill Industries; Wells Fargo; The Urban League; Charlotte Chamber; Duke Energy; Carolinas HealthCare System; Packard Place; Central Piedmont Community College; and several other businesses and organizations.

     Each office is designed to be a full-service workforce preparedness center. “We want people to be able to go to one place for the services they need. We’re aspiring to have all offices standardized such that the public can expect the same high quality of service from each one,” says Partridge.

     Charlotte Works has two offices in Charlotte; the second is located on South Boulevard. There are currently 23 workforce boards in North Carolina; more than 550 in the nation.

     Also available are 30 SNAP (Share Network Access Points) sites in the Charlotte area that are collaborations with targeted area community partners to extend resources to local neighborhoods and faith-based organizations so that communication, transportation and other barriers to employment are reduced or eliminated.

     Each site is equipped with computers, software and volunteers that offer clients convenient access to resources needed to become more employable and to find work. In the coming year, Charlotte Works will be piloting some programs that will allow people to meet with career counselors remotely.

     Charlotte’s workforce professionals realize that the workforce doesn’t stop at the borders of Mecklenburg County. “The population swells by 20 percent during the work week,” says Partridge. We work closely with our Gaston County and Centrolina counterparts to align our services.”

     Regional concerns such as the Charlotte Regional Partnership, which currently represents 16 counties around Mecklenburg County, can become frustrated with having to deal with numerous workforce boards. “Since their footprint is larger than Charlotte, they want one workforce system to work with. I think we are headed in the direction and will see some consolidations in the future,” says Partridge.

     In other future plans, Charlotte Works hopes to diversify its funding, taking advantage of its nonprofit status and eligibility to receive grants. The organization was awarded a $150,000 grant for computer equipment by the Microsoft Foundation this past year.

     The 1998 Workforce Investment Act is currently up for reauthorization. A bill has been passed in the House of Representatives and a Senate version is being crafted. Partridge hopes for a few changes. “The current law doesn’t really take into account how people today look for jobs and how they are screened. In 1998, the Internet was in its infancy. Monster.com launched just a year later.”

     Politically, Partridge is optimistic. “Anything in Washington has politics around it but I think a well-prepared workforce is one of the unique things people can agree on. We’re committed to getting people back to work. If we [the United States] don’t train skilled workers, businesses will go elsewhere for talent.”

     In a more recent development, the German federal nonprofit GIZ has announced the opening of its first United States branch office to be located in Charlotte at Charlotte Works. GIZ has worldwide operations supporting the German government in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development and in international education work.

     Its clients include governments, companies, international institutions and private foundations worldwide, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. GIZ helps people and societies improve their prospects and living conditions.

     “Charlotte’s workforce system is an ideal fit for this new partnership with GIZ. We’re focused on developing relationships with employers, particularly here in this key North Carolina manufacturing hub, and with other collaborators, to fill the skills gap and get people back to work,” says Partridge. “We’re honored that GIZ chose to locate its first U.S. office in Charlotte in our Employer Engagement Center, and we’re excited to see where this venture takes us.”

Regaining Focus

     “Sometime in the 1960s, in our schools, we started switching from career preparation to college preparation,” says Partridge. “We assumed the American dream was to get your bachelor’s degree and go on to a professional job. We all bought into that and we thought manufacturing was going away and that we weren’t going to make things anymore. But as we looked at the drop-out rate in colleges, we realized that there was something wrong with that model.

     “Blue-collar work had become tainted; people moving into the workforce wanted ‘clean’ jobs. It’s ironic,” continues Partridge. “If you take a look at today’s manufacturing, technical and energy environments, they are super clean rooms with sophisticated equipment, robots, keyboards and mice everywhere. These aren’t the ‘dirty’ jobs that we heard about from our grandparents and parents. Today, there are a lot of college-educated professionals out of work. We can do a lot more to educate our kids earlier about career options.”

     Partridge claims mass media hasn’t helped. “There are no CSI-type television shows that make manufacturing or technical jobs look cool,” laments Partridge. “The legal and medical professions both have shows that expose people to these careers and since these shows began, the numbers of graduates in those professions have gone through the roof. We don’t expose our children to many career options.

