Tag Archives: Business

Our Local Media – Let’s Take a Closer Look

SEABROOK SAYS: Until recently, the now retired Tim Gause was Duke Energy’s go-to man for Gaston County.  Gause’ words help us better understand the words coming from the media, specifically the Gaston Gazette and the Charlotte Observer. He, too, challenges us to help the media by offering them good stuff to print and showing exceptions of fair, honest and balanced news. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

You are busier than ever and your appetite for fast but reliable information has never been more significant. Whatever your interest – sports, politics, business or local events, you expect to receive information that is fair and balanced. News that you can take to your workplace or social gathering. Solid information that measures risk and influences your perspectives, decisions and outcomes. This editorial is not about protecting the First Amendment, nor is it a popularity commendation for journalism.

So, how would rate your local media? Can you rely on the six o’clock news, the Gaston Gazette or Charlotte Observer?  The talk show with celebrity appearances?  Is your iPhone the fountain of truth?

A recent Gallup poll suggests that only 32% of the public has confidence in the media. Why is there a presumption of negativity from the media?  Is the media seeking conclusions in lieu of reporting the facts?  Standards have dropped, hurting everyone.

In my former working life – there was often a frustration with the media —- the quality of the reporting or the intent of the media. Has this happened to you or to your business?  During the recent political campaigns and following the elections, my family became entwined in the news, including the “Wiki-Leaks”, Facebook posts, and Twitter.  We were continually challenging each other about the most reliable networks to watch and which newspapers maintained reputational values.  So what did we learn?

Here are take-aways that will make you a more discerning media participant:

  • Have an open mind but keep a healthy skepticism for what is being reported. It’s no longer your grandfather’s media.
  • Your first step as you read an article should examine who authored it. A local reporter or a syndicated columnist?
  • Are they reporting the news, attempting to create a larger story, or writing for entertainment? Did the story pass judgment or convict its subject ahead of the fact gathering process?
  • Ask you read the Gazette or the Observer or watch the six o’clock news, ask yourself: Did they report the facts or did they express an opinion? I would never suggest that our Gaston Gazette or Charlotte Observer create “fake news” (fake news seeks to mislead, rather than entertain readers for financial or other gain).
  • Validation of sources. Often, it’s not what is reported, but what has been left out of a story or in some cases, just not reported. Fact checking is often left to the reader or a rebuttal because fact checking takes time and reporting deadlines have to be met. In this day of instant messaging, the pressure to get it out there often overrides the contextual value of the event.
  • Did their headline or opening statement used to capture your attention really match the story? The guy that writes the story doesn’t always create the header.
  • Here’s a favorite: When a reporter starts a question with “ some would say” or “it’s been said” – here we go. That reporter is taking you on an expedition.

News is a tough competitive business. Smaller media companies are facing difficulty with declining home delivery succumbing to digital delivery. Large media syndicates are buying or shutting down the smaller hometown outlets and media markets are being consolidated. Media is a business with owners and shareholders who expect reasonable profit.

So here in Gaston county, let’s work together to raise our expectations and our standards. This is our home, with so many wonderful attributes. So, when an investor or a relocating family looks at us, let’s be polished and positive in how we present our community, whether it’s in our personal expression or in the media. We can help our local media by supplying them with the good things to report and by letting them know that we EXPECT a standard of excellence in reporting fair, honest, balanced news.

Tim Gause
Retired Utility Executive

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Manufacturing Our Future

SEABROOK SAYS: Thanks to Pat Skinner for leading Gaston College to becoming one of the best (of not the finest) in North Carolina. Julia Allen, the college’s chief development officer, writes about the Advanced Manufacturing program bring introduced and becoming operational soon at Gaston College. Gaston County is a manufacturing place where people should have high interest in this new technology! NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

This time of year reality sets in for many high school seniors and their parents that graduation day is near. If you are a parent or guardian finding yourself in this position, research shows that you have more influence over your child’s educational and career choices than you may think. With that in mind, consider that the average four-year college graduate of the Class of 2016 left campuses all over the country with over $37,000 in educational loans, and many of them are still seeking jobs because they did not gain skills necessary to move seamlessly into a career.

