Our Local Businesses and Artists Step Up All the Time

When I was Carrboro mayor, I saw every day that our businesses were asked to contribute to one good cause after another of which we have a great many in Orange County.  Without hesitation, our businesses gave generously.

I don’t think most people have any idea of how much our businesses give all year long.  We tend to think that businesses are all wealthy picturing Wal-Mart or IBM.  But, our businesses are, for the most, small proprietors who have invested heavily in making their business succeed.  And those contributions of cookies or picture frames or dinners may be a stretch for them in a business with a small profit margin.

Some may not even be making a profit.  Yet they donate generously as part of they feel is their community and their civic duty.

Another group that is asked over and other to contribute to charity events are musicians and artists.  Again, it may be a sacrifice for them.  Because that is their livelihood.  But, they step up to the plate and give generously of their talent, music, and artworks.

A big thank you to all who make our community work so well.

— Ellie Kinnaird


Have a comment or opinion you would like to share? Submit your commentary or column for the Commentators, on WCHL 97.9FM and Chapelboro.com.



The Town of Carrboro Holding First Summer Streets this Sunday

Summer is officially here and the Town of Carrboro is kicking it off with Summer Streets this Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event will be held on East Weaver Street, between North Greensboro and East Main Street, and the road will be closed to vehicles.

Board of Alderman member Bethany Chaney mentioned at the meeting on Tuesday night that it was important to let residents know that the event was happening, in order to warrant closing the streets after business owners expressed concerns from last year.

“We recently did have a business owner, a property owner forward some pictures to remind us that there were very few folks that came out on whatever day it was those pictures came from,” Chaney Said.

The board members pointed out that last year coincided with near-record high heat. This year the board is looking at ways to help keep attendees cool if the heat becomes a problem again.

In order to quell business owners concerns, board member Randee Haven-O’Donnell said it is important to keep track of attendance.

“We do need to get a count so that we can respond to the business folks to let them know that we’re going to take care of that aspect of it, because – I agree it’s not a matter of cancelling – it’s a matter of making corrections,” Haven-O’Donnell said.

Alderman Damon Seils said he recalled a survey taken from last year of the local businesses and found no reports of a negative impact from closing the streets.

“No one told her there was a problem – that there was no drop in business or anything like that,” said Seils.

Summer streets will be happening again on Sunday, July 17.


Let’s Do Our Best to Support Local Business

Our local independent businesses are the backbone of our economy.  They provide the majority of business jobs while accounting for the biggest share of sales in the county.

Additionally, they help to bind our communities together.  Locally owned businesses retain their profits in the community and are more likely to purchase businesses inputs and professional services from other community businesses.  Therefore, fewer dollars leak out of the local economy.

Local businesses will also tend to support local causes while national businesses to tend to make charitable donations to national organizations and in the communities surrounding their distant headquarters.

There are numerous studies that have proven unequivocally that local businesses provide a superior return over national chains.

For example, a study from the Maine Center for Economic Policy concluded that $100 spent at a locally-owned business generates an additional $60 in local impact.

That same $100 spent at a national chain-store generates only an additional $33 in local impact.

This is 78 percent greater return to the local economy by local business activity.

The Orange County Economic Development Department should actively promote and support our local business community by compiling a comprehensive database of local, independent businesses detailing the goods and services that each one provides.

In addition to directing more customers to our local businesses, there are other potential uses for this tool.  Businesses could be offered the opportunity to list waste products they may generate and waste products that they could use.

For example, one business may generate shredded paper and another business may need packing materials.  This information could save them money and keep usable material out of the waste stream.

We’re expecting an influx of new residents all over the county.  But, let’s look specifically at Hillsborough which has approved about a thousand new residential units.

Many of these new folks will come from other regions.  In the absence of a comprehensive guide to local businesses, they would likely jump on the interstate and head for the nearest mall to get the things they need.

Imagine if they were informed of local business directory as soon as they moved here.  Many of them would choose local shopping options and immediately begin injecting more money into our communities than the big chains.  And they would begin connecting with our community on a personal level.

