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September 2011
Transformational Opportunity
By Heather Head

     What does it take to host the quadrennial Democratic National Convention? According to Committee for Charlotte 2012, Inc. Executive Director Dan Murrey, it takes hospitality, opportunity and a whole lot of inclusiveness…exactly what Charlotte has to offer.

     In 1997, when Murrey and his wife moved to Charlotte, they were overwhelmed by the community’s open-armed welcome. Within a month, he was immersed in a task force for bio-ethics on the N.C. Medical Board, and his wife founded an active theater group with new friends.

      That unique and refreshing combination of hospitality and opportunity, says Murrey, distinguishes Charlotte as the ideal host for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in 2012. Murrey, CEO of one of Charlotte’s best-known physician institutions—OrthoCarolina—and a practicing orthopedic surgeon, has enough to keep him busy without also heading up one of the largest and highest-profile events in the history of the city.

     However, after receiving Mayor Foxx’s entreaty, and thinking about how the grass-roots fundraising could change the flavor and meaning of the entire convention, he saw how the mayor’s vision for diversity in participation could set a new standard for inclusiveness across the nation. And, perhaps most of all, he realized that this was an opportunity to help show off the incredible hospitality and quest for opportunity that make Charlotte’s people extraordinary.

     “I’m humbled and excited about the opportunity to show the rest of the world why we love living and working in this city, state and region,” says Murrey. “We’re a city of people who’ve chosen to live here; now it’s time to show off what we’ve built.”

     “My job is twofold: to work closely with the Democratic National Committee and our local partners to host a successful convention, and to create an inclusive and interactive environment so all residents of our region have an opportunity to play host to visitors from around the world.”

     Murrey’s degree from Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a stint as commissioner-at-large for Mecklenburg County provided him with experience in the political arena, and his role as CEO at OrthoCarolina has taught him how to build strong organizations.

     As one of his first tasks, he has assembled a team including Torre Jessup as deputy executive director of external relations, Dockery Clark as chief of staff, Mary Tribble as chief of event planning, Katy Cutright as COO, Melissa Schwartz as finance director, Leah Chandler as deputy finance director, Bobby Martin as CFO, and Joe Sandler as legal counsel.

     “We feel really fortunate to have such a strong talented team that includes both extensive experience organizing major national events and a deep understanding of the Charlotte region,” says Murrey. “Now I just need to stay out of their way and keep my eye on the horizon, to ensure we stay on track to achieve our vision.”

 

Host Committee Activities

     The Democratic National Convention host committee is a separate, but closely coordinated, organization from the DNC Committee (DNCC), which is headed by Steve Kerrigan and responsible for organizing the official events of the DNC. The DNC host committee’s two legal entities, a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(6), are respectively responsible for two primary goals: meeting contractual obligations with the DNCC, and marketing Charlotte to the world.

     Among other things, the contract with the DNCC includes a provision for raising $36.5 million dollars, as well as recruiting and organizing at least 7,000 volunteers. In order to market and sell Charlotte effectively, Murrey says they expect to raise an additional $10 million, and hope to recruit another 3,000 to 5,000 additional volunteers.

     Under any circumstances, raising more than $36 million is no small feat. But for this event, the challenge is even greater: all funds for the DNCC will be raised directly from individuals—no corporate financial donations allowed.

     “It’s different and in some ways more challenging,” says Murrey. “But I think the outcome will put us in a really unique and exciting place. We see the potential for this to change the way that conventions are funded in the future. And, in fact, it creates a different feel and a different meaning for the convention if it’s funded and supported by individuals. It engages the public in a much different way.”

     That’s not to say that corporations are not encouraged to participate. In-kind contributions from companies are welcomed for contractually required items including computers, meeting space, and furniture, construction materials and transportation. Plus, both corporations and individuals may contribute to the separate host committee budget that will fuel the marketing and administrative efforts of the local committee.

     Perhaps equally challenging will be recruiting, organizing and training at least 7,000 volunteers, which Murrey cites as critical to showcasing Charlotte’s tremendous hospitality.

     “Many of the estimated 35,000 people coming to Charlotte for the DNC will never have been here before,” he says. “And Charlotte’s going to be full of activity. We want to minimize confusion and make it a great experience for everyone who comes.”

     He compares the experience to that of visiting a top-tier venue such as a Nordstrom’s or a Ritz-Carlton. To offer that level of hospitality, you must have enough personnel available to find ways to truly delight visitors.

     Volunteers will greet travelers at the airport, assist them in reaching their destinations, answer questions, and direct foot traffic. Others may host events, organize teams of volunteers, staff booths, or provide services to delegates and media personnel.