     “Then, there is the inevitable lag between rapidly advancing technology and the necessary response from the academic world to develop new curricula. Business changes on a dime,” says Partridge. “This is not a Charlotte issue; this is the world of modern technology. Sometimes things have changed by the time a new program gets developed.”

     Partridge is a native of Scottsdale, Arizona. He earned an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in economics, political science and communications from the University of Arizona in Tucson. From there he went to Arizona State University in Phoenix to complete his graduate work in public policy. His work experience began in Arizona state government supporting small businesses through the Department of Commerce.

     By age 29, he was heading up the state workforce system. Following a move to Charlotte in 2003, he worked for the Charlotte Chamber overseeing member value. After working with the Charlotte Workforce Board on a project basis, he was tapped to become its new president and CEO. In addition to his local role, Partridge serves as co-chairperson of the Policy Committee of the U. S. Conference of Mayors’ Workforce Council.

     On average, people entering the workforce will have 11 jobs in their lifetime, according to Partridge. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ you will be unemployed, but ‘when.’”

     “Charlotte Works is set up to help anyone. People think of it as the unemployment office but we’re really the opposite,” says Partridge. “We may not be the ‘just in time’ solution all the time, but we can create a pipeline. I never want an employer to tell us that they are unhappy to be in the Charlotte community because they can’t find talent here.”

 

Photo: Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com

     The workplace is changing. Today’s employers can choose from a global pool of personnel. Technology has reshaped the skill sets needed for many positions and the days of being a company man or woman are over. Employees entering today’s workforce can expect to change jobs 10 to 15 times over the span of their working lives.

     Spiraling college tuition and onerous student loan debt have quelled the idea that traditional four-year institutions are the goal for every student and forced students to look for options.

     Preparing the more than 141,000 students of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) for these new societal and economic realities is the job, goal and passion of its superintendent, Dr. Heath Morrison.

     Morrison, who took over responsibility last July for the sprawling and culturally diverse district that in the 2012-2013 school year consisted of 159 schools with more than 18,000 employees and an operating budget of $1.3 billion, is up for the challenge.

     He comes to CMS from Reno, Nevada, where he was superintendent of Washoe County School District, that state’s second largest district. During his tenure there, graduation rates rose from 56 percent to 70 percent and in 2011 he was named superintendent of the year by the Nevada Association of School Superintendents and Nevada Association of School Boards. In 2012 Morrison was honored as the national superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators.

     Morrison, who has a Ph.D. in educational policy and planning and a master’s in educational administration from the University of Maryland, is a strong believer in preparing students for what comes next.

     “The biggest challenge for today’s graduates is the changing landscape of jobs now and in the future. We have to equip them with radically different skills than what I needed when I graduated high school.”

     Morrison often quotes from influential business writers such as Thomas Friedman, Jim Collins and Stephen R. Covey and he’s brought a business-oriented approach to his job, commissioning three audits by independent consultants to review the way CMS is structured, how decisions are made, and how operations are managed.

     Communication is key to his leadership style. Morrison was described as the “go-to guy” regarding public education for the Nevada legislation and considers it part of his job to be a voice in the community and in Raleigh for his students.

     He began his tenure by listening. “I came into this position saying I wanted to listen and learn,” he explains. “I brought a lot of ideas but I wanted to start by creating business and faith-based partnerships and visiting schools in the district to make sure that everyone’s voice is part of our evolving strategic plan.”

     As part of the listening process, Morrison visited the district schools and met with students, teachers, support and ancillary staff and principals. He also held 13 town hall meetings and met with public officials, civic and philanthropic groups and higher education leaders and conducted a survey to identify priorities which received 11,000 responses.

The Way Forward

     From information learned through these efforts, Morrison prepared a strategy entitled The Way Forward enumerating eight goals and creating 22 task forces to identify ways to reach those goals.

     Goals include narrowing academic achievement gaps, strengthening and expanding educational choices and providing better communication and customer service.

