CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bob Morgan, president and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, was the keynote speaker Tuesday evening at a dinner hosted by the Charlotte Business Guild, the city’s LGBT chamber of commerce. Morgan praised the work of the guild and the advances of the local LGBT community at the event hosted at the chamber’s offices as the guild celebrated its new membership in the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
“We do believe diversity is a reality of Charlotte today and we believe it is a reality of our future,” Morgan told the 130-or-so business owners, non-profit leaders and other community members at the dinner. “We are just as proud as we can be to have this partnership and to have you here.”
Morgan had first spoken to the Charlotte Business Guild in September 2006. Bert Woodard, a former guild president, introduced Morgan at Tuesday’s event and recounted how he invited the chamber leader to the group then.
“He later told us,” Woodard said of Morgan, “that he told us yes before he realized the Charlotte Business Guild was an LGBT organization, but he came anyway. … Bob Morgan is a man of his word.”
That first night was revealing on several levels, said Woodard and Morgan.
“[Morgan] didn’t realize he’d get such tough questions from our large audience and neither did I; in fact, I was a bit miffed,” Woodard said. “But, looking back I think we were beginning to see an evolution in our LGBT community — that we weren’t going to be satisfied with a wink or a pat on the back, that we wanted a true seat at the table of our city.”
Morgan, too, said he learned much nearly eight years ago.
“What I remember about it specifically was there was a real division in the room, a division not unlike I hear speaking to other groups throughout the community,” Morgan said.
Community members who had lived in Charlotte the longest were the most impatient for change, Morgan recounted. Those who had recently moved seemed to be the happiest, as they praised Charlotte for its low cost of living and high quality of life.
“That was a fascinating division and I’ve thought about it a lot,” Morgan said.
The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and Charlotte Business Guild would go on to develop new partnerships. The guild now holds a seat on the chamber’s Diversity Advisory Cabinet. Morgan said inclusion was a top priority after he was hired in 2005, and especially after his first meeting with the guild.
“The challenge I heard that night and the challenge I heard when I was hired was that this can’t be your father’s chamber of commerce,” Morgan said. “We have to change with the changing times.”
Morgan spoke on a variety of local economic issues at the meeting, recounting Charlotte’s recent growth, the importance of the city’s airport to its continued economic success, the local economy’s challenges during the Great Recession and what many see as a return to growth and investment.
“2013 was our second-best year ever for jobs,” Morgan said. “We think a new office tower might pop on Tryon St. We haven’t had one since the downturn hit. … We went through a period before the downturn where all you saw in Charlotte were cranes everywhere. The cranes are back.”
He added, “I’m very bullish on 2014 and our economy.”
Morgan also spoke briefly on the chamber’s policy agenda. The chamber has supported reductions in both corporate and personal state income tax rates, praising state lawmakers for doing so last year and saying the decrease will result in continued outside investment in the state. The chamber also supports the city’s Capital Improvement Plan and continued transit infrastructure investment, which Morgan said will help invest in areas of the city needing economic uplift.
The Charlotte Business Guild held the event on Tuesday to celebrate its new membership in the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The group says they are now the largest southeastern affiliate of the national group.
Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon didn’t attend the event, but did send a letter of congratulations to the group.
“Ensuring a business climate exists in our community that is equitable and fair is central to Charlotte’s success,” Cannon’s letter read in part. “I am pleased to see this affiliation will give LGBT business enterprises a voice in this city.”
The guild’s new national affiliation will give local members access to resources such as supply chain management offered by the national group.
The guild also announced that it would soon unveil a revamped website with a full business directory, job listings, resume postings and groups and forums for affinity groups like its new Aspiring Professionals Initiative for students and young leaders.
The local LGBT business group has experienced a renewed strength and outreach in recent months. Late last year, the group elected new leaders, a majority of which were relatively recent members to the group. In addition to its new online outreach, the group has revamped its regular activities, alternating each quarter monthly events including dinner meetings, networking socials and educational panels and seminars.
NGLCC welcomes Charlotte Business Guild