In NC, Did Cutting Benefits Really Cut Unemployment?

CHAPEL HILL – Last year, the General Assembly voted to cut off unemployment benefits for thousands of North Carolinians—and the unemployment rate went down, faster in this state than anywhere else in the country.

But were those two connected—and if so, how?

Republicans say cutting off benefits motivated people to get back on the job market; Democrats say the move actually discouraged people, to the point where they dropped out of the job market altogether.

But Mark Vitner—managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo—says he’s skeptical all around.

“As with many things in economics,” he says, “if you take the data and twist them the way you want, you can say just about anything.”

Vitner says he doesn’t believe the unemployment rate fell solely because people dropped out of the job market: North Carolina’s labor force did decline in 2013, but the decline was actually faster in the first half of the year, before the state cut off benefits.

Furthermore, Vitner says, “(while) we had the biggest drop in the unemployment rate in the country, we didn’t have the biggest drop in the labor force in the country – not even close to it.”

That suggests North Carolina was, in fact, getting people back to work in 2013, at a faster rate than most other states.

Governor Pat McCrory and other Republicans have touted this as a “Carolina miracle.” But Vitner says not so fast.

“If you’ve been unemployed for long periods of time and you’ve received emergency benefits, odds are you’ve exhausted your savings,” he says. “I think many people, many of those folks, took jobs that they wouldn’t have taken in the past – because they were looking for something to replace the job that they had lost – but now they’ve got a different concern, which is ‘I’ve got to get money in the door’…

“And so part of that increase in leisure and hospitality employment and retail trade that picked up in the second half of the year may have been people saying, ‘well, I’ve got to take something because I’ve got to get money coming in.’ And that’s not a success story.”

Vitner made those comments at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic outlook briefing, last week Thursday at the Sheraton Chapel Hill.

Gender May Be Key To ACA Impact On Small Biz

How is the Affordable Care Act affecting small business owners in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area?

The answer may depend on the gender of the workers they employ.

That, at least, is the tentative finding of a survey of local business owners conducted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

When asked how the Affordable Care Act was impacting them, 30.5 percent responded “negatively” or “very negatively,” while 23.9 percent responded “positively” or “very positively.” (The rest—not quite half—were either unaffected or unsure.)

But Chamber president Aaron Nelson says a closer look at the responses reveals something interesting.

“Some of that is about the neutralizing of men and women, (who) cost differently in the old world and cost the same now,” he says. “So if you had a predominantly younger female staff, your rates likely go down – (but) with a predominantly male staff…your rates could go up. So gender has had a real impact on cost.”

Nelson says auto body shops, in particular, have reported their health care costs going up—while the Chamber itself, with a mostly-female staff, has seen its costs decline.

Chamber economic briefing ACA slide

Additional results from the survey are available at (also the source of this image). As seen here, there’s only a slight lean towards the ACA having a “negative” effect if severity is not taken into account, but that changes if severity is considered: a far greater percentage of respondents reported a “very negative” effect than a “very positive” effect.

Nelson presented the results of the survey at last week’s annual Economic Outlook Briefing at the Sheraton Chapel Hill.

Economist: Next Three Years Will Be Strong

CHAPEL HILL – The national and local economy got off to a slow start this year, but economist Mark Vitner of Wells Fargo says he still expects 2014 to be a strong year overall.

“Most of the numbers that we’re going to see (from February) are likely to be disappointing because the time that those reports are put together, the time period that they reference, is right about the time that we had the big snowstorm,” he said Thursday. “But I think that’s all pretty much a temporary disruption.”

Vitner delivered the keynote address at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Economic Outlook Briefing, Thursday morning at the Sheraton Chapel Hill.

Vitner based his optimism on a number of positive developments—including reduced uncertainty following the federal budget deal; rapid growth in the nation’s energy and tech sectors; and an expected drop in the unemployment rate, down below six percent by the end of the year. He said he expects the improved economy will spur the Fed to raise interest rates sometime in 2015 (though not before).