     “But the first goal,” says Morrison, “is that every student graduates truly college and career-ready. I want to prepare students to be able to walk across that stage and get a diploma that’s a passport for a better tomorrow.”

     Morrison points out a major complication to this goal: “Jobs are changing rapidly. We have to prepare students for entire careers that right now don’t even exist. That’s exciting but it’s challenging as well.

     “What we need to do is equip students with the skills they’ll need to be part of a true 21st century workforce: problem-solving, critical thinking, financial literacy, entrepreneurship and collaborative abilities. These skills have to be embedded in what we do and how we approach education.

     “Knowing the names of the first 10 presidents by memory is not as important as say, knowing what they did and how it still affects us today. The challenge I have and my frustration is that we need to shift focus to those high level skills, but we’re still testing for the old, rote way of learning.

     “I’m a big believer in accountability. There should be an appropriate amount of testing to assess that kids are learning, but we need to test on the skills that are important and the testing needs to be at a healthy level where the ability for teachers to find time to really teach isn’t challenged.

     “I was very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the governor about this recently and I was very pleased that he’s now speaking about his concerns on the issue.”

Partnering for Success

     Morrison also understands that education isn’t a “one size fits all” proposition. A benchmark of success in The Way Forward is that CMS graduates all students with a personalized post-secondary plan.

     “By the time a student hits high school, they’re ready to make some choices about their future,” says Morrison. “Do they want to go to college? Do they want to enter the workforce or go into the military? I just want them to be successful in any venture they choose so I absolutely believe in having different opportunities to engage students in learning. We’ll continue to have a vibrant push toward college readiness but we’ll also focus on career readiness by expanding our Career Technical Education (CTE) programs.”

     The CMS model for CTE programs is Olympic High School which, in 2006, split into five career-themed academy schools. Internships and apprenticeships with local businesses are key to the model.

     “We believe in work-based learning,” explains Michael Realon, who has been the Career and Community Development Coordinator at Olympic for the past seven years. “We believe in getting children on pathways earlier in life so they can see the relevancy and why they need to learn and how that’s going to help them in the future.

     “What’s hugely different at Olympic is the integration of the business community with what happens here. Our business partners have become critical as collaborators and true strategic partners.”

     Olympic’s Math, Engineering, Technology and Science High School has an engineering career academy with a focus on energy that partners with big industry players like Siemens Energy, Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas Company.

     These companies work with the career academies and local colleges like CPCC to determine the requirements for special certifications. “So by the time they leave Olympic,” Realon explains, “students already have so many units from CPCC in one of these pathways. It could be mechatronics, or energy or HVAC but if a child gets a special certification from the career academy, those companies know the rigor that child has gone through to get the certification so that certificate actually has currency in the marketplace.”

     Morrison pledges to continue to explore those partnerships and challenge the local business community to be involved: “Usually when the superintendent comes knocking, businesses ask how big a check do you need and I will absolutely accept their checks but I’m more interested in human capital. Come into our schools and help our principals think more entrepreneurially, help our district become more process and system-oriented, help us develop CTE programs that are tied to business’s workforce development needs.

     “Charlotte is an amazing community where there’s a lot of opportunity for partnerships. We just have to be more intentional about asking.”

     Morrison plans to expand the success of Olympic’s CTE with a cost-saving tweak. “Traditional CTE classes are very expensive and labor intensive so it’s hard to sustain a vibrant CTE program at a single high school. Starting next year we’re going to make North Mecklenburg High School a CTE hub.

     “They’ll offer programs of auto mechanics, engineering, cosmetology and metal working but these programs will be available not only to North Mecklenburg students but also to students who attend Hopewell, Mallard Creek and Hough High School. They’ll be able to go to North Mecklenburg if one of those fields is what they want to study, so we’re giving more students access to those CTE fields at less expense.

     “That ‘hub and spoke’ system is a model we want to expand throughout the district,” he affirms.

     For students interested in advanced studies, CMS has partnered with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), creating an honors program giving students the opportunity to take college classes and earn college credit while still attending high school.