Society has created the illusion that the only key to a meaningful and lucrative career is a degree from a four-year college or university. I ask that you consider that there are other options, ones that are just as good and maybe even better for your son or daughter, which can easily be found close to home at Gaston College.

Gaston County’s largest employment sector is manufacturing. Over 15,000 of our friends and neighbors work within this sector; and over the past five years, the number of manufacturing jobs in our county has grown by 6.5%. It is estimated that over the next ten years an additional 3,500 positions will be available due to an aging workforce and industry growth. While the numbers seem positive, they present a challenge for the ongoing health of our local economy. The single largest frustration voiced by local manufacturing executives is that they are not able to find skilled employees for the jobs they have available.

One of the cornerstones of Gaston College’s mission statement is that we provide “educational programs and services responding to economic and workforce development needs.” To that end, we are excited about the upcoming completion of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing. The College has a deep commitment to train workers for advanced manufacturing programs, and that was the case long before the term “advanced manufacturing” was the buzz word of the day. This new facility will dramatically increase the College’s capacity to train the next generation of manufacturing employees to meet regional needs, and it is possible because of strong support from local, state and federal agencies as well as the Golden LEAF Foundation and private donors. Our community has invested resources in the College so that we may now employ them to train your sons and daughters for careers that will challenge and sustain them for life.

We need your help to change the perception of how a future in manufacturing may look. While 70 percent of Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong economy, only 30 percent of parents encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career. Few graduating high school seniors are aware of the opportunities within the manufacturing sector, or their expectation of industry is dark and dirty—yet that image is grossly outdated. Many manufacturing facilities today are cleaner than most offices in downtown high-rises, and they are staffed by well-trained, educated professionals who are highly skilled and are on the cutting edge of today’s innovations in robotics, mechatronics, 3-D printing, automation and more.

Gaston College will open the Center for Advanced Manufacturing this summer; and it offers affordable Associate Degree programs in fields such as Mechatronics, Nuclear Technology, Robotics, and Alternative Energy. Students are taught by caring faculty, in state-of-the-art facilities, to prepare them for challenging and rewarding careers. The College is doing its part to support local industries – industries that pay average annual wages well above Gaston County’s $42,158 median household income; we now need you to encourage your children to envision their future in advanced manufacturing.

For information about programs or enrollment, please contact the office of admissions at 704-922-6232 or visit our website at http://www.gaston.edu.

Julia P. Allen
Chief Development Officer
Gaston College

The Value of Telling It to You Straight

SEABROOKS SAYS: Careful now. Get a good grip when trusted folks give you straight talk.  Do whatever it takes to react positively. Read on…

Here is a lesson I learned recently based on personal experience. I wonder if you see yourself in any of this. For those of you I’ve not met, I’m a business owner and I coach other business owners and their teams. I’ve got a bit of a niche coaching and teaching businesses and teams that seem to hit a hurdle they just can’t get past. The hurdle comes in several forms. It could be the need for the business to become more valuable or profitable or it could be the organization is growing yet unsure about their next level of leadership, management or building a great team. However it presents itself, I’m expected to be congruent with what I teach. So, while working hard to help others get the life they enjoy via a business that supports what they want to achieve, I find myself saying something that pushes them past where they stop on their own; clearing the hurdle. Sometimes this requires being blunt. Most of these folks have already enjoyed some level of success and are pretty smart. They’ve even surrounded themselves with smart people.

The problem is, the people they surround themselves with are reluctant to tell it straight; afraid to tell the boss the truth about what’s going on in the business. It might make him or her mad and could be a game changer for their career. Here’s the lesson applied to me. This past year my own business growth was flat. So my coach says to me, “Your skills and knowledge have gotten you to this point, if you want your businesses to grow then you’re going to have to wake up and do something about your skills and your knowledge.” Hmmm. Guess who is working on ramping up his skills and knowledge?

