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Interview with Connie Majure-Rhett, January 30, 2008
January 30, 2008
Connie Majure-Rhett is president of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Wilmington Chamber Foundation, and the Wilmington Rotary Club.
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Interviewee: Majure-Rhett, Connie Interviewer: Jones, Carroll Date of Interview: 01/30/2008 Series: Voices of UNCW Length 80 minutes

Jones: Today is Wednesday, January 30th, 2008. I'm Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass for the Randall Library Oral History Project. And this morning, we're with Connie Majure-Rhett, President and CEO of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, and correct me on this, Greater Wilmington Chamber Foundation.

Majure-Rhett: Yes, there's two organizations.

Jones: Okay, we'll talk about that later. And present are the Wilmington Rotary Club. Now, I know there are a lot of Rotary Clubs in town, and this is the Rotary Club. It was the first.

Majure-Rhett: It was the old men's club-

Jones: The old men's club, so I was instructed to refer to it as The Wilmington Rotary Club. (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: (laughs) That's right. It's our official name, actually, so-

Jones: My, you gals have come a long way since being recognized as viable creatures in that August committee. How many women- let's see- we had-we had-

Majure-Rhett: The fourth female President, but the second in a row? The third in a row!

Jones: Third in a row, and then there's one for next year.

Majure-Rhett: And one following me, right, so we think that the guys finally figured that we do the work and they can sit back and just eat lunch, you know? (laughs)

Jones: (laughs) And lie to each other- okay.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. But a man will follow Melissa, so they're gonna go back to tradition a little bit.

Jones: Uh-huh. Well, that's all right. They've waited a while.

Majure-Rhett: They'll do a good job, yeah.

Jones: But anyway, I was going to say, good morning, Connie, but I think we've done that. (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: Yeah.

Jones: And I'm so glad you've come to talk to us. You are one busy gal.

Majure-Rhett: Thank you.

Jones: I know you were born in South Carolina.

Majure-Rhett: Right.

Jones: So, why don't you just start off by talking about that-

Majure-Rhett: Sure.

Jones: Any influences that your family had on you, your, you know, work ethics, whatever.

Majure-Rhett: Sure. Yeah. I was actually born in my grandmother's front bedroom in Chesterfield, South Carolina. There wasn't a hospital there, and so I was one of the last- I think a lot of home births happened after that, you know, I think now it's the trend back to that a little bit, but born in my grandmother's front bedroom. My dad was in the Army. If it hadn't have been for his being drafted during Korea, I don't think I'd have been here, 'cause he was from Mississippi and my mom was from South Carolina, and he came home with an Army buddy to date my mom's best friend, and would only go out with my mom, and so, the rest was history.

Jones: And he was from?

Majure-Rhett: He was from Mississippi, a little town called Madden, wasn't even in a town, a very, very rural dairy farmer from Mississippi.

Jones: So, they met while he was-

Majure-Rhett: They met in Chesterfield, and my mom actually as a senior in high school eloped!

Jones: Oh, my.

Majure-Rhett: Her father was a very, very strict daddy, and they eloped, and my mom didn't tell anybody. She went back to school. My dad goes back to Fort Jackson, and they had gotten their marriage license in Kershaw, South Carolina, and someone in Chesterfield, which is about sixty miles away, subscribed to the Kershaw newspaper and the wedding license was listed in it, called my grandfather, my grandfather called my mother, she worked part-time as a telephone operator after school, and said, "Come home right now." And she knew the jig was up. (laughs) So-

Jones: Oh, my goodness.

Majure-Rhett: But they're still married- I mean, they will be married next week fifty six years, so, you know, that's pretty good for a quick marriage. She went on to finish high school, didn't go to college, my dad didn't go back to college, and got out and worked and, you know, the rest is their history, and certainly the start of mine. My dad-

Jones: You were the oldest?

Majure-Rhett: I was the oldest, and the "only" for eight years. My brother's eight years younger than I am. My dad had grown up on a dairy farm, you know. He was a farmer. That's what he knew, and my mom wanted to stay in South Carolina. She's not a farm girl at all. Anything that moves scares her to death. (laughs)

Jones: (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: She's a city girl.

Jones: Yeah? Well, where was she from?

Majure-Rhett: Chesterfield, South Carolina. Teensy little town, you know.

Jones: When did she become a city girl? After she-

Majure-Rhett: Well, she would say that was a city-girl upbringing compared to my father's upbringing, you know.

Jones: Okay.

Majure-Rhett: My father lived down a dirt road that probably was, I guess, ten miles from the nearest crossroads. I mean, it was- they didn't pave the road by my father's home place until I was well into high school. I mean, it's very rural.

Jones: So, going into the Army and going to Korea and moving must have been a shock, in a way.

Majure-Rhett: Well, he ended up not going to Korea. He stayed in Fort Jackson. He had fallen out- really interesting- he had fallen out of the top of a gym when he was in high school, a senior, and broke his back and his neck and collarbones-

Jones: Oh, my gosh!

Majure-Rhett: And probably shouldn't have been in the Army. And then when they got in and saw the shape he was in, they didn't let him go to Korea, so he stayed in Fort Jackson the whole time. So, lucky for him, I think, you know.

Jones: Okay, well- yeah!

Majure-Rhett: But he's still- he just turned 81 last week, so he's still going well.

Jones: Yeah.

Majure-Rhett: But they moved to Columbia when it became apparent that there wasn't a lot of jobs in Chesterfield, South Carolina. Moved to Columbia- my dad did a few things before settling in with a friend of his and opening an Avis Rent-A-Car franchise in Columbia.

Jones: Really!

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, the first kind of rental car place there and-

Jones: He did this with a friend?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, yeah, he had a business partner. And so I grew up around cars and airplanes because his office was at the airport, and it was before security, and so the whole terminal was kind of my early playground. My mom worked for my dad, and I would drive to work with my mother in the morning, 'cause she would go to work at like 7:00, and they would put me on a city bus at the airport to go back to elementary school, which was only three blocks from our house, but of course I wasn't allowed to stay by myself- you know, first grade, second grade.

Jones: Oh, gosh, yeah.

Majure-Rhett: So, it was just all the guys at Eastern and Delta were my buddies- and we just had a great old time.

Jones: So you grew up around men.

Majure-Rhett: I grew up around- yeah, I grew up around a lot of men.

Jones: Very comfortable with them.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, very comfortable. My daddy, I think, kinda treated me as the son he didn't have, you know, for a while. Then he got a son, but still, I was still kind of expected to suck it up and do what I was supposed to do, and-

Jones: Well, I imagine the advent of a son brought a lot of cheers and whatever-

Majure-Rhett: Oh, yeah, you know, I probably had a little sibling rivalry 'cause I'd been an only child for a long time.

Jones: Sure. Sure.

