More than jobs: Leadership, community, corporate responsibility are key topics at Raleigh Chamber meeting than jobs: Leadership, community, corporate responsibility are key topics at Raleigh Chamber meeting

RALEIGH – Leadership and community impact were themes of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, held virtually on Tuesday.

One of the ways the Chamber, and its members, plan to make an impact in the community is through policy advocacy, multiple speakers noted during the event, including the incoming board chair, Kevin Howell, Vice Chancellor for External Affairs, Partnerships and Economic Development, at North Carolina State University.

“We will continue to support sound policy to support our business community,” Howell said in addressing more than 200 viewers present for the virtual event.

Outgoing board chair O’Hara Macken, a partner and senior vice president at IHS Markit, noted that during the Chamber’s prior fiscal year, the region saw that largest increase in investment and the largest number of announced future job creation in history.  Macken also highlighted the importance of Innovate Raleigh, stating that the organization “makes our incredible entrepreneurial ecosystem what it is.”

The economic development pipeline in the region remains strong, WRAL TechWire reported earlier this week.

A strong economy benefits all companies in a region, said Lynn Good, chair, president, and CEO of Charlotte-headquartered Duke Energy, who was the keynote speaker.

“65,000 jobs were created, Raleigh is recognized as one of the best places in the U.S. to start a business, and we’re on track for something like 170,000 new businesses to be formed in 2021,” said Good.

However, she noted that “Purpose goes far beyond job creation” and pointed out that  “the Raleigh region is looked at throughout the U.S. as one to emulate.”

Tthe business community in the region is indeed strong, and impactful, noted Adrienne Cole, president and CEO of the Raleigh Chamber, during a roundtable discussion.

“What we have seen, across the board, is that the most successful companies are those engaged in the community, they’re participating in the community, learning what the community needs, providing pathways for their employees to be in the community,” said Cole.  “Fabric of engagement where people really care about this place, and are lifting it up, not just so their businesses can be successful, but their employees can be successful, and their employee’s kids can be successful.”

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Opportunity comes with responsibility, too, added Kenneth Bilenberg, vice president and expansion project leader, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, who was responsible for the company’s selection of a site in Holly Springs for its new $2 billion drug manufacturing facility that is set to create about 725 jobs.

“Corporate responsibility is very simple, it’s about people,” said Bilenberg during the roundtable discussion.  “We see a once in a lifetime opportunity with the very large expansion.”

“As we stand in front of this big investment,” he added. “With the ability to actually shape the world, that’s what it is all about, the willingness to come together, is going to make the difference.”

Corporate leadership comes down to values, said Tim Humphrey, vice president and chief data officer at IBM.

“It’s rare you get a group of business leaders, and you’re not talking about money,” said Humphrey.  “We’re talking about responsibility.”

“Values guide all the decisions we make,” said Humphrey.  “Likewise, when you talk about those four groups, customers, employees, shareholders, and communities, you’ve got to make sure you’re thinking about it like a four-legged stool, that you’re delivering value.”

That means businesses, including IBM, said Humphrey, may be faced with making a difficult decision.  Humphrey noted that IBM developed a facial recognition software, but then later determined it would exit that business because of concerns over potential uses and applications of the technology.

“When you examine things through that lens, sometimes you have to make difficult decisions,” said Humphrey.  “We exited that business, that’s an example of paying attention to what your products could do to society, and erring on the side of society rather than profit.”




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Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.