Aaron Nelson, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says criticism of community leaders' local trips to other college towns is outdated. The trips began as exclusive affairs, but in recent years organizers have provided scholarships to help local nonprofit leaders and small business people going elected and university officials on the visits.
So Nelson bristled just a bit this week when local bloggers, including OrangePolitics and us, reported that three Carrboro aldermen and that town's manager won't be joining community members on September's trip to Ann Arbor.
"The last trip (to Madison, Wisc.) was universally lauded," Nelson said Monday. "We really tried to fix it." The Community Leadership Collaboration, sponsored by the chamber, raised about $10,000 in scholarship money that helped 20 people participate who otherwise might not have gone. A total of 102 people made the trip.
This time, 40 people have registered, which Nelson said is on par with registrations at the same point before the last trip. Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton is going, along with Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens, Orange County Board of Commissioners Chairman Barry Jacobs and new Chancellor Holden Thorp.
Nelson said the biggest benefit -- aside from the ideas that participants bring back -- is the new way local decision makers relate to one another. "Who'd spent two days with Dean Roper before?" he asked. "All of a sudden people see the hospital as human. Those relationships are a real important part (of the trips)."