Majure-Rhett: But that was kind of good, 'cause we both got to be only children, since the age difference was so big. But had kind of a typical, strict upbringing, and my parents- you didn't talk back to my daddy, and you didn't have your own opinion so much, you know- they were theirs. And I couldn't date 'til I was sixteen, but I was very outgoing.

Jones: That was pretty normal for that time, don't you think?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, I think it was, yeah. Some of my friends were able to date a little earlier, so that kind of got me a little bit.

Jones: Well, they snuck out.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, and I didn't, boy, I knew if I ever snuck out, I would- I mean, I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, I didn't sneak out, 'cause I would be killed. You know, there was a fear of my parents in me. Had a great- I mean, high school was kind of one of those easy periods- some people talk about how difficult it was, and for me, it was just one of- kind of easy thing.

Jones: Good student?

Majure-Rhett: Good student, did a lot of things, involved in a lot of things. Had a great time, you know, just kind of typical.

Jones: We have a granddaughter like that and I'm just wondering when she's gonna make a fall.

Majure-Rhett: Well, I made falls. I mean, Good Lord, I should have done it- it's probably easier to do 'em in high school. I don't think you think it at the time.

Jones: That's right. I know it. Do it when you're young- 'til you learn how to handle it.

Majure-Rhett: But it's easier- yep, get it out of your system. Yeah, and then I went off to school. My parents- my dad had- in the meantime, they sold- well, they didn't really sell- my dad formed a new partnership with another person and my parents moved to Montgomery, Alabama the day after I graduated from high school, and he got- they had an Avis franchise there, and kept the one in Columbia.

Jones: Did well for a farm boy.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, he did pretty well. I mean, not wealthy, but certainly able to support his family. And I came back to South Carolina to Winthrop College at the time, girls' school. Since my parents- neither one were very college-focused- the only thing in life was just go to college, not where or what. And my mother, bless her heart, I think, missing out on college, really kind of marked her. Her whole point was, all my friends went to Winthrop and they came back, and it was a homemaking/teacher school. They came back and they were able to make their own hats. I will never forget that phrase in my whole life.

Jones: (laughs heartily)

Majure-Rhett: I think I went to Winthrop-

Jones: That really stuck in her mind!

Majure-Rhett: So that I could learn how to make my own hat! (laughs) I didn't stay there but about a- I guess, a year- a little over a year and a half, and I didn't want to be there, and wanted to do some other things, and my parents told me if I left and went someplace else that they wouldn't pay for my education, and I didn't believe 'em, and I went, and I should have believed 'em. So-

Jones: Where'd you go?

Majure-Rhett: To the University of South Carolina, in Columbia. So, I ended up working full-time and paying for my way through school, which again, best thing in the world that happened to me, but I made a lot of missteps for about a year or so, doing things I shouldn't have done, that we won't talk about- youthful indiscretions.

Jones: You gotta get it out of your system.

Majure-Rhett: I had to get it out of my system, but I worked full-time, and-

Jones: That's difficult, isn't it?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, but I was still young. I didn't know I was tired, and I didn't know that eating, you know, I think at the time it was Spaghettios- you could get five cans for a dollar-

Jones: Oh, gosh! (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: Isn't that horrible? But I didn't know- I didn't know! It was fine- I was still having a great time, so- graduated with a degree in Education, and moved to Charlotte and there were no teaching jobs. That was when there was a glut of teachers. So I worked temporarily at the Chamber in Charlotte, for about, I don't know, four or five months, until a teaching job opened up, and went and taught. I was the youngest teacher in a very large elementary school.

Jones: How old were you?

Majure-Rhett: I was twenty-two, I guess, and-

Jones: What grade did you teach?

Majure-Rhett: Well, I was there three semesters and every semester, I got moved to a different thing. I was the youngest one and would do it, you know, so I taught second-grade math, third-grade reading and then, finally, I had a fourth-grade classroom. And then the Chamber called and my old boss offered me a job back at the Chamber-

Jones: Oh, really-

Majure-Rhett: I really wish I could remember the money situation, because I think I probably was making $7,000, or $6,000 teaching, and they offered me $1,000 more- it was like, oh, yeah- that's money-

Jones: That's big money! So you were offered $1,000 more to go to the Chamber-

Majure-Rhett: To go to Chamber, in Charlotte. Mm-hmm. So I went to the Chamber without looking back, although I missed teaching a little bit, and probably when I retire, I might wanna teach again.

Jones: Maybe you won't, not in today's world.

Majure-Rhett: Maybe. 'Course, with also the way my retirement account's done this past few weeks, I'm probably never gonna be able to retire, so it's maybe a moot point!

Jones: (laughs heartily) Okay, so that was in Charlotte, you went back-

Majure-Rhett: And I was kind of the chief grunt. I didn't have a title- I worked in various areas-

Jones: 'Course not- that was young-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, and I had a great time. Still- I mean, I've really had an awfully nice, blessed life. And worked for a very un-traditional male who was just strange, but I thought it was perfectly fine and there was another woman in our department- another girl at the time in our department, and we just had a ball. We worked horribly hard and did a good job, but we played hard, too, you know-

Jones: Sure-

Majure-Rhett: We would-

Jones: That's the time to do it.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, we would make sure we made up for the hard work. I stayed there. My boss, the strange man, who really was a mentor of mine, moved to Florida with a new job, and so I was offered his job and took it and stayed there.

Jones: And this job was-

Majure-Rhett: Director of Membership for the Chamber- Fundraiser.

Jones: Now, this was how long after you went back there with a full-time paid job?

Majure-Rhett: I probably went back in '77, so probably the end of '78, early '79. And then soon after I got-

Jones: But you were still in your very early twenties?

Majure-Rhett: Oh, yeah, I was still a baby, yeah, I was still twenty- I don't know- young.

Jones: Okay.

Majure-Rhett: Then I got recruited by the Atlanta Chamber to go over there and do the same job, but in a bigger community.

Jones: Okay, now explain something for all of us here.

Majure-Rhett: Okay.

Jones: In working for the Chambers of Commerce all over the country-

Majure-Rhett: Mm-hmm. Right.

Jones: Is there a society or a- like a brotherhood, or something where- that you all have access to- they talk to one another, they have lists, you belong to something so that you can be recruited from one place to another- your case, Charlotte to Atlanta.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, now that connection is a lot more official, and a lot more defined, and we have professional associations. But my connection, really, was just kind of knowing people. The guy that I had worked for that went to Florida had a lot of contacts, and he was older than I was and had grown up kind of in Chamber work like I had, so he had friends, so when a friend was looking, he would, you know- in fact, in Atlanta, you know, he's the one that recommended they talk to me. And we were doing some good things in Charlotte, and breaking some records, so, you know, your name got published in little things and people would say, wow, she can raise money, so-

Jones: Okay. So this is when something becomes available, they start looking around?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, they start looking. And you hear about it, you know, and in my case, they found me, I didn't have to look for a very long time-

Jones: Aren't you lucky?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, I really was. I had never applied for a job until this job. Ever- except for a teaching job- first job I fought for. But I didn't go to Atlanta after I got recruited. My boss in Charlotte really convinced me to stay, and I stayed for a little bit longer, and then I realized the money would be better if I went, and instead of going to Atlanta, I was recruited by Cobb County, which was at the time a suburban Atlanta county.

