By Dave Friedman
Shortly after graduating from the University of South Carolina in 1962, Carroll Gray accepted a job at The State newspaper in Columbia earning $70 a week as a reporter.
He was tasked with covering the chamber of commerce, a topic he knew little about. A few months later, after becoming friendly with some chamber members, they asked him if he’d consider leaving the newspaper to work for the chamber full time. When they offered him $90 a week. His journalism career was over.
More than 50 years later he is now the interim executive director of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce.
After stints heading the Gainesville, Fla., and Greenville, S.C. chambers, Gray spent more than two decades as the president and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. Since leaving that post in 2006 he has joined forces with friend and colleague Bob Confoy to run Revenue Growth Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in helping chambers of commerce maximize revenues.
His six-month contract to run the Cabarrus chamber began Aug. 5 and it is expected that he will fulfill the half-a-year contract plus a six-month extension that is a part of the deal. Either party can terminate the contract at anytime according to Gray, who said that he will earn “almost in the ballpark” of outgoing director John Cox’s salary. Cox signed a contract in 2007 with an annual salary of $160,000, but took a pay cut to $122,500 in 2011 when the economy was struggling.
As the interim director, Gray believes that he has two major issues to tackle.
“We have a couple of foundation steps that need to be taken prior to a finding a new chamber president,” said Gray. “First, we need to re-look at all of our relationships on the public side. That will take four to six months. Then, we should look at our private challenges. The new person should have good solid ground to begin with and not have to work on financial challenges.”
On the public side, Gray wants to examine the chamber’s relationship with local governments. Incentives are a hot issue. While he understands the point of view that this area is attractive without giving incentives, he points out that there comes a time where either you are on the short list of cities that a business considers, or you are not.
“Most businesses locate in an area for a variety of reasons,” said Gray. “Taxes are not number one on the list, but they are on the list. You do need to offer little incentives in order to make the list of communities that offer them. Businesses will do a web search. You want to make that list. You don’t have to go overboard. The better question is what is the ROI (return on investment) for the taxes paid?”
As for private challenges, Gray is anxious to talk with companies that conduct business in Cabarrus County, but are based outside of the area. He wants to find ways for them to move into or create a presence in the county. He hopes to get those companies active in the chamber.
From the county’s location within the Charlotte region, to Charlotte Motor Speedway, the motor sports industry, the North Carolina Research Campus, Concord Mills, I-85 widening, a private airstrip and proximity to UNC Charlotte and Charlotte-Douglas Airport, Gray believes Cabarrus County has assets that appeal to business.
“A lot of counties would like to have any one of those selling points,” said Gray.
With the three children, and seven grandchildren, Gray is still working at the age of 73 because it keeps his mind active and he’s having fun. Gray lives in the Crown Harbor neighborhood in Cornelius.
He thinks that serving as the president for a year or so is probably ideal at this point in his career.
“At my age interim is optimal,” said Gray. “Sometimes I make sure not to buy green bananas.”