Let me ask you, who do you have in your life that will tell it to you straight? Who has the courage, and cares for you enough, to sift through all of the political correctness and tell you what you NEED to hear?  I once strongly scolded a client that his team was terrified of him and wouldn’t bring him the information he needed in order to make better decisions. “How does that make you feel,” I said. A moment later, I got up and headed for the door and mentioned, “That’s our coaching session for the week; I’ll be back next week for your answer.” Wasn’t even sure I’d still have the client the next week. But hey, he was paying me to tell it to him straight; he already had all the “yes” people he needed surrounding him.

Whether it is in your personal life or your business, it is an absolute must that you have someone that will be honest with you—realizing that they are doing it for your own good, not theirs.

So, I have a coach that told it to me straight—concise, direct and exactly what I needed to hear.

OK, so you find someone that cares about you enough to tell it to you straight—now what? Are you going to take their advice and do something about it?  Or, are you going to smile and listen and then keep doing what you are doing?  The choice is yours—but your decision makes all the difference in the world.

It doesn’t make any difference whether it is your family, your business or your friends. Having someone willing to tell it to you straight means you absolutely must have a great relationship with them. And life is all about relationships.  With your family, your team, your community, your church, etc.  The most important thing in your life is not what tangible items you have, but rather what relationships you have.

So, let’s assume you want someone to be honest with you and tell it to you straight. What do you need to build the relationships that will lead to that? Here are three things to consider:

  1. Invest time in building relationships—mark the most important words here; it is an investment of your time, something you can’t get more of, so it’s valuable
  2. Ask people to tell it to you straight—give them permission
  3. Take action on their advice—i.e. listen and then do something. The difference this makes will be a game changer for you.

Tony Marder, President

ASM Ventures Corporation

Is It Time For a Leadership Tune-up?

SEABROOK SAYS: Many in Gaston County will not like this. It speaks frankly, boldly and directly to all of us. Read and study it anyhow!

Why are we stalling when it comes to progress? Is it time for a leadership tune-up?

At a Gastonia Rotary Club meeting recently, a UNC professor talked about “Big Data” – the relentless electronic collection of information about consumers and their habits (if you shop at Target or Wal-Mart, they already know what you’re going to buy next). Success will follow the companies that use this Big Data to understand shopper habits today so that they can predict them in the future. The other businesses that ignore trends (more than 80% of them) will fail because — as the professor put it — “they spend too much time focused on today at the cost of preparing for tomorrow.”

Is that the problem here in our little slice of North Carolina? Do we have the kind of leadership at the city and county levels that can focus on today and tomorrow, and tie the two together with intelligent decisions that keep us moving forward? This is what we need to ask them: Are they solving real problems in ways that will stand the test of time?

In my 20 years as a Gastonia resident, I’ve seen some wonderful examples of visionary growth including the Gem of Ashley; Holy Angels; the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden; the US National Whitewater Center; our hospital; the Carolina Thread Trail; the Crowder’s Mountain Ridgeline Trail; and, most recently Artspace and the Loray Mill. But none of these fabulous achievements happened easily or quickly, and sometimes they had to fight their way to fruition. Why? We have the people who possess the creativity, passion and energy for impressive achievements, so why aren’t we doing more and at a faster clip? Why are we so far behind our neighbors in adjoining counties when it comes to creating a hip, lively place to live and work? Why won’t we embrace change?

In a Gaston Gazette article titled “’Religious Freedom act prompts questioning of our image” (April 3, 2015), executive director of the Gaston County Economic Development Commission Donny Hicks had this to say: “Regardless of how you feel (about a social issue),” he said, “when you look at it from a state perspective and think about job creation, you’re going to have to take a progressive approach or eventually there are going to be some repercussions to it.” He’s right: when we are viewed as being so desperately out of synch with modern thinking, it invites mockery and encourages new businesses to look elsewhere. We need to pull ourselves out of the rut in which we’re entrenched. Do our elected officials have the courage to envision a vibrant future and make the hard – possibly unpopular — decisions to get us there?