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: At the time, it was the largest suburban Chamber in the United States- maybe still is.

Jones: Is that where you went?

Majure-Rhett: I went to Cobb, stayed there for about three years.

Jones: Well, Cobb County is right there by Atlanta.

Majure-Rhett: Right there, yeah, right over the river. Had a boss that taught me everything not to do when managing an organization and people.

Jones: Well, that was a learning lesson.

Majure-Rhett: It was a learning lesson. In fact, he ended up almost in jail for some things he did that were quite illegal, and I knew what was going on- couldn't get any traction, and you know, that's kind of a- you're a young, single woman, working, and people aren't going to believe you when he's been there forever-

Jones: That's true.

Majure-Rhett: And very well-respected, so got recruited by Atlanta and ended up at Atlanta Chamber, so that's-

Jones: So you finally got there.

Majure-Rhett: I finally got to Atlanta as the Number Two person in the membership area.

Jones: Gosh, and you obviously are a people person.

Majure-Rhett: You know, the funniest thing is, I'm not so much a people person, but I learned to be a people person through the Chamber. I'm really kind of an introvert. I'd rather just-

Jones: Really!

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, if I do all the testing I'm always an "I."

Jones: I've seen you at various Rotary functions- I would never, ever suspect this-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, I think it's where you get your motivation, and I don't- I get it from myself, I think. I'm a very much family-oriented- I'd rather read than do most anything.

Jones: Are you a focused person?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, very focused, yeah, very focused.

Jones: Must be, to do all these things.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, I'm very organized. I've become organized since I've gotten older and had more things to balance.

Jones: So you went to Atlanta finally, and you were second-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, I was Number Two in the department- new boss came in over the Chamber, fired the Number One in my department, and I became the Number One, so- all connections from my first boss in Charlotte- all the connections from there. I mean-

Jones: It's amazing.

Majure-Rhett: My first boss in Charlotte worked for the guy that came in-

Jones: Are you taking notes on this?

Majure-Rhett: (laughs) Oh, it's not even very interesting, other than it's kind of an incestuous little group in the Chamber that-

Jones: Yeah, but happens- it's amazing what one thing can lead to.

Majure-Rhett: Yep, so I went to work for my old boss's old boss, in Atlanta, and got married. My husband worked in the economic development area, state government, for Georgia, and he was offered the job to run the Canadian office for Georgia, to recruit Canadian firms back into Georgia. So we moved to Toronto and I lived there for three years, which was absolutely wonderful.

Jones: That's quite a city.

Majure-Rhett: Really a great city.

Jones: That's a very international place, isn't it?

Majure-Rhett: It really is a great place, and I couldn't work. I didn't have a work visa. And so, I volunteered a lot and really got to know the city, and did a lot of things, and worked a little bit illegally for a friend or two, you know, kind of off the books-

Jones: Well, we won't talk about that. (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. But I don't think any- it's been so long, they're probably all dead by now. But loved Toronto, absolutely loved it. Would go back in a minute, at some point in my life, I think, although that probably won't happen-

Jones: To live or just to visit?

Majure-Rhett: We go back to visit- we still visit, you know. But ended up, his three-year term was over, came back to Atlanta, back to the Atlanta Chamber, and he and I got divorced.

Jones: No children?

Majure-Rhett: No, no children. Wanted them badly, just didn't work. So- and I think that's probably one of the reasons for the divorce, but anyway, came- worked back for the Atlanta Chamber three more years, and then got recruited by a Trade Association in D.C. that was a lobbying firm for small businesses.

Jones: Sure. It's all lobbying up there.

Majure-Rhett: And I had never done any of that, and that really was- I realized-

Jones: Was that a culture-shock-type thing for you?

Majure-Rhett: Mm-hmm, oh, yeah, yeah. But I realized it was kind of a hole in my background, and if I could learn a little bit more about governmental affairs, it would kind of round me out to run my own Chamber one day if I wanted to do that.

Jones: Sure, absolutely- it's just another step.

Majure-Rhett: Yep, so I did that for three years and had another boss that taught me everything- I've had some great bosses, but I had-

Jones: But you've learned from all of them, one way or another.

Majure-Rhett: I've learned from all of them, and the one in Washington was kind of a humdinger, and he and I bumped heads a little bit-

Jones: (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: And I took the job- one reason- to do governmental affairs, but also I was gonna travel a lot, and I thought that would be just absolutely glorious. And for a year and a half, I never was home. I mean, I didn't really know Washington 'cause I was in Champagne-Urbana or Seattle or wherever, you know, doing grassroots things for this organization, and-

Jones: Now, wait a minute- get back to this because I want to make sure- this was actually a lobbyist-type situation?

Majure-Rhett: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Jones: But it had to do with what? What was the thrust of it now?

Majure-Rhett: It was a small business lobbying group-

Jones: Small business lobby.

Majure-Rhett: Issues related to small business- a lot of it related to healthcare.

Jones: Okay. Oh, really? Okay.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. And the lack of- even back then, the inaffordability of-

Jones: Yeah, okay.

Majure-Rhett: And what we were trying to do was build a grassroots network of small businesses across the United States to do grassroots lobbying, so I was really involved in that area, more so than on the Hill.

Jones: Was this sort of an outreach of the Small Business Administration? Or, no?

Majure-Rhett: No- independent, non-partisan group, very non-partisan. In fact, you know, even though it was a business organization, were not turned off by Hillary's healthcare plan at the time.

Jones: Really?

Majure-Rhett: Well, because of one basic in her tenent then, and I think it's still true, is that if you're gonna have an insurance plan, whether it's funded by whomever or paid for by whomever, until everybody has insurance, insurance doesn't work. You have to spread the risk out. And when you allow a large group of people not to have insurance, you put the burden of paying for it on the people who do-

Jones: On those who do.

Majure-Rhett: So we believed very strongly that everybody needed to be in some system, whatever the system was, you know- we might not have agreed on the system-

Jones: But it could be privately done.

Majure-Rhett: It could be private, it could be public, whatever, yeah. So, we really worked that at the time-

Jones: Well, that's true. I interviewed Mary Ellen Bonshak- you probably know her-

Majure-Rhett: Uh-huh.

Jones: Delightful, wonderful gal.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, she is.

Jones: And she was telling- in talking about the rise in cost for hospitalization, etc.- because they don't turn anybody away.

Majure-Rhett: Yep.

Jones: Anybody can qualify, or they can get it. But somebody has to pay.

Majure-Rhett: Somebody has to pay. That's right, you know- we're all paying for it, you know, it's just a matter of where it's coming from.