Even so, Vitner says economic growth will be slower in the future than it has been in the past. Prior to the recession, he says, the U.S. economy grew at an average rate of 3.3 percent per year—but that was sustained in part by heavy debt. Now that credit’s harder to come by, Vitner says growth won’t be quite that fast: he predicts the economy will grow by 2.4 percent in 2014, up about half a point from last year, and by about 3.1 percent in 2015 and 2016.

If that prediction holds, Vitner says we’ll be doing pretty well.

“We think that 2014, 2015 and 2016 will be the three best years of this decade,” he said Thursday.

And with the economy returning to normal, consumer confidence too is up from previous years. But Vitner says people aren’t necessarily feeling more optimistic, just less pessimistic: fewer people say the economy is “bad,” but there’s been no change in the number of people who are ready to say the economy is “good.”

“I kind of sum that out as ‘less bad is good – but more good would be better,’” he quipped. “That’s kind of where the economy is right now.”

Vitner is a Charlotte-based managing director and senior economist for Wells Fargo. More than 100 people were in attendance for his speech on Thursday.

Chilton, OCRCC Among Honorees At Chamber Mtg

CHAPEL HILL – About 400 political and business leaders gathered at the Friday Center on Thursday for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting, to honor outstanding local businesses, nonprofits, and individuals.

Meg McGurk of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership set the tone in her keynote address. “Downtown has reached a tipping point,” she told the attendees. “The private sector is investing in downtown on unprecedented levels, the public sector has taken a new pride in engaging in our downtown…(and) you are the ones that are making that change happen.”

The highlight of the annual meeting was the awarding of the Chamber’s annual Business of the Year honors:

• The Micro-Enterprise Business of the Year award went to Sweeps, a company that matches UNC students with locals in need of moving, cleaning, tutoring, and other odd jobs.

Vimala’s Curryblossom Café beat out 140 West Franklin and the newly expanded PTA Thrift Shop for the Mid-Size Business of the Year award.

• The Large Business of the Year honor went to ARCA, an international manufacturer and distributer with global headquarters in Mebane.

• The Orange County Rape Crisis Center won the Chamber’s Nonprofit of the Year award.

And the Chamber also recognized three individuals as well. Longtime volunteer Irene Briggaman won the Ambassador of the Year award; UNC Executive Director of Real Estate Gordon Merklein won the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service award for his work not only with UNC, but also with various local service organizations. And outgoing Chamber board chair Paige Zinn recognized former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton with the Chamber’s award for Leadership in Public-Private Partnership.

“Mark has demonstrated that you can support economic and community development without forswearing your interest in the environment and social justice,” Zinn said of Chilton.

Attendees at the meeting included state government officials, the three mayors of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough, and all but one member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Celebrating The Inaugural CH-Carrboro Business HoF Class

CHAPEL HILL – They are the establishments which have shaped our local business economy, each in a unique way—A Southern Season, Mama Dip’s and Fitch Lumber, to name a few. The leaders and entrepreneurs behind these staples of the community were honored Wednesday as the inaugural class of the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Business Hall of Fame.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce recognized 12 individuals during the gala at the Carolina Inn.  The class included Ted and Edward Danziger of the Restaurateurs; Orville Camplbell of The Chapel Hill Weekly; and Frank Kenan of Kenan Oil and Kenan Transport.


To view Chapelboro’s complete gallery from the ceremony, click here.

Kenan’s son, Tom, spoke on behalf of his late father who led what was at one time the largest petroleum transportation company in the Southeast. A proud UNC alumnus, Kenan supported Carolina with generous donations throughout his lifetime.

“My father’s favorite words were, ‘The best speech is the shortest speech.’ So, I am not going to disappoint him tonight. He loved Chapel Hill; he loved this University; and he is still with us. I think he tells us what to do at least once a week,” Tom Kenan said.