A county database of local independent businesses would strengthen our community’s economically and strengthen our connections with our neighbors.

The businesses are already there, let’s do our best to support them.


— Mark Marcoplos


Can A Living Wage Policy Be a Boost For Local Business?

Durham and Asheville have programs that recognize employers who pay a living wage. Some are asking if it’s time for Orange County to follow suit.

Carl Rist is a member of the Durham People’s Alliance, and one of the leaders of the Durham Living Wage Project, a group that certifies businesses that pay employees a living wage.

“What we’re trying to do with the Living Wage Project is to raise the visibility in our community about the importance of businesses paying a living wage and by doing that, we want to bring attention and customers, we want to make this a marketing boost for firms that do pay their employees a living wage,” says Rist.

What constitutes a living wage varies from place to place. It’s calculated as the amount a worker needs to earn to afford basic necessities without relying on public assistance or other financial help.

The Durham Living Wage Project requires businesses to pay employees at least $12.33 an hour, or $10.85 if health insurance is included. In comparison, the state and federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour.

Rist says nearly 50 Durham businesses have gained certification since the program kicked off last month, including several in traditionally low-wage industries such as food service, landscaping and pet-sitting.

“Our goal is by the end of the first year of this program to have 100 businesses in Durham that are certified living wage employers,” says Rist.

While some business owners might push back against the idea of raising wages, Rist says it’s possible to make a profit while paying workers more. He cites Monuts Donuts as an example.

“What Monuts Donuts has done is build in living wages as part of their business model,” says Rist. “What they want to do is do well by doing good by their employees and their customers, and so, not only have they built this into their model, it is part of how they market themselves to the community.”

The Durham program is based on a model first launched in Asheville in 2008. That initiative has grown to include several neighboring counties, with more than 300 participating businesses.

Here in Orange County, local governments, including the Towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill, along with County government and the two school boards, have all adopted living wage policies that pay the lowest-earning employees a base rate of between $11-$13 dollars an hour.

Some local businesses, like Vimala’s Curryblossom Café in Chapel Hill, have made a public commitment to pay a living wage, but unlike in Durham and Asheville, there’s no formal list or method for becoming certified.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spoke to WCHL recently about the need to recognize employers who commit to paying living wages.

Rist says those interested in starting an Orange County version of the living wage project should consider building a broad base of support.

“I think it’s important to reach out to a range of businesses, professional as well as blue collar, local businesses and other businesses,” says Rist. “I think it’s good to have a range of businesses that reflect your community so that everyone can get behind it.”

Rist says he’s excited about the potential for regional collaboration if the living wage movement gains ground in the Triangle.

“If we can get efforts going in each of the counties in the Triangle- Orange Wake and Durham- there’s no reason we couldn’t have some kind of a region-wide alliance around living wages. It’d be great to have our region be the first living wage region in the country.”

With little action likely at the state or federal level to raise the minimum wage, Rist says community efforts to recognize and reward employers who are committed to paying living wages may be the best way to address the growing income gap in our area.

“We think this is a model that works and so we encourage you all in Orange County to engage,” says Rist.


Orange County May Soon Award Grants to Local Farms and Small Businesses

If you own a small business in Orange County, you may soon be able to apply for up to $10,000 to grow your business.

A 1/4 cent sales tax, approved by voters in 2011, generates $2.5 million annually for education and economic development in the county. Of that money, $100,000 is allotted for business investment grants, and $60,000 for agriculture grants.

At Tuesday night’s work session in Chapel Hill, the Orange County Board of Commissioners talked about how best to distribute that money to agricultural and non-agricultural businesses to stimulate growth and job creation.

Jim Kitchen, a UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School lecturer and member of Orange County’s Economic Development Advisory Board, helped draft the grant programs.

He imagined one applicant’s story.