Jones: Okay, so, here again, you worked for somebody that you learned from, whether or not you- (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: Another one of my stellar non-mentors, but that's all right, that's all right. He's actually kind of a little bit back in my life. He's now in North Carolina, too, which is a little scary-

Jones: (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: But no, I'm just kidding.

Jones: Is he working? (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: You could say that- not gonna say any more.

Jones: I don't- all right, that's fine.

Majure-Rhett: But after being there three years and traveling as much as I did, and really bumping heads with him, and I thought, you know, I wanna go back and find a small Southern town, work for another Chamber-

Jones: Wake up one morning, and say why-

Majure-Rhett: Yep, yep- and things just happened. It happened- like I say, very lucky- a friend of mine in Raleigh called and said, there's a Chamber in Wilmington, North Carolina, that's looking for an exec, but the deadline for resumes was like two days away. And I had been to Wilmington when I was six, no, let's say I had to be a little older, 'cause my brother was born- I might have been ten. We had gone to Williamsburg for a vacation. We had horrible vacations as a family- we would just get in the car and ride. My mother would backseat drive, my father would- oh, it was horrible-

Jones: (laughs heartily)

Majure-Rhett: But anyway, we went to Williamsburg and came back through Wilmington to see the battleship and took- I have a picture of me in Greenfield Park on the little merry-go-round that was there- only time I've ever been to Wilmington.

Jones: And the city limits was then what? Independence? Seventeenth Street?

Majure-Rhett: I don't even know! I mean, I was ten years old- I had never even heard hardly of Wilmington when I left-

Jones: Like Wilmington what? Delaware? California?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah! And I grew up in Columbia, and this wasn't a connection, you know-

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: Our connection was Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head.

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: So, anyway, she called and she said, they're lookin' for somebody, and I went on and sent my resume in and remember that- connections, again- remembered when I was at the Atlanta Chamber, a good friend of my family I thought had retired to Figure Eight, I thought they had- so I called Frances and she said, oh, yeah, they're there, and we started talking- who did you send your resume to? And I told her, and she said, you're not gonna believe this, but his godparents are my parents' best friends.

Jones: Hmmm- how fortunate-

Majure-Rhett: So, I said, well, they wanted some things on my resume that I didn't have, you know, I hadn't graduated from Chamber Institute, and I wasn't a CCE yet, and all that stuff, so they- Mr. Taylor called, actually- and got my resume, I think, pulled out of the pile, so at least I got looked at. 'Cause there were 250 resumes for this job.

Jones: Really!

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. Yeah, it's a great place! I didn't know it- I mean, I just saw this on the coast and how great-

Jones: Well, that was sort of on the cusp at that time-

Majure-Rhett: And it was before it had started-

Jones: Before I-40-

Majure-Rhett: I-40 had just opened, so things were ticking up a little bit.

Jones: When did I-40 open?

Majure-Rhett: '90, I think. And this was '94-

Jones: I think so.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. So, it had a university, it had a beach-

Jones: Right. Had a lot of beaches, boats, golf.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, and I drove in-

Jones: Mahjong- (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: And, actually, I drove a little Miata at the time. And I can remember driving down Market Street, getting in front of what I didn't know at the time was the Chancellor's house, but you know that stretch of Market?

Jones: Oh, it's so beautiful- with the trees-

Majure-Rhett: Oh, my, oh yeah. I wanna be here! And then I went down-

Jones: I saw it!

Majure-Rhett: I went down and saw the river and thought, oh, this is absolutely wonderful! So, got all hired accidentally, or whatever- it was surprising- I really-

Jones: Oh, c'mon-

Majure-Rhett: No, really and truly, I was- I was probably more shocked than anyone. But I think what got the job for me is a lot of people apply for Chambers- they start as the exec in a teensy little town, as the Number One person- there's probably like two people on staff- and they move up to the next smaller town, and the next smaller town, so their experience isn't very broad, it's- their broadening experience is going to the next Chamber, and I have great experience. I mean in Charlotte, Atlanta, I got it, and I had great teachers.

Jones: It sounds like it!

Majure-Rhett: I mean, I really, really- those Chambers were run well, and my former, the Number Two guy in the Atlanta Chamber was one of my references, and I think he made a good case for me, yeah. So, got hired.

Jones: So when you came here, it was because somebody was moving or they were expanding?

Majure-Rhett: The person before me retired. So-

Jones: Okay. And what did you do- what position?

Majure-Rhett: I came in as the CEO-

Jones: Oh, did you?

Majure-Rhett: They didn't call it that at the time- they called it- I don't even remember what it was-

Jones: Oh, that's all right.

Majure-Rhett: I think at the time, they just called it EVP- now we changed- all Chambers are structured more like businesses and all. So I came in as the top person- had never done that before in my life, you know, that was kind of a-

Jones: Isn't that kind of difficult, Connie? You come into a town, you have no idea what's going on- well, you- by that time- you probably-

Majure-Rhett: Ignorance is bliss, you know? Really.

Jones: And taking over in the top position-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah-

Jones: Probably had people working there that had been there for a long time-

Majure-Rhett: A long time- all of them had been there for-

Jones: And that must be difficult, because this was a town that that was the beginning of this tremendous, haphazard growth.

Majure-Rhett: It was- after about a year, had I not met my current husband, I probably would have left. It was a tough situation. The Chamber was not in good shape financially.

Jones: Yeah.

Majure-Rhett: Had just built a new building that it couldn't afford- you know, we didn't have computers. We didn't have furniture, you know, so I don't- a lot of people don't know this, but one of the first things I did, 'cause we had no cash- there was literally no cash- and I put our first payroll, when I was employed, on a credit card, to make payroll. Yeah. Told my-

Jones: I cannot- this is one for the books.

Majure-Rhett: Told my Chairman-

Jones: You put it on what- Chamber credit?

Majure-Rhett: American Express credit card- no, my personal credit card.

Jones: Your first payroll!

Majure-Rhett: Yep.

Jones: And this was 1990?

Majure-Rhett: '94.

Jones: Okay- payroll. '94- that's even worse.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. And we knew- I mean, I knew things were changing, because we knew we were gonna have to go to the bank and negotiate a line of credit. And so, you know, I assumed that it was gonna be approved- heavens, it's the Chamber of Commerce! But- and when I told my Chairman, he said, you know, there's some things that I just don't think I need to know. (laughs) So, it was great- he was wonderful.

Jones: Ahhh!

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, we- it was really tough. I mean, the first year was really tough.

Jones: You were either just crazy or determined.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah- well, I think I was overwhelmed enough to know that I needed to stay for a while and kind of get some things straight.

Jones: Get your mind back! (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: That happened pretty quickly. But it was tough- I mean, the town wasn't so tough. I was amazed at how open the town was. You know, I just didn't have any of those old town issues that people talk about. I mean, there is an old Wilmington, but everybody's been very gracious to me and very welcoming. So-

Jones: What were the major thrusts of that time? What was developing? What was happening? What were people concerned about?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, well, for us, it was getting things straight in the Chamber, but if you went out into community issues, I mean, we really needed to business-up our organization. But if you were looking out in the community then, infrastructure had just started bubbling as an issue. Wasn't sewer, wasn't water, little bit of road stuff, but not a lot of that.