A Southern Season started out as a one-man operation for tastemaker Michael Barefoot. Now it is one of the largest specialty-food retailers in the United States.  Barefoot, who opened A Southern Season in 1975, attributes his success to the community’s loyalty.

“We didn’t create anything. We just planted a seed, and the local folks helped us grow it,” Barefoot said.

North Carolina State Senator Valerie Foushee was a presenter during the ceremony.  She proudly welcomed Mildred Council, known as “Mama Dip,” a trailblazer in serving Southern cuisine, to the stage.

Council was greeted with evening’s first standing ovation.

“For her part in putting Chapel Hill on the culinary map and her generous support of local organizations, and her leadership in the minority business community, we proudly induct Mildred “Mama Dip” Council into the Business Hall of Fame,” Foushee said.

Mildred Council, Valerie Foushee

Mildred Council, Valerie Foushee

In 1976, Council opened Dip’s Country Kitchen with three employees and $64 to buy ingredients, according to the gala pamphlet. Decades later, her restaurant is still thriving, and Council said she hopes to expand.

“That is all I’ve ever done—is cook in my restaurant. It has really been successful. And I know so many of these people [fellow inductees]!”

WCHL’s own Jim Heavner was given a special introduction from Top of the Hill Proprietor Scott Maitland.

“Jim Heavner is Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s first media mogul,”  Maitland  said. “Parlaying a small town radio station into the flagship of a national sports broadcasting network, a cable TV company, an advertising circular, a university phone book publisher, and so much more.”

Sandy McClamroch, Jim Heavner, Bob Woodruff

Sandy McClamroch, Jim Heavner, Bob Woodruff

Heavner thanked his mentor, Sandy McClamroch, Chapel Hill’s longest-serving mayor and former owner of WCHL.

“As mayor of this town for eight years during the Civil Rights crisis, he set the standard for community service that we were expected to follow,” Heavner said. “He gave me the room to screw up and to learn how to do it. He changed my life. Sandy, thank you.”

Chamber President Aaron Nelson commented on the all-star class of business innovators.

“We are in a room with legends. It is incredible to hear the stories of the places where I take my children to now,”  Nelson said. ”The folks that started [those places] have forever shaped our community.”

Nelson added that the Chamber will induct three to four new members to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Hall of Fame annually.

 Other Attendees

Presenter Rick Steinbacher, UNC’s Senior Athletic Director and former Carolina football player, remarked on the other noteworthy attendees of the event.

“I got to my table and the ultimate surprise was that I was sharing a table with Sally Brown, wife of Coach Mack Brown [a former UNC Football Coach], one of the greatest teachers I ever had in my entire life. Welcome home, Sally,” Steinbacher said.


Full List Of Inductees:

WCHL’s own Jim Heavner

Stein, Bill, and Jesse Basnight Sr. of S.h. Basnight & Sons, INC

Michael Barefoot of Southern Season

Mildred Council of Mama Dip’s

Orville Camplbell of The Chapel Hill Weekly

Ted and Edward Danziger of Restaurateurs

Mickey Ewell of Chapel Hill Restaurant Group

R.B. and Jenny Fitch of Fitch Creations

Mac Fitch of Fitch Lumber and Hardware

George Wattes Hill, Sr. of Central Carolina Bank

Frank Kenan of Kenan Oil and Kenan Transport

Mel Rashkis of Mel Rashkis & Associates

CH/Carrboro Business HoF Inaugural Class To Be Inducted Wed.

CHAPEL HILL - The Chamber of Commerce is recognizing 12 individuals who have shaped our local business economy by honoring them Wednesday as the inaugural class of the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Business Hall of Fame.

The special recognition was designated for individuals with a record of excellence in business management and entrepreneurship, as well as having a positive impact on the community during their careers.

The inaugural class of the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Business Hall of Fame includes:

WCHL’s own Jim Heavner

Stein, Bill, and Jesse Basnight Sr. of S.h. Basnight & Sons, INC.

