Building a Better Business Climate in the Old North State
Businesses, large and small, are the driving force behind North Carolina’s economy, but decisions made by the legislature can have a significant impact on entrepreneurs’ ability to grow and create jobs. Educating businesses about the political environment is why the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation (NCFEF) exists.
Based in Raleigh, NCFEF is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides political research and analysis to the business community.
“People say, ‘Are you a think tank,’ and I say, ‘No, we’re more an “explain it” tank.’ Our mission is to create opportunities for business leaders to understand political information better so they feel more comfortable and competent in engaging in the political process themselves,” said Joe Stewart, Executive Director of NCFEF. “By providing objective analysis, we attempt to demystify politics for business people.”
Stewart makes it clear that NCFEF’s goal is not a partisan one. “We don’t endorse candidates, but rather provide the information and make it possible for business people to make their own decisions based on sound, impartial research, and so our work is primarily to inform.”
Communicating with the Business Community
NCFEF keeps the lines of communication open with the business community in several different ways, including candidate forums and questionnaires, legislative business rankings, and Thinker’s Lunches. The Thinker’s Lunches have been hosted across the state, are open to the public, and offer business leaders the opportunity to hear from experts in a variety of fields. NCFEF also compiles political information on legislative districts so people can see historical voter attitude trends in different parts of the state.
The face-to-face conversations NCFEF has with the business community helps to keep their mission in focus. “People are so genuinely appreciative of having an organization that is willing to come make presentations, or willing to sit down and explain what’s going on in a particular legislative district, or just generally in the state, politically,” said Stewart.
But NCFEF doesn’t stop with printed information. In the 2014 election cycle, from the filing period through the general election, Stewart and his team made over 100 presentations to management teams, trade associations meetings, businesses and chambers. “What [the speaking engagements] taught me is that we’ve got to continue to be thoughtful about ways to make our content more easily and readily available for our audience,” said Stewart.
Stewart hopes to make even more of their content available through podcasts and videos in the coming year. In addition, NCFEF will debut a new smart phone app at the start of 2015. The app will combine two of their longstanding publications – The Almanac of North Carolina Politics and the North Carolina State Government Directory. Though they’ll now have a digital counterpart, the almanac and directory will still be available in print.
Challenges in North Carolina
Stewart tends to hear positive feedback about NCFEF when interacting with the business community. He said that people are often appreciative of NCFEF’s willingness to connect with them, but they also are concerned about getting business more engaged with the political process. For Stewart, educating leaders and managers about the value of dialogue between the two entities is important.
“I tell people, I’ve been in politics for most of my adult life, and there is not a moment on election night when the heavens part and God imbues the winning candidate with all the knowledge they’re going to need to make good, informed policy decisions. It’s got to be something that you do, to sit down and explain, ‘this is what makes it possible for my company to succeed,’” said Stewart.
For that reason, NCFEF intends to continue speaking appearances, even in off-election years. “If somebody needs a presentation made to their group, their business trade association, their local chamber, government affairs committee, senior management team, I go. I will go, because, in my mind, it’s preaching gospel. It’s a chance to stand before a group and say politics is not some magical thing; It is all understandable,” said Stewart.
For more information about NCFEF, including information about their Thinker’s Lunches (open to the public) and how to request a guest speaker for your event, visit www.ncfef.org. You can also find them on Facebook.