Jones: By infrastructure, you're speaking of-

Majure-Rhett: Roads. Everything was roads, 'cause, you know, I-40 had opened and all of a sudden, we had traffic jams at Oleander and College. Even coming from D.C., I giggled about them being traffic jams, honestly. But if you'd lived here all your life, it was certainly different, you know.

Jones: Oh, yeah.

Majure-Rhett: And then, I think that another focus was wages rates were really, really low.

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: And still are, compared to other places, but they were worse. This was kind of before PPD had grown, and the hospital was really the only place that you'd wanna refer someone to that you would have a great salary, or good salary. So that was-

Jones: What were the major businesses? PPD was there but not where it is now- General Electric?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, PPD was there, but not where it is now. Corning was working on all cylinders. That's when the telecom movement was just starting to go, so Corning was growing, and they were big players, but they were pretty quiet in the community. Still, I think, then the community players were probably the people less corporate and more local- you know, the people that had their own businesses or whatever. And the bankers- the bankers were very involved.

Jones: How many banks are there in this town?

Majure-Rhett: Lots- lots of banks in this town.

Jones: Where?

Majure-Rhett: There's money to support, I think is what they would tell you. I think a lot of them are gonna- everybody's suffering a little bit right now, but I think-

Jones: Well, yeah.

Majure-Rhett: It's been a very profitable market for most of the financial institutions around.

Jones: In 1994, looking back, now I'm speaking as somebody who would come down every summer to Wrightsville Beach-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah.

Jones: At this point, the in-laws were gone-

Majure-Rhett: Uh-huh-

Jones: And every year, there was something different- some things never change, and people were talking about, we're growin' by leaps and bounds, and the traffic.

Majure-Rhett: (laughs)

Jones: Well, we stayed on the beach! (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, yeah.

Jones: But you know, you couldn't help but notice-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah-

Jones: That little strip shopping centers, which I detest, are everywhere-

Majure-Rhett: Yes.

Jones: And downtown was the big thing- about, oh, what's going to happen? So-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, even then, in '94, you know, downtown had had ups and downs, and it was headin' pretty well in the right direction. You know, and we had a real big kick-up there- PPD was in the BBandT Building downtown. I guess it was the- it wasn't BBandT then, it was the United- I can't remember- anyway, they were in their little building, or in that building, with space, were growing, and I don't know if you were here- you weren't here then, but they wanted to buy the parking deck downtown and build their headquarters.

Jones: I do remember that.

Majure-Rhett: It was the most horrible situation that we put them through for a year.

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: The City Council gave them more hoops to jump through, and more hoops to jump through, and politics got involved-

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: And kind of some dirty things, I think, happened.

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: And PPD finally said, we can't do it. And, you know, they could have left- it would have been easier for them to go to RTP- they already had space there, and to Fred Eschelman's credit- he wanted to live here, and he kept them here and that's when they moved out to the Cameron property out at Seventeenth-

Jones: Right. Mm-hmm.

Majure-Rhett: Independence.

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: Luckily stayed, because as you know, you know they're now public. They have, I guess, about 18,000 employees worldwide. They're headquartered here.

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: Our only Fortune- I guess it's our only Fortune 500 headquarters here.

Jones: Headquarters- for now.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. And you know, they're pushing 2,000 employees and are talking about another building.

Jones: I think PPD and New Hanover Medical Center- have they not been, really, the best clients you've had?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, but now GE Nuclear is taking a place in the community, too. And that's been really good, because they're very community-oriented. More so, PPD is growing into being community-oriented, but they were growing their business. I mean, so quickly- but now they're out in the community a lot more and GE Nuclear came in, and they were gonna be in the community, and so they've done a lot of good things for this community- serving on boards, providing, you know, grants and things like that to non-profits- personally involved in non-profits, so they're just a good corporate citizen, you know- good role model for a lot of companies.

Jones: Would you say, in your position, having certainly been in contact with all the businesses and such, that PPD really has been a major, major, major- or, if not the major, influence?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, PPD has changed the face of this community, absolutely, without a doubt. The people they attract here are so well-educated. They also need a very well-educated workforce-

Jones: Sure.

Majure-Rhett: It puts pressures on us to provide that, which is a good thing. They've changed the face of the waterfront downtown, without a doubt.

Jones: For the better.

Majure-Rhett: Absolutely. And you talk to the restaurateurs downtown- they're thrilled that they're there- I mean, you know, we now have a shuttle that runs from Front Street, down by PPD, down Fourth Street, back down Front Street for PPD, I mean, you know, that's good.

Jones: Can I touch on something that- you don't have to answer-

Majure-Rhett: Sure.

Jones: There's a lot of controversy over the growth of Cape Fear Community College downtown.

Majure-Rhett: Yep.

Jones: They have, without a doubt, provided a need.

Majure-Rhett: Right.

Jones: But there's still a lot of talk about them just spreading out and taking over.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah.

Jones: Areas that could be used-

Majure-Rhett: Highest and best use of property-

Jones: Right. Absolutely.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah.

Jones: Old real estate term, yeah.

Majure-Rhett: Well, we've not canceled- I don't mind talking about it, though- Eric knows what I think, I think-

Jones: I think most people- he does-

Majure-Rhett: And we certainly know what Eric thinks. I mean, you know, he's a very forthright man.

Jones: He's pretty tough-skinned.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. They were there when nobody else was, and they feel like that's kind of their claim, you know, we were here when nobody else was downtown, and they do provide walk-in traffic to merchants without a doubt. They've got great land. Do I think it's the highest and best use? Maybe not. They've got now the north campus. However, they don't have the money to ramp up the north campus. Their population is growing astronomically. We are desperately in need for them to be able to continue to serve the population that they do. So, do I think they should pack up and move out? They can't, you know. Over the course of years, though, should they focus more on the north campus than downtown? I think so.

Jones: Isn't there a possibility that certain types of educational courses can move slowly, gradually to the north campus, even now?

Majure-Rhett: Oh, yeah, yeah, if you have the money, yeah. Well, they don't have any room now, you know-

Jones: No, I mean up there. They don't have room in the north campus?

Majure-Rhett: No, they're full. I mean, everything.

Jones: Is that right-

Majure-Rhett: They have less square footage per community college- kind of like the university. You know, we are so blessed to have a community college and a university-

Jones: Right-

Majure-Rhett: That does a great job, getting better every year, and both of them, square-footage-wise, are penalized- much less square footage than other similar schools across North Carolina. So they don't have the space to move now. They've got land, but they don't have the money. You know, they're-

Jones: They have to move up.