When I was studying for a master’s degree in leadership, one truth I discovered is that great leaders are rare. Even the very definition of the word “leadership” is a hotly debated topic among academics. But despite its elusive meaning, we all know great leadership when we see it: Winston Churchill; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Eleanor Roosevelt; Rudy Giuliani in the wake of September 11; and now Pope Francis and his courageous stand on climate change. Despite their obvious differences, all these individuals share two core qualities that partly define them as leaders: 1) they put their own interests aside in service of the greater good; and 2) they hold a vision for the future that guides each of their decisions and all of their actions. A third quality is that they inspire followship, even when the ideas they promote are new and potentially fraught.

That’s a little bit of what leadership is. Leadership has nothing to do with position. People often mistakenly identify themselves as leaders because of their title. Just because you are a CEO or a president or an elected official doesn’t mean you know how to lead. Genuine leadership is a skill that comes from a lifetime of working at it, humbly and with purpose, not overnight due to election results or a job promotion.

True leaders know that stasis leads to decay and eventually death. As we struggle to become something other than the butt of others’ jokes, we have to ask 1) do we have the right people leading us forward? 2) do they follow through on important projects? 3) are we willing to summon our own personal leadership and demand that they focus only on the issues relevant to forward-thinking growth and development?

Do we want to be a living city or a museum caught up in the past? We don’t have the advantage of “Big Data” to drive our decisions, but all we need to do is look around at what other towns and counties have done with their limited resources and ask whether we can do a better job with ours. I believe we have the people and the passion to become someplace great, but whether we do or not will come down to leadership, or the lack of it. Before you vote, ask your candidates what they’re willing to do to drive meaningful change and innovation. It’s time to put our elected officials’ feet to the fire and demand creative, collaborative, visionary action focused on what will help us grow. And if they can’t stand the heat, they need to get out of the kitchen to make room for others who can.

Janice Holly Booth is the former CEO of three nationally-based non-profits, including Gastonia’s Girl Scouts of the Pioneer Council, from 1997 to 2009. She holds a master’s degree in Leadership and has written extensively on the topics of developing personal leadership, and how leaders make decisions in the face of fear.

If You Aren’t Growing, You Are Dying

SEABROOK SAYS:  GGDC writes about two prime goals: growing jobs and growing the tax base. Every citizen can help everyday: talk up our positives, build our image, make our Gaston a better place.

The Alliance for Growth plan developed by over 100 Gaston County leaders late in 2014 embodies two fundamentally important goals for Gaston County: 1) grow jobs and 2) grow the tax base through greater investment. These goals are premised on the conviction that growth is a positive thing and that a failure to grow inevitably leads at best to mediocrity and at worst to a spiral downward. This condition is exemplified by a quote attributed to numerous authors: “if you aren’t growing, you are dying.” To examine the simple power of this statement, it is helpful to delve deeper into the Alliance for Growth plan and what it can mean to Gaston County’s future growth.

First, we need to acknowledge that growth does create challenges (more demand on public services such as schools, police, fire as well as environmental pressures) and because of that some would argue that growth is neither good nor desirable. We believe this is a very limited view of the potential of a community and its ability to grow in a positive and productive manner. It is also premised on the dubious assumption that somehow it is easier or better to manage a contracting budget, under-utilized school rooms and public safety layoffs, than expansions in those areas. It is said that people “vote with their feet,” and the exodus in America from the declining Rust Belt and Northeast to vibrant and growing New South cities like Charlotte and Austin indicates what most of us believe is better.

If you look at how Gaston County fits into the rapidly-growing Charlotte region, a couple of statistics depict the larger challenges we face. Of all of our peer counties immediately surrounding Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Gaston County has for some time had the slowest rate of population growth. Gaston County also has the highest personal property tax RATE of all those counties (except Lancaster, SC), even higher than Mecklenburg County. Gaston’s lower population growth reflects, among other things, slower job growth here and the misperception that Gaston County is not as desirable a place to live as are some other counties in the region. Lower property values and lower levels of capital investment drive higher tax RATES to generate levels of revenue adequate to provide public services.