“That guy will come in and say, ‘I need a new barber chair. I have two, right now. If I had a third, I could hire another barber. And I could increase my business by $100,000 next year, which would have a significant impact on me and the community,’” said Kitchen. “Okay great, you have validated the demand, and you’re passionate about getting it done.”

Karen McAdams, an Efland farmer and member of the advisory board, also worked on developing the programs.

“We do have a diverse and strong agricultural realm here in Orange County,” said McAdams. “We have the traditional farmers and we have new farmers.”

Economic Development Advisory Board members proposed two types of grants for businesses, including farms.

Small grants of up to $1,000 would have a simplified application process. Commissioners debated about whether this amount is too small to be effective.

Large grants of $1,000 to $10,000 would require a more thorough application, including more detailed financial information.

Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said the selection process should not be weighed heavily toward business “innovation.”

“The idea is to get more income,” said Pelissier. “So if the market is far from saturated on strawberries, why wouldn’t you want to help somebody who wants to add on strawberries?”

County officials will hash out details of the grant programs, which will likely include partnerships between grant recipients and mentors. Commissioners could approve these programs at the board meeting on February 3.


Carrboro Looks To Market Town Message

CARRBORO- Carrboro leaders are looking to lure tourism dollars by hiring professionals to market the town’s unique brand of cool.

The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday will consider negotiating a contract with local marketing firm The Splinter Group to develop a campaign to promote Carrboro.

The campaign will cost the town $18,000 during this fiscal year and could extend into next year.

The board will also review a $40 million dollar list of capital improvement projects. Sidewalks, greenways, road resurfacing and new vehicles top the list of big ticket items the town will invest in during the next five years.

The board meets at 7:30 p.m at Carrboro Town Hall. For a link to the full agenda, click here.


Homebrew for Hunger

Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew
Cover it with choc’late and a miracle or two
The Homebrewer can, Oh the Homebrewer can
The Homebrewer can ’cause he/she mixes it with love and 
makes the world taste good…
(My interpretation of the Willy Wonka/Aubrey Woods/Sammy Davis Jr. classic, “The Candy Man“)

I like it when goodwill is served straight up in a frosty mug of craft beer. The inaugural Homebrew for Hunger Festival (H4H) on Saturday, November 12th, is one of those Chapel Hill events that bundles a lot of greatness into a tidy package of Try Not To Love This. 

Several breweries with open doors to the public dot the Triangle beerscape, and I support all those big little guys, from Carolina Brewery to Aviator. H4H excites me because it provides an opportunity to spotlight the homebrewer – my favorite mad scientist. Spruce, cardamom, oatmeal, cocoa, green tea, apple must…there’s room for all these ingredients in beer, says the homebrewer, just maybe not all those ingredients in the same batch. “Homebrew for Hunger expects to showcase beers from over 30 homebrewers. Already 19 homebrewers have registered offering more than 100 gallons of homebrew for the tasting session including Smoked Milk Stout, Rye IPA, Chinese Green Tea Ale, and Belgian Orange Spiced Ale.”

In addition to celebrating local beer, the event organizers from Fifth Season Gardening Company will raise their glasses to support the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. “Proceeds from Homebrew for Hunger will feed hungry children in central and eastern North Carolina. The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina serves 150,000 pounds of food every day to more than 500,000 individuals. North Carolina is among five states with statistically significant higher rates of household food insecurity than the U.S. national average.”

Highlights from the event will include “Homebrew U”, demonstrations on homebrewing basics, a panel discussion featuring craft brewers from Mystery Brewing, Fullsteam, and Bull City Burger & Brewery as well as tastings from the participants. 

The Deets:
Tickets are $20 each, and are available at www.homebrewforhunger.com as well as Fifth Season Gardening Company locations in Carrboro and Raleigh
Saturday, November 12th
12pm – 5pm
at the West End Public event space, 462 West Franklin Street, in downtown Chapel Hill

IMO, you can’t beat Brixx Pizza on Monday for $1.95 pints of almost two dozen local and domestic craft beers. What are your favorite spots in the Chapelboro to share a locally made beer with friends?