Majure-Rhett: They don't- they have to grow by money from tax dollars- the County Commission and the State. Our County Commissioners are not gonna- you know, they aren't tax-oriented folks.

Jones: We just found that out, didn't we?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, we did, yeah. Not only are they not tax-oriented, they lost some taxes! Anyway-

Jones: They lost it!

Majure-Rhett: Oh, they didn't lose it, but-

Jones: I know.

Majure-Rhett: Wasn't there. So you would have to have a major bond issue to support that kind of change. Now, some people say, well, market turns around, they've got valuable land, they sell the land, that would fund it. I don't know. I mean, that's a huge undertaking to move a school. This happened. I mean, Wake Forest moved from Wake Forest to- where's Wake Forest? Winston-Salem? You know, so you can do it, but it takes a- it's a big undertaking. I don't think it'll happen soon. You know, I think it's- I think they're there.

Jones: And yet, there's expansion down there. Tony Rivenbark was talking about collecting funds. I mean, they've got the new theater that's underway, I guess, but for- like a Playhouse, where they could do light opera, and that sort of thing- I'm thinking, where? Where? And yet he wants to keep the park, and yet he says, well, you know, it'll happen.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah.

Jones: And when you take a look around down there, you wonder, just- I know Jean Merritt's had some ideas about a park- these are beautiful things.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, you know, I kinda- Wilmington, as old as it is, and as historic as it is, it's a teenager. You know, we're just going through the issues that other communities went through years ago, and if we're smart, we'll learn from what other communities do, but most communities aren't smart enough to do that, you know. Every once in a while, you hit a homerun with that, but I think there a lot of needs, there are a lot of wishes, there are a lot of egos-

Jones: Oh, wow.

Majure-Rhett: In this community- and we try to find the middle ground- what's best for the most, hopefully.

Jones: Talk about being in the Chamber and the part it plays, let's say, in the entertainment business, as an example. Next week, we're going to have Linda Lavin and Steve Bakunas up here, and of course, they have done a wonderful job- absolutely a wonderful job-

Majure-Rhett: Absolutely.

Jones: And yet, I've interviewed a number of artists, not from here- many of them are, they're natives- and I ask each one of them, why do you come to Wilmington? What brought you here? That's part of the gist of this whole program, and some of them say, well, to learn from others. Some of them say, because it's beautiful and I like the weather. Many of them say, it's the light, the light here- something special about the light. Well, these are artists, so-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, yeah. (laughs)

Jones: Same thing with musicians, because it's a learning experience. What kind of reasonings- when you talk to businesses, they say, well, there's a chance for growth. Now, at the same time, in talking to the heads of third and fourth generation businesses here, one of which was just recently sold, they say, well- and they're women, these are women- well, it's home. They left Wilmington, but came back-

Majure-Rhett: Back- yeah-

Jones: Because they find a less hectic life- it's everything they want. And they all mention the Chamber has done such a wonderful job, so I'm talking about old families, the newbies coming, and this big mishmash which- they've all got their different ideas and their different reasons, but they're coming here. It's like a mecca somehow- what do you attribute to this?

Majure-Rhett: Well, I do think that we are- some is kind of accident- (chuckles) and some is very, very prescribed. And the Chamber has never probably done anything by itself. I mean, we're part of coalitions on everything we do. But I think one of the best things that ever happened to this community, sadly, was when the Atlantic coastline left, because as horrible as it was at the moment, a group of people got together and decided they had to diversify the economy!

Jones: Yes, they did. I was here in the 19- summer of 1960, for the first time, meeting my in-laws, and all I heard from everybody that-

Majure-Rhett: Was the railroad's closed-

Jones: Wilma Jr. went to visit before going to California- was, oh, the coastline has left! And I gathered that everybody had a relative that worked for the coastline.

Majure-Rhett: Everybody had somebody, yeah- 3,000 people just moved out almost overnight, I mean, and it wound up being demeaning-

Jones: In a population of under 60 at that time-

Majure-Rhett: Oh, yeah, I think the population was much less than 60 there, so, yeah, it was huge, but it was great! In the end-

Jones: That's what happened-

Majure-Rhett: Because Corning was recruited, GE was recruited, you know, Dan Cameron- the story!- Dan Cameron formed the Committee of One Hundred and you hear great stories of, you know, Dan and Bruce having Figure Eight Island and taking corporate guys to Figure Eight to fish, and them fallin' in love with the community, too, you know, so that was- we're very- as bad as the coastline was, it was great that it diversified our community, and then if you add on top of that-

Jones: Out of the ashes, rises-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah! The Phoenix deal! Yeah, we had people that worked hard to make a two-year college university, part of the university system. We had a great community college- it was training people. You know, didn't have good transportation- we were really cut off from the world and then Interstate 40 opened, and the world changed here.

Jones: Yes.

Majure-Rhett: You know, I think that that was kind of another turnaround, kind of like the coastline leaving, you know, was the interstate.

Jones: Oh, yes, oh, yes.

Majure-Rhett: And because we didn't grow so fast for so long, and we're so isolated, we protected our environment whether we wanted to or not, you know, there wasn't a lot of things happening. So we kept our kind of pristine-ness, and you had people like the people downtown that were really interested in historic preservation, so we didn't have a lot of the community leveling and re-building- we had some of that, but not much, you know, so we've kind of been able to, because of when we grew and how we grew, and what happened as we were growing, to kind of keep a lot of the soul, I think, of Wilmington. And I think Wilmington has a wonderfully quirky diversal that I think people find charming and wanna be a part of. It provides a uniqueness for a lot of people, a uniqueness, not in one way, but in many ways. If you're into the arts, we're a very artsy community-

Jones: Oh, very-

Majure-Rhett: You know, if you're into the business community, we've got great, striving, growing, creative high-tech business-

Jones: May I stop you on that?

Majure-Rhett: Sure-

Jones: And ask you a question-

Majure-Rhett: Mm-hmm-

Jones: In the business end of it, is there a need to- I'm not taking any part one way or another-

Majure-Rhett: Sure-

Jones: Just asking the question- are you involved in the Chamber- or anybody involved- are they actively looking for new businesses to come?

Majure-Rhett: Absolutely. Yeah.

Jones: What is the vision- for, let's say, ten years from now?

Majure-Rhett: Okay. There's two tracks going on.

Jones: Looking back ten years, and seeing what we are now.

Majure-Rhett: Two very, very, very active tracks going on- one is business recruitment and business growth. And if you look- and that's the committee- (inaudible)

Jones: Large business?

