by Aaron Burns

CORNELIUS – Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce President Bill Russell said his late-November tour of local businesses with Cornelius Commissioner John Bradford was a success.

The reason, Russell said, was because he heard plenty of optimism from business owners. He and Bradford visited 16 companies in a three-hour period – 14 of which are chamber members.

One of the items discussed was spending at local businesses, which included Sherwin-Williams and K&S Audio Video – a home theater and satellite retailer – in Cornelius.

“My job is (to tell business owners and operators), ‘Look, we want to help you grow your business,” Russell said. “We have the infrastructure to do it.”

Several reported positive results this quarter. Sherwin-Williams predicted an 11-percent bump in revenue growth compared to last year, Russell said. Lebo’s – a footwear and Western wear store at 20605 Torrence Chapel Road – also projected positive fourth-quarter gains.

“Overall, 2012 was a much better year than 2011,” Russell said, noting that existing businesses are not alone in reporting growth. Harvey’s, a new restaurant in Cornelius, joined the local business scene at the right time.

“It’s been a good move for them to come here,” he said. “There’s such a demand for restaurants right now that they’ve come in and done well from the onset. Their key, like with other restaurants, has been that they’ve made customers confident in their food.”

Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce President Ken Kindley concurred, saying customer confidence is the key for all businesses.

“We’re seeing more businesses want to open and come to the area because of the people they can pull from,” he said.

Building a strong base of customers, business leaders agree, is a priority for success, something that proved to be a major challenge since 2008 and 2009, the height of the recession.

A Houston Chronicle study showed the industries most affected by recessions are in manufacturing, construction and retail. When consumers buy things with less frequency because of less disposable income, retailers’ bottom lines take a hit.

The follow-up effect, the study said, was the manufacturers’ decline in orders, which can lead to layoffs.

A National Federation of Independent Businesses study said 53 percent of the participating business owners in its survey pointed to lack of consumer demand for products and services as a key factor in impeding more economic growth.

Locally, Russell said he doesn’t think those effects have hit local businesses as hard as national chains, because the pool of customers is smaller, which requires a more central marketing strategy.

Not every business, however, has a success story to tell.

The popular Terrell Country Store in Sherrills Ford will close its doors at the end of the year. The 121-year-old store will close due to “the economy and a lack of tourism,” storeowner Joe Rose said.

The store’s location – several miles away from the major retail operations in Mooresville – didn’t lend itself to draw new customers when the area’s population grew.

But where development grows around the lake is where people are spending money, Russell said.

“They’ve got the confidence that they can pay it back,” Russell said. “Consumers are putting more on plastic this year than in the past as well, from what I’ve heard. They’re spending on (credit cards) and they’re spending more overall.”

As for the national economy, a New York Times report said it should grow by a percentage point in the fourth quarter compared to last year – a very modest growth in comparison to previous increases.

“We can’t worry about what lawmakers in Washington are doing with the economy and policy all the time,” Russell said. “We have to worry about what we can do to grow our businesses locally.”

National business growth trends

• 15 percent of business owners expect to make significant changes to their marketing plans next year to compete with the changing economy (courtesy of National Federation of Independent Businesses)

• 3 of 5 business owners say economic and political uncertainty are impeding their growth (courtesy of NFIB)

• Average national consumer spending reached $90 per person in late October, the second-highest number since late 2008 (courtesy of Gallup.com Economy poll)

• 40 percent of small business owners said federal regulations led to an increased cost to run the business (courtesy of NFIB)