     Since 2007 Cato Middle College High School has allowed students to complete their high school course requirements while working toward a college diploma, associate degree or industry or post-secondary certification. All college classes are free to Cato Middle College students and Morrison proudly points out that every senior year student of the school graduated this year.

     “We’re going to open another middle college next year,” adds Morrison, “partnering up Hawthorne High School with CPCC to create a medical science academy. The medical field is a leading industry in the future. By tying into CPCC’s 14 medical programs we’re able to expose our students to this field.

     “Because of the partnership we won’t have to build a 21st century science lab, which saves taxpayers’ money, and our students will be able to get some certification while at Hawthorne and go immediately into CPCC’s program after high school, possibly graduating early and becoming part of a workforce our community needs.”

An Advocate in Raleigh

     The success of these partnerships has led Morrison to work with other state school districts to advocate for North Carolina State House Bill 902. HB 902 would offer grants through the North Carolina Education and Workforce Innovation Commission, providing incentives for businesses and communities to partner with schools.

     “This is smart, quality legislation,” says Morrison. “I’ve worked with nine of the other largest school districts in the state—together we represent 43 percent of all the students in North Carolina—to support this bill.

     “This type of legislation is forward thinking; it’s what our state needs. Here’s the challenge: it’s gotten great public accolades but in the budget, it’s not funded. It’s the type of legislation that doesn’t require a lot of funding. It’s kind of a venture capital funding—just enough incentive to get these entities working together. I really hope there is some reconsideration.”

     In these economic times budget issues in general continue to be an issue for CMS. The district continues to grow—3,000 new students were added last year and this year the district will accommodate 3,000 more.

     “It’s just like a family budget,” Morrison explains.” If you have more kids, you either have to spread your family resources thinner or you need to generate more revenue. At the end of the day, you get a budget and you have to do the best you can with what you have, but it means that there will be certain wants that aren’t able to be funded. That’s frustrating, especially when you fundamentally agree that you would love to have those things in our schools.

     “Given North Carolina teachers are paid $10,000 below the national average, we were very pleased that the governor put a one percent raise in his budget for teachers. But because the House and Senate didn’t also put that in their budgets, the board and county commissioners are very unlikely to fund it. We also face a $12.5 million dollar reduction in teacher assistance.”

Teachers and Technology

     Morrison continues, “Great teachers produce extraordinary results. We want to hire great people and create career ladders and build professional development to keep them in the classroom.

     “When used effectively, technology can be an amazing tool to provide inspired learning. Through technology we can expose every student to a truly great teacher and help build the capacity of other teachers.

     “One of the goals in The Way Forward is to increase access to technology. When I first got here, none of our schools were equipped with wireless technology at the level we need. We’re at 70 percent now and, by the end of the summer, we intend to have all our schools equipped with true wireless. This will support our ‘Bring Your Own Technology’ initiative.

     “Students all around the globe are being taught using technology and they are the workforce of tomorrow. Either we’re going to invest in technology and make our students globally competitive or we’re not. I want to give our students that advantage.

     “But I have an absolute fervent bias that technology can never replace a teacher. At its core, teaching is a human endeavor. Young people need to be nurtured and challenged and that only happens through human experience.”

     Morrison reflects for a moment. “We fundamentally need to change how we teach and what we expect kids to know and be able to do. Charlotte is an amazing community that believes its best days are yet to come. Let’s be the community that demands that kind of education. Part of my job is to get the community and Raleigh excited about what we need to be doing.

     “It’s a seminal moment. Either we’re going to make those changes because it’s the right thing to do or we’re going to miss this opportunity. The worst thing in the world would be, if 20 years from now in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, we tell our children to take out their paper and make a list of the first 10 presidents. That would be a missed opportunity.”

Photo: Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com


WELCOME TO CLT.biz!

Yes, I want to subscribe to CLT.biz Insights and join the CLT GLOBAL AMBASSADOR NETWORK promoting economic growth and development in the greater CLT region.

Please keep me up-to-date and informed about CLT assets, resources and economic progress.

Name
Email
Thank you, John Paul Galles