Majure-Rhett: Well, if you look at what they would like to have would be higher-tech businesses that pay well, would be businesses that don't harm our environment, you know, that fit in well here. And you see the little growth, or the- not the little growth- the growth of the CRO, the Contract Research Organization, like PPD, and now Quintas is here and two others are here or coming, you know, so we're seeing little growths in areas. We're seeing, certainly, growth in the medical arena, and then the nuclear industry looks like it has a potential to grow, and all of that for GE is concentrated here, so the need for nuclear engineers is huge. We have a shortage of all types of engineers in this community, so the Community of One Hundred is recruiting. They want companies, they want headquarters companies. They also, interestingly, like to put- like to talk to companies that the owner would come with the company, as opposed to a branch of a Fortune 500- they would like the owner to look at this community because of the quality of life, and that helps-

Jones: It does, sure-

Majure-Rhett: Sell our community. So you've got the Committee of One Hundred attracting- our concern right now is workforce, though, because we really believe that the new economic development tool of the future is gonna be workforce, and if you don't have a good one, you're not gonna have companies be able to grow or attract. So, we're involved in a long-term process called Cape Fear Future- that is, we're working with some consultants out of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Toronto-

Jones: Really-

Majure-Rhett: Using research from an economic demographer named Richard Florida, who is kind of a numbers cruncher for everybody. He kinda started trying to figure out, why are some communities so successful and some aren't? And he wrote this book called Rise of the Creative Class, and his creative class is what we call knowledge economy. It's anybody that's paid for their thoughts, as opposed to serving or manufacturing, you know. All of us in this room are knowledge economy.

Jones: So, this is sort of a think-tank type thing.

Majure-Rhett: Well, it's- what does your community have to do to not only keep those kind of people here, but attract those kind of people.

Jones: Now, this is somebody from Carnegie Mellon, did you say?

Majure-Rhett: One of the consultants is from Carnegie Mellon, the other one's from the University of Toronto- Richard Florida is at the University of Toronto now.

Jones: I happen to know that Carnegie Mellon, several years ago, recruited very, very- I mean, they were recruited very, very heavily- recruiting their students, grad students, and so forth-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah.

Jones: In computer technology and so forth-

Majure-Rhett: Oh, yeah.

Jones: For Silicon Valley, and would pay summer interns what would be $90,000 a year. God bless!

Majure-Rhett: I can't remember the statistic I used to know about how many start-ups in Silicon Valley were started by Carnegie Mellon students- unbelievable.

Jones: Yeah, yeah. I have a niece who did that.

Majure-Rhett: But we have got to have those same type of people here.

Jones: And they would have the quality of life that's perfect.

Majure-Rhett: They'd have the quality of life here. But Richard Florida determined that there were really four things that communities needed, and they've now done a lot of research that really supports the fact that if a community has- he calls it the Four Ts- I don't think it describes it so well- it's kind of consultant talk- but a high degree of technology, that ability to use technology in your day-to-day work, play, whatever, a high degree of talent- you need people with educations from- but not just college graduates, Ph.Ds, you need everybody getting out of high school. You need a high degree of what they call territory assets- we call it quality of life- Greg called it quality of life. And then the interesting one that causes people to kind of gulp around here is you need a high degree of diversity- he calls it tolerance, but they're finding that the more diverse your workforce is, the more creative and innovative you are.

Jones: All right, what do you mean by- tell us what you mean by diversity.

Majure-Rhett: Diversity's everything, from religion to race to-

Jones: Well, isn't that sort of a given- I mean, we're not allowed to discriminate.

Majure-Rhett: Well, we aren't a very diverse community. I mean, if you look at our population, just African-American and white, I mean our African-American population-

Jones: Now there's a rising Hispanic group.

Majure-Rhett: It is, it is, but we have-

Jones: I don't know if they're legal or not, but-

Majure-Rhett: There are no Asians, there are no, you know, Indians, and if you look at start-ups and where things are happening, there's a lot of stuff happening there.

Jones: You're talking about Indians from India.

Majure-Rhett: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Jones: They are so much into the technology world.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, yeah. So, you know, if you have a community that's not very diverse. In some areas, we are diverse, and we're very thick in arts area, for example-

Jones: Yes, maybe overly-so.

Majure-Rhett: But we're not thick at all in the diversity area, and if you have a company, for example, that wants to do work in China, there's no one here that can even tell 'em about China. You know, you have to come to the university and talk to a professor that's probably not from China.

Jones: Connie, don't you think that our elementary education and high school education, our educational level across the country, is responsible for a lot of this:

Majure-Rhett: I think our education system's not good at all, and I hope things get better.

Jones: You know, I think that taking a look at the work that shows some of my kids and my grandchildren, it's appalling. It's absolutely appalling.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, yeah.

Jones: You don't have to learn to read anymore, you've got a computer. You've got things in your ears.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, we're very concerned because, again, I mentioned that it's not just college graduates that we need-

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: We need the people out of high school, because every high-tech job you have, you have to have support staff with it. You know, for every researcher you have, you usually have ten technicians.

Jones: Well, this is a great thing. I'm glad to hear it, because there's some that just are not college material. They can be trained on the job.

Majure-Rhett: And make more money than if they go to college!

Jones: In some cases, yeah.

Majure-Rhett: So, you know, we've gotta get out of this attitude of if you don't have a college degree, you can't make a living, because the college degree is important to certain people and to certain careers, but certainly not for everything. So, anyway, we're trying to recruit the workforce. When we started talking about this five years ago, nobody was talking- well, not many communities were talking about recruiting workforce. But then, if you look at statistics, somehow the workforce is decreasing. For every two baby boomers that leave the workforce through retirement right now, you only have one coming back in. And that looks like- we don't know if last year's baby boomlet is gonna continue, but even if that continues, we're looking at, let's see, twenty-five years before you get results in that one year-

Jones: Right, right-

Majure-Rhett: And if you look at the competition for workforce, if you look at our education not being great- I say you need to boost that- there are crises ahead for businesses, you know. Not only are they not gonna have the people to fill new jobs, they aren't gonna have the people to replace jobs when people retire, so-

Jones: Okay, on the business end of it, which is the lifeblood here- taxes, giving people jobs, which creates more taxes-

Majure-Rhett: Mm-hmm-

Jones: Homeownership, more taxes- the small businesses, how are they doing?

Majure-Rhett: Great. That's our largest, obviously- in most communities, that's our largest sector.

Jones: What do you consider a small business? Just a family-owned?

Majure-Rhett: Anybody that thinks they are. I mean, if you got- there's some crazy statistics with SBA, and if you're under 500 employees, you're a small business. Sorry, don't think that's a small business in my vernacular. But usually you think of- I would think of it as under 30 employees, you know, but probably more likely, in our community, it would be under ten. Pretty healthy segment- certainly the service sector is growing like crazy.

Jones: Can they survive in a downtown- a rehab downtown atmosphere in the small malls, or the big malls?

Majure-Rhett: They gotta find out where they can afford to pay the rent. I mean, you know, rehab downtown might be pretty expensive for some, unless you've got a high-end product or have a lot of product going out your door. But insurance companies, banks, financial institutions, brokerage- they can afford to be wherever they wanna be, you know, if they're doing well.