The Alliance for Growth plan attacks these challenges head on while also building on Gaston County’s many strengths. As you might expect, many of these challenges and strengths are interrelated. You increase the tax base by increasing both capital investment in and the value of property in Gaston County. Stimulating demand for land through increasing development and higher, more productive use of land will increase the value of land and thus the tax base. This can be accomplished by expanding existing businesses and attracting new businesses, including new residential, commercial, industrial, retail and office users. By stimulating job growth, you provide new and better jobs for residents, and you attract newcomers to Gaston County. These more prosperous residents and newcomers, who work in new or expanded businesses, will drive demand for new retail, homes and professional services.  This is sometimes called a “virtuous circle,” and it certainly applies in Gaston County.

The Alliance for Growth plan envisions a new set of bridges across the Catawba and South Fork Rivers, opening up much better access to and from Charlotte’s I485 outer belt and the region’s job engine at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and its intermodal yard. The plan has strategies to improve workforce preparedness and career and technical education opportunities, to better match job skills and job opportunities. Likewise, the Alliance for Growth plan includes action steps to reduce the regulatory drag on new businesses and development, and to stimulate entrepreneurs and small businesses. There are also specific action plans for expanding business recruitment, providing more ready-to-develop sites and ready-to-occupy buildings. To capitalize on these many positive actions, we must also improve how a number of key audiences (from newcomers to developers to opinion makers) view Gaston County and our cities and towns. We are pleased to report that we have already made substantial progress on a number of these items, particularly on financing and implementing the plan’s recommendation to develop an Image and Branding campaign for Gaston County.

Growth will surely follow from this new-found focus, commitment and investment in Gaston County by her citizens. After all, the Alliance for Growth plan was developed by Gaston County leaders who have a deep love for this County. They desire to see all of their fellow citizens have the opportunity to experience the American Dream, be that a good, well-paying job, a nice home in a welcoming neighborhood, an inspiring education for their children, abundant recreational opportunities, or any one of a number of other things that make a community great. Working together we can achieve these things and grow to become the leader among counties in the Charlotte region.

Bob Clay, Chair, Greater Gaston Development Corporation                                                                                     Mark Cramer, Executive Director, Greater Gaston Development Corporation

Gaston Can Be Great Again

On April 27, 2014, The Charlotte Observer ran an article showing the growth of Mecklenburg and surrounding counties during the last 3 years. Mecklenburg grew 7.3%, Union 5.2%, Cabarrus 4.8%, York 5.5% and Gaston 1.6%. I asked “How could that be”? Gaston County is the most beautiful county in the Piedmont, with rivers, lakes and mountains. It is located on three major highways and is convenient to Charlotte and the airport. It has good schools, abundant water and sewer capacity, available buildings and an able work force. Gastonia has been an all-American city three times. I set out to try to determine why Gaston County is doing so poorly. I quickly found out that most of the growth that Gaston County has experienced is limited to Belmont, Cramerton and Mount Holly, with areas west of those towns actually losing population.

Here is what else I found:

1. Gaston County has a reputation throughout Metrolina as a rough place. For many years, Gaston County was infamous for its violent crime and that image still prevails in Mecklenburg County. I have been with citizens and realtors from Mecklenburg County and when they discover I am from Gastonia, you can detect a slight snicker.

2. Gaston County has failed to latch onto the Mecklenburg and Charlotte bandwagon. When textiles were king in Gaston County, we could afford to be independent, but with the demise of the textile industry, our future is tied to the future of Charlotte. Other towns around Charlotte have recognized this and have taken off. Just observe the growth in Rock Hill, Mooresville, Huntersville, Monroe, Mint Hill, etc.

3. Gaston County, and especially Gastonia, have very onerous building restrictions, overzealous inspections and high and discriminatory fees against developers. I have heard many developers say they will never do business in Gastonia again.

