High Point business leaders consider new alliance

Oct. 14, 2013 @ 10:02 AM

Who is the voice of business in High Point?
If you asked city residents, a majority of them might say it’s the High Point Chamber of Commerce. The organization represents about 600 businesses in the city, working to serve their interests while also marketing High Point as a destination for new companies.
Then there are other organizations — some public, at least in part, like the High Point Economic Development Corp., and some private, like the High Point Partners.
Local business leaders say it might be time to consolidate the groups into one umbrella organization that could give High Point more visibility and make it more competitive.
The Greensboro Partnership — which combines that city’s Chamber of Commerce with its economic development arm and other groups — could be a model. The Winston-Salem Alliance is a similar combination of that city’s business groups.
“What we’ve heard when we talk about regionalism is that Greensboro has this partnership and Winston-Salem has this alliance. When (business recruiters) call High Point, they’re not sure if they should call the partners or the chamber. There are all these different organizations,” said Kelly Sain, chairman of the High Point Chamber of Commerce.
Sain said the chamber has delayed hiring a replacement for Tom Dayvault, who retired as chamber president in April.
If a strategy is reached to unify the business voices in the city, someone could be hired to run a new entity instead of just the chamber, Sain added.
“I definitely believe we need to have one voice,” he said.
One idea that’s been floated, Sain said, is combining the mission of the chamber with that of the High Point Partners, a group of about 70 business leaders that has a hand in many tourism, economic development and revitalization initiatives.
For example, the group earlier this year raised some of the money to fund a $60,000 feasibility study commissioned by the High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau to look at event-space needs in the city.
Sain said the organizations could complement each other because the chamber has paid staff to handle day-to-day work while the partners can marshal significant financial resources.
“I see this as a real opportunity for these two to come together. The chamber has the staff and High Point Partners certainly has the resources, potentially, to make things happen,” he said. “The two together, I think, really will present better for the outside world.”
Partners board Chairman Scott Tilley said he believes it’s premature to talk publicly about a possible merger.
In general, he said he agrees with the need for a more unified business voice.
“I would say the private-sector leadership in High Point is too fragmented,” Tilley said. “We’ve got several different bodies whose missions seem very similar, but they’re all out there trying to do their own thing.”
Partnerships between the city and the private sector “are the main things we need to get done to revitalize High Point,” he said.
“In order to raise private money, we need people to believe what they’re giving money to is going to be an investment that’s going to improve our city,” Tilley said.
The forthcoming master plan from architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk could provide some guidance on what a new business alliance might look like.
“The effort needs to be more holistic, and it seems that we’ve got a lot of people trying to do small, incremental things and we need a big plan that’s got a vision around it and very detailed strategy on how to accomplish something,” Tilley said. “I’m a business person, and that’s how you run a business. We need to think more businesslike in High Point.”