Michael Barefoot of Southern Season

Mildred Council of Mama Dip’s

Orville Camplbell of The Chapel Hill News

Ted and Edward Danziger of Restraunteurs

Mickey Ewell of Chapel Hill Restaurant Group

R.B. and Jenny Fitch of Fitch Creations

Mac Fitch of Fitch Lumber and Hardware

George Wattes Hill, Sr. of Central Carolina Bank

Frank Kenan of Kenan Oil and Kenan Transport

Mel Rashkis of Mel Rashkis & Associates


To honor the inaugural class, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce is hosting a black tie gala at the Carolina Inn, with the induction ceremony is set for 8:00 p.m.

Aldermen Candidates On The Environment & Development

CARRBORO – The environment and economic development were the key themes which hopeful candidates tackled Wednesday at the Carrboro Board of Aldermen Forum, hosted by the Sierra Club and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

The candidates competing for three open seats include incumbents Sammy Slade, Jacquelyn Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell.

The challengers are Kurt Stolka, Vice-Chair of Carrboro’s Transportation Advisory Board, and Al Vickers, a former member of the Solid Waste Advisory Board with a Ph. D. in environmental science.

Each candidate was given time for opening statements, and then moderator, Margot Lester, asked the candidates questions on topics ranging from solid waste disposal to storm water management.

Current Alderman Lydia Lavelle, who is running unchallenged for Mayor, said that the hardest decisions she had to make in her position were finding the balance between the environment and development. She said the Carrboro 20/20 plan, designed in 2000, was a good plan that needed to be revisited and revised.

“If you look at that plan and read over it, it is very well done, and it is the essence of a community that values sustainable development,” Lavelle said.

Vickers said his reason for running was to offer an “alternative viewpoint” to the Board.

“[Carrboro] is a mono-thinking town, and I don’t want to insult anybody, but one thing I did learn in industry is that when everybody thinks the same way, you walk off a cliff, and you make a big mistake,” Vickers said. “You need to listen to your opposition. They will keep you on a straight path.”

Gist said she was proud of the work she had done with Board to encourage environmentally friendly initiatives. She dispelled the myth, which she said was circulating in State politics, that protecting the environment was “bad for business.”

“Together, that has helped to create a thriving, healthy community where people live and do business,” Gist said. “It is not perfect, and it still needs work. But if anybody can do it, Carrboro can do it.”

When the candidates  where asked if they would support town programs to address residential and commercial food waste, Slade said that issue was one of the main reasons he chose to run again.

“We have this huge opportunity to do some composting and we are in the middle of a conversation with the County and Chapel Hill trying to figure out what they are going to do,” Slade said. “An opportunity that we have in Carrboro is that we have these brown bins where people their twigs and yard waste and those brown bins can also accept food waste.”

Stolka outlined his three goals for running: addressing the equality gap, increasing transportation safety, and supporting progressive family values.

On the subject of economic development, he said he believed it would be advantageous for the Town to grow its commercial tax base.

“I think helping to grow the commercial tax base through mixed-use development [would be beneficial], and increasing some commercial outlets in our Northern zone so people don’t have to drive such long distances for their goods,” Stolka said.

Lester quoted the statistic that every morning 7,658 Carrboro residents drive out of the town limits to work in another community, whereas 4,466 drive into the town, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that only 622 people wake up and work in Carrboro, which does not include cottage industries.

Lester asked the candidates to address the “in-and-out” challenge in Carrboro.

“I make the commute,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “I know that one of the things that I am looking to is increasing multi-modal transit light rail to make alternative energy the fabric of what we do.”

Haven-O’Donnell told WCHL News this summer that highlights of her time on the Board included improving conditions for day laborers and economic development across the town.

CH-C Chamber To Announce Business Hall Of Fame

CHAPEL HILL – The best and brightest of Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s past are being honored by the area’s Chamber of Commerce. Friday, the inaugural Business Hall of Fame will be announced.