4. Our government leaders, on the local and state level, have failed to grasp some major growth opportunities that have been available to Gaston County, e.g. The Garden State Parkway, major corporate offices (Parkdale and others) in downtown Gastonia, and the Harris Teeter shopping area to name a few. I realize that controversy accompanies some of these projects but most progress brings controversy.
What can we do in the future to assure that Gaston County gets its share of the growth? We have 2 ways to proceed – attract new jobs in the manufacturing sector and be a major residential area for Charlotte workers.

I suggest the following:

1. Our leaders, government and business, should meet and communicate regularly with Charlotte leaders and realtors. Let them know the qualities of Gaston County, dispel any adverse impressions and urge them to invest in the future of Gaston County. A promotional film, if one does not exist, would be helpful. I know it is difficult to get Charlotte realtors to consider Gastonia, since a $250,000 house in Gastonia would sell for $400,000 in Charlotte (a recent observer article put the average home price in Gaston County at $147,134 with Mecklenburg being $261,414), but Gaston County offers a more affordable and relaxing way of life than Charlotte. We just have to convince the realtors.

2. Without sacrificing quality, abolish all harsh and unnecessary regulations, fees and inspections. Develop a reputation as pro-growth and publicize to businesses and developers that Gaston County wants you and is open to business.

3. Seize or at least seriously consider every opportunity for growth, realizing that most decisions carry some controversy. We have made some positive investments in preserving downtown Gastonia and the Firestone Mill, but these expenditures have not led to job growth. Future expenditures should have the primary purpose of promoting growth, i.e. water and sewer extension down Union Road and New Hope Road and working to get the P & N commuter train to Charlotte.

4. Develop a coordinated plan through the economic development commission, the Chamber of Commerce and the newly formed Gaston Development Corporation to sell Gaston County as the place to live and do business. Since textiles are returning to the U.S., Gaston County should compete for this market. We still have a trained work force and many empty mills. We also have an advantage in recruiting metal and plastic fabrication. Tax incentives, through our state and municipal governments, are also necessary to seriously compete.
In the last few months, I have noticed a renewed awareness of this problem among our elected officials and community leaders. Now is the time for all of us to show the world what a great place Gaston County is.

Charlie Gray
Attorney
Gray, Layton, Kersh, Solomon, Furr, and Smith

Continuous Improvement is Good for Business, Good for Community

Psychologist Abraham Maslow told us years ago, “All of us want to be part of something that is greater than ourselves. We want to make a difference.” Primarily that participation is in our local communities. These communities consist of a myriad of systems- businesses, families, schools, and government which function interdependently to create a greater system in which we live, work and play. Countless volunteer groups and organizations are organized in communities around the globe to address perceived problems and improve quality of life.

A statement often quoted in a community is that when improvements are made to one area of the community system, “all boats rise”. For example, if we improve the graduation rate by addressing where the education process is failing resulting in work ready graduates the workforce is more attractive to companies seeking a location with a skilled workforce increasing the likelihood that citizens will find gainful employment. Conversely, solutions not carefully considered can result in unintended issues for other parts of the community system.

What can be frustrating for community volunteers is finding that all of these efforts do not produce the desired result, therefore five years later a new team is sitting around the table discussing the same issue. Successfully addressing issues in a community is not only about solving current problems. It also involves continuous examination of current needs and resources relative to meeting future needs and resources.

Borrowed from Deming’s model used in improving the quality of produced goods, continuous process improvement provides a structured method for community volunteers to work together to make positive changes in a community by focusing efforts, ensuring that solutions are actually working, and securing support by measurable results. This method provides the tools for community teams to address problems by first defining the problem, assessing the process that is associated with the problem, applying a strategic solution, reviewing the results from the solution implementation, and continuing to refine the solution to achieve the desired results. The process is a continuous cycle with the ultimate goal of achieving not just good results, but great results.

Achieving great results is a continual process of monitoring the results of the employed strategy. As Jim Collins notes in his book Good to Great and the Social Sectors, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

Malinda B. Lowery, Ed. D.
Multiple Choice, Inc.