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On Being Chamber Chair

Last Tuesday night marked the 121st annual meeting for the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest business-oriented group in this marketplace.  It has been my great honor to serve as chairman for the Chamber over the past year, and it was a real privilege to pass the chair baton to Sepi Asefnia.  Sepi is a graduate of the NC State University’s Engineering program, is president of SEPI Engineering and has long been involved with the Chamber.  I have no doubt that she will do an exceptional job leading the Chamber over the next year.  (Notably, Sepi is the third woman in the Chamber’s history to be chair – the second of which was Billie Redmond, who now serves as chair of the WakeMed board).

But the passing of the baton was only a small part of Tuesday night’s events.  We had the opportunity to hear from Coach Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes who made it clear that Raleigh is a great franchise market for them and noted the amazing transformation in community support from year one to now.  He also noted that both players and coaches alike love living here. And we heard from Mike Capps from Epic Games, Inc., who enlightened us about how Raleigh has become a destination for electronic game developers.  He said that more money is spent nationally on games than on attending movies, which demonstrates a trend toward more interactive entertainment and communication.  It is a testament to the strength of the North Carolina economy that we are able to attract this emerging and growing industry to the area.  We also heard from Dr. Larry Wheeler from North Carolina Museum of Art and learned about the terrific donations the museum has received in the past year.  Finally, we applauded as Governor Jim Hunt received the A. E. Finley Distinguished Service Award for his exceptional work in our community – especially his dedication to education.

My time as the Chamber Board Chair offered me a true insider’s view to the changes in the economy, and I saw firsthand how companies – both big and small – were impacted by the worst recession in most of our lifetimes.   What happens in our community and in our economy affects every organization – both large and small – from transportation to education to environmental issues.  WakeMed, like all hospitals in metro Wake County, is very engaged in the Chamber, and I credit the Boards of each of these hospitals for recognizing the value of involvement.  Health care is a business with unique pressures, but by being Chamber Chair over the past year, I now more fully appreciate the pressures every business type faces in our community and beyond.

I also want to take this opportunity to recognize Raleigh Chamber CEO Harvey Schmitt and his exceptional staff of talented individuals who helped accomplish the things we did over the past year – especially with tough economic pressures.    Significantly, we made some major strides over the past year. We were able to continue the work of previous leadership and completed a number of transportation agreements that will influence our communities for years to come. These developments will help with commute time and traffic efficiency and will curtail pollution.  We also marched ahead with major advances in both K-12 and upper level education, forging agreements between schools to ensure that our students have access to the best educational opportunities.

In all, being Chamber Chair has reinforced that we live in a great, thriving community with so many wonderful, talented people, and that North Carolina and Raleigh are increasingly on the national radar screen when it comes to attracting spectacular companies and talented people.  WakeMed and our entire team are fortunate to be part of a truly wonderful place to live, work and experience life.  This said, thanks to everyone at WakeMed for your contributions to the quality of life we all experience in North Carolina.