Twelve individuals will be recognized for their service to the community as the first class of inductees.

The Hall of Fame recognizes those with a record of achievement that demonstrates excellence in business management, entrepreneurial and courageous thinking and action, inspiring leadership, community impact, and whose time as a business leader made a substantial, positive and lasting impact on your community.

Friday’s event takes place at Spanky’s from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and is open to the public. The inaugural members will be inducted into the Business Hall of Fame Wednesday, November 13 at the Carolina Inn.

Tickets are available. You can find more information here.

Seminar Aims To Help Businesses In Flood Recovery Efforts

CHAPEL HILL – Though the waters of the June 30 flash flood have long since receded, many area businesses are still recovering.  A free workshop is being held this week to make this process less complicated and to better prepare our community for future emergencies.

The Disaster Preparedness Seminar is happening Thursday morning at the Carolina Club, a hosting partner, along with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the local chapter of SCORE, a national non-profit organization which aids small businesses.

Andrew Beamon is a project manager for SCORE and helped lead Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts after the super storm tore through the East Coast.

“We definitely want to provide these experts to the community and to provide educational assistance to get people better prepared for these types of interruptions,” Beamon said.

Beamon explained Thursday’s workshop will be given by Bob Boyd, CEO of Agility Recovery, based in Charlotte, NC.

Agility Recovery works to prepare clients for many types of disasters before they happen.  They also provide immediate assistance to clients when a disaster actually occurs.

“What SCORE and Agility have done for other communities across the North East has centered around 10 steps in preparedness,” Beamon said. “That is as simple as accessing risk in your community, or reviewing your insurance plan and making sure that everything is up-to-date.”

The June rainstorm dumped more than five inches of rain in just a few hours, affecting shopping centers like University Mall and The Shops at Eastgate.

“We have been close to a lot of businesses that have been affected by Hurricane Sandy, and we want to pass this knowledge on to Chapel Hill and Carrboro as well,” Beamon said.

SCORE mentors will also offer individualized counseling on topics, including how to find appropriate financing options and how to create successful marketing initiatives once businesses get back on their feet.

“For recovery, we were able to get people connected with the right resources to get loans and grants to get their business back up and running,” Beamon said. “This is all free, the workshops we provide and the one-on-one counseling is all free.”

Registration is required to attend the Disaster Preparedness Seminar. To sign up, click here.

UNC Google PhD Fellows; 2013 Business Hall of Fame

CHAPEL HILL - Two Ph.D. students in your community have been admitted to a distinguished program with Google.

Yunchao Gong and Yinqian Zhang, two computer science doctoral students at UNC, have been awarded the 2013 Google PhD Fellowship.

The fifth class of Google’s fellows includes 39 Ph.D. students from Australia, China, India, Europe, Canada, and America.

Throughout the course of the two-year fellowship, students will receive tuition and fees, a $33,000 yearly stipend over the academic year, a research mentor, and the possibility of a third-year extension in the program.

Zhang received the fellowship in computer security. His work with cloud computing is focused on internet privacy.

Gong’s work with large-scale image searching earned him the fellowship in machine perception.

To learn more about the Google PhD Fellowship Program, click here.


Your business could be the first on Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s Hall of Fame.

On Wednesday, November 13, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce is hosting its inaugural Business Hall of Fame Gala.

The Chamber is honoring leaders in business management, entrepreneurial bravery, and positive community impact by inducting them into the 2013 Business Hall of Fame.

The deadline to nominate an individual is 5:00 p.m. on Friday, August 2. You can submit nominations via an online form. Living and posthumous leaders are eligible for the honor. The Chamber’s Business Hall of Fame Selection Committee will choose the inductees.

If you have questions regarding nominations, you can contact Laura Morrison at 919-357-9989 or at To contact the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, contact the chair, Bob Woodruff at

To access the online form, click here.