Jones: I heard recently from- well, I'll mention it, because he's not ashamed of it- Ed Turbert, that- I'm talking about historic downtown Wilmington and DARE and all the rest of it, that there comes a point when a building does not- should not- be kept-

Majure-Rhett: Can't be-

Jones: Because it has passed way beyond-

Majure-Rhett: You can't afford it, I mean-

Jones: You have to take it down and put up something else.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, it's really sad. You know, I hear people complaining because we didn't save such-and-such a building, and all they would have to do is take their pro forma into that building and try to make their business work, or whatever they're doing, work, after you rehab the building. It probably would cost- in some cases, it costs more than you could ever get out of it. And that's sad, but it's reality in the world.

Jones: Lending insurance is prohibited.

Majure-Rhett: Yes. So, yeah, you have to- there's not one community in the world that built for one year and never built again, you know? Just preserved all their old stuff and stopped then.

Jones: Do you find that so many of the people who are involved in creating businesses, owning businesses, restoration, history preservation, are people from somewhere else, and they've made this their home?

Majure-Rhett: No. That segment's certainly growing, but we have a great combination. I think that people moving into this community are making this community better, because they've been other places, they've seen other things, ways to do it. But they started with a dadgum good product to begin with, you know, so it's just enhancing what's here.

Jones: Oh, well, I think- that part is true. But I think that there's been a lot of talk, and that's probably what it is, how some of the older families- first of all, they're dying off-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. Yeah, yeah-

Jones: I mean, you know that, you're married to one. And that's the law of averages there, so that it's up to the newbies to take over and so many of them have had good positions, have made a good income, they've retired earlier, so they brought their talents here.

Majure-Rhett: Absolutely.

Jones: And so who should be upset- nobody.

Majure-Rhett: A key asset for our community-

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: I mean, I really do think we're a much better community because of people that have moved here. I really, really believe that. You just have people that know how to do more things. It's just another wealth of assets for your community.

Jones: And do you find in the Rotary- with all their committees and their do-good projects, and so forth- that the bulk of those people are from somewhere else, and who are really active?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah.

Jones: And that they're workers?

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, we have- there are local workers, too, but-

Jones: Oh, I know that.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, but yeah, a lot of- I mean- I'm sittin' on my foot, so I have to move-

Jones: Okay- (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: I think that-

Jones: I'm not anti more people, 'cause I want 'em- my husband isn't, but I'm reminded that I am- (chuckles)

Majure-Rhett: No, no, no, no- yeah- I think that our- that the- let's see how to phrase this and be gentle about it. I think that without newcomers into this community, we would have- we wouldn't be where we are today.

Jones: Right.

Majure-Rhett: And newcomers are new companies, as well as individuals. You have to have new life blood, I think, into anything, and I think it's a tribute to this community that this community is so open to newcomers. I mean, I'm amazed at how a newcomer can fill a void. I mean, you ask somebody to do something, and it's somebody that's just moved here, and they step up and do it, and all of a sudden, they're in a leadership role- that happens all the time. I'm amazed at that.

Jones: I've seen that, and I think, goodness!

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, and people get upset because, well, they didn't ask me to do it- well, somebody stepped up and did it! You know?

Jones: But I think, too, one of the most interesting things I've found, is that there are people who come here, and right away they see something that they can go, and I guess, initiate themselves.

Majure-Rhett: Mm-hmm.

Jones: And then do it!

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, yeah- you know, that's kinda one of those things, it's easy to talk on every side of that issue- I mean, you know, you don't want people comin' in and tellin' you how they did it up wherever they came from-

Jones: No, no- (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: You know, that's not very gracious. But you also don't want a community that says, I don't care how it's done better or differently, and not consider that. So, I think it's a balance, and I do think Wilmington's very open to newness and- yeah.

Jones: Yeah, oh, yeah.

Majure-Rhett: I think we have to be careful to work more closely together. I mean, a lot of things get started that don't get finished, and there are institutions in town that probably would be better if people would combine their work and resources, as opposed to starting a new something, especially in the non-profit area. I see that a lot, you know? They don't quite like exactly what's going on at one, so they're gonna start a new- well, our resources are pretty limited here. We don't have Sugar Daddies, Fat Cats, that are dropping thousands of dollars all the time, you know- (laughs) so everybody's fighting for every dollar, and we could be better.

Jones: How 'bout Screen Gems? What have they brought here?

Majure-Rhett: Well, when I got here, the film industry was 10% of our economy. It was 300- I don't think I remember- 365 million dollars. You know, now it's below 60, because of all the competition and the fact that we didn't have incentives and the dollar in Canada, you know, was so much cheaper and all. So they certainly brought jobs, but they brought an awareness of Wilmington that you couldn't buy- that kind of publicity, but then if you add on top of it, though, the growth in restaurants, and galleries and the ability of a PTA to have a daddy that's a set designer or whatever, little things like that are great for this community. I'll never forget the first time I went to- I don't know if you remember- Best Foot Forward. It's kind of a- you know Best Foot Forward, from school, I imagine- it's a talent show of elementary kids. And you know, you think you go to this little hoaky little talent show. Well, the first time I went, I was blown away, but we had great music and great sound, and I think things like that, even, are a part of the film industry. So, I think it's been a great asset. And, hopefully, will come back as big as it was. You know, now, with our incentive programs and things, hopefully, it'll continue to grow back.

Jones: I heard some people call this place Wilmingwood- (chuckles)

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, I heard that, too, yeah. Well, you know, when I first moved here, about every movie of the week that I watched was filmed in Wilmington-

Jones: Was filmed here-

Majure-Rhett: You didn't know it, and my mother would call- "do you think that's Wilmington?" And I said, yeah, I think I recognize that building, you know, so- and I still see that some, but not nearly as much.

Jones: Okay, I ran into- some years ago- Shirley MacLaine, who in person didn't look a thing like Shirley- none of them do!

Majure-Rhett: Right.

Jones: I grew up in L.A., so I was used to this. And she said, "I love this place." I ran into her at Target! (laughs)

Majure-Rhett: Hilarious.

Jones: And I had my granddaughter with me, who was about fifteen at the time. And she went up and said to her, "Are you Shirley MacLaine?" And Shirley MacLaine looked at her and said, "Sometimes."

Majure-Rhett: What a great answer.

Jones: And we got into a conversation, and she said, "It's the only place in the world I can go and be me." And Linda Lavin does the same thing-

Majure-Rhett: Yeah. Right- I see her-

Jones: She goes to Harris Teeter- she doesn't look like Linda Lavin, you know.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, I see her all the time, yeah.

Jones: And I've heard this from a number of people who- they said, we love it because we're free-

Majure-Rhett: We lived alone-

Jones: We are just here, yeah.

Majure-Rhett: Yeah, I think it's great.

Jones: So, anyway- let's take a break for a minute.

Majure-Rhett: Okay.

Jones: And change tapes, and you're a great interview because you are open, bubbly and you've got-

Majure-Rhett: Babble, babble, babble, babble,

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