     “We have a very inviting city,” says Murrey. “One that welcomes outsiders and wants people to feel welcome and warm being here, and that’s one of the key things that we can show off.”

 

Community Engagement

     Murrey says that when he agreed to direct the DNC host committee, Mayor Foxx charged him to showcase Charlotte’s inclusiveness.

     “He wants to make sure we carry out the convention in a way that is authentic to Charlotte,” explains Murrey, “that we show the rest of the world who we are. And he wants this to be the most inclusive convention that’s ever been held, including all parts of the city, both from a community engagement standpoint and from a business development standpoint.”

     The committee has begun work toward creating a directory that will contain detailed information on which to evaluate potential vendors, including capabilities, company structure, size, and whether the company is minority-, women-, or disabled-owned.

     Murrey hopes the directory will help to build a transparent, fair and equal process for choosing vendors, and lead to a more diverse and inclusive representation of all Charlotte has to offer. He expects the directory to outlive the convention itself, providing benefits to the community for years to come.

     The vendor directory represents only a part of the legacy he hopes the DNC will leave in Charlotte. Some of the other benefits are already becoming apparent. For example, the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority reports that some organizations are investigating Charlotte as a convention destination for the express reason that any city worthy of the DNC is worth considering for their own events.

     Additionally, Murrey says that many of the new business partnerships that arise out of the DNC hosting effort will continue into the future, and that most of the revenue spent for the event both by the DNCC itself and by related businesses and organizations will be spent locally, providing a valuable injection into the economy that will outlast the actual event.

     As for other details of the event’s legacy, Murrey says it’s critical that the people help create that. The committee is currently engaging the community in determining what Charlotteans want those specifics to look like. And he strongly encourages citizens of all political alignments to contribute to the conversation.

     “I think we can show people that a community can have differences and still not be polarized,” he says. “To me that’s a part of hospitality. Creating a space to hear the other side, and to be welcoming toward the other side. That’s a part of what we are going to do here.”

 

Getting Involved

     As passionate as Murrey is about the effort, he admits that there’s risk involved. “If we do it wrong, then it will be a long time before we have another opportunity here,” he says. “And that’s why we’ve really called upon the broader community, the business community and local leaders of all types to pitch in and really do what they can to support Charlotte in this.”

     To ensure that the DNC hosting effort is successful, Murrey’s staff has identified benchmarks and metrics for success. The metrics cover every facet of the preparations including fund-raising, budgeting, outreach, vendor process and inclusiveness.

     Among the organization’s goals are those regarding volunteers and community involvement. Murrey says that whenever a city hosts a large event, some residents wonder whether they will have trouble getting around the city, and whether they should just leave. His answer is emphatic: “Absolutely not!”

     “This is going to be the most exciting thing that’s happened to the city in a long time. You want to be here for this,” he says. “In fact,” he adds, “you want to be a part of it.”

     He wants to see people from many different backgrounds, including those who disagree on partisan issues, come together in civil discourse and be kind and welcoming to each other.

     Individuals and companies can sign up to participate in preparations through the committee’s website at Charlottein2012.com. As plans and teams ramp up this fall, volunteers will be contacted with more information regarding opportunities and training.

     Companies interested in bidding for work before and during the convention are encouraged to sign up in the vendor directory. Any Charlotte business is welcome to place a listing, and while the committee obviously can’t guarantee work to everyone in the directory, those who sign up and provide all the requested information will have fair and equal opportunity for consideration.

     In particular, Murrey says businesses offering services and products associated with conventions will be in high demand. Construction, production activities, security, transportation, catering, cleaning, and entertainment will all be important.

     He is careful to add that no one should expect the week of convention activities to fill their docket for the entire year. But many organizations will find work that they may not otherwise have found, and they’ll have the potential to build ongoing relationships and business.

 

Looking Forward

     There is no question that Charlotte and the rest of the nation face difficult times right now. With turmoil in the stock markets, high unemployment and uncertain financial forecasts, it’s easy to focus on negatives. But Murrey believes we have a great deal to be excited about and look forward to in the DNC and beyond, and believes Charlotte is the place to be now and in the future.

     Charlotte is a community that strives,” he says. “And we strive regardless of what we’re faced with. This is a city where, when times get tough, people start to pitch in even more than they did before, and take the position that we’re going to come through this, and we are going to find a way to reinvent ourselves.”

     While it may not be a panacea, Murrey believes that hosting the DNC will be a key component in Charlotte’s success.

     “Redefining the way that funding is approached, inviting the participation of a broader spectrum of individuals and businesses than ever before, and welcoming the world with warm Charlotte hospitality—that,” says Murrey, “is an opportunity you won’t want to miss.”

 

Heather Head is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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