Things I learned last week at the State of Alamance breakfast.
The Triad Business Journal, which sponsors this event, actually had the very first one in Alamance County three years ago. Now they do it in seven counties. Had the first one failed here, they might’ve eighty-sixed the entire idea.
Glad that didn’t happen. It’s a good chance to get a lot of people in the same room all at once who might not otherwise see each other except in passing.
It’s also meant to stimulate discussion about how to improve development and business in our community.
And to sell copies of the Triad Business Journal.
I have attended all three. I do not have a subscription to the Business Journal … yet.
I read my publisher’s copy.
Last year discussion included who needed to address the gathering in the future. One person prominently mentioned was Allen Gant Jr.
Wise choice. They took their own advice.
From where I sit, it’s good to be Allen Gant Jr. — and that’s not just because he’s president and CEO of Glen Raven, Inc., highly successful and loaded.
But that’s part of it.
No, it’s good to be Allen Gant Jr. because he occupies a rare and enviable position in life. He runs a 132-year-old corporation that doesn’t take government handouts, is family owned without shareholders and doesn’t have local customers to satisfy or mollify. This means he can pretty much say just about whatever he wants, anytime he wants.
Only one word describes that situation: Cool.
Gant was without doubt the coolest kid on the block at the third State of Alamance breakfast. And it wasn’t close. Mostly because of that being-able-to-say-whatever-he-wants thing.
My dad always observed that national politicians become interesting only after they finally realize they will never become president and finally feel free to speak their minds without alienating voters. His examples: Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey.
Same thing with Gant. Although I don’t think he’s interested in holding public office on any level. It would be far too constraining. Just my observation.
That’s not to say the other members of the assembled panel weren’t accomplished and highly respected leaders in our community. Far from it. John Currin, CEO of Alamance Regional Medical Center, eloquently spoke about the organization’s merger with Cone Health Systems and why it was essential to do so in an environment of change for health care in America. Fairfax Reynolds, senior vice president of VantageSouth Bank, spoke of the financial industry’s need for change “born of pain.”
This idea of change was the most recurring theme of the entire breakfast, by the way.
To be more accurate the theme could be called, “change or die.”
The most visible target: Local governments.
The most unstated obvious view: Local governments are killing our community’s ability to be competitive in a marketplace that’s evolving faster than our established and clay-footed institutions can even imagine, much less catch up.
Gant’s view: There is way too much local government and associated red tape. It stifles the ability to create and move quickly.
He likes a one-stop shopping approach. “I’m not talking about removing the name Burlington or Graham or Alamance County or Swepsonville or Ossipee but how many governments do we need?” Gant asked, a question he prefaced with the observation that he knew this merged one-government idea would be controversial.
No doubt. People like to have their own councils or commissions — and rules. People believe in rules and regulations, until they don’t.
“When you put someone inside a box you destroy their ability to innovate,” Gant said.
That was just one of Gant’s money quotes over the 90-minute presentation.
Here are some others.
“We have to be able to compete today and not with Guilford County, but Bangladesh,”
“If we can’t innovate we can’t serve our marketplace.”
“If we can’t make a decision quickly, we lose.”
“The county has to spend money to invest in the future. We have the lowest tax rate compared to XY or Z but are we competitive?”
“If I can unshackle employees around the world, we can’t be beat. Alamance County is the same way.”
“Peel the onion back in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“Put all the sacred cows on the table.”
Speaking of onions and cows there’s just one thing I can add to all of that.
Food for thought.