UNC-system President Margaret Spellings began the morning with remarks on the state of North Carolina’s higher education.
“Our future as a state, and our future as a country, depends on our need and our demand to educate more students to higher levels than ever before,” she said.
Spellings said higher education has never been as necessary for the community as it is now.
“We are truly in a global knowledge economy,” she said.
Spellings focused her speech on poor, minority and rural students who face limited options in pursuing higher education.
She said she is keeping her eye on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy under the Trump administration. She also said she hopes to clarify the issue of sexual assault on college campuses by determining what the role of local law enforcement is compared to the University’s role.
Spellings addressed the strategic plan adopted by the UNC Board of Governors and said that while the UNC system is not perfect, they are looking forward to the new plan.
This plan is focused on retention and graduation rates. Spellings said an increase in higher education credentials would act as an economic boost for the state.
Spellings encouraged the business community to step up and help young people directly by giving them experiences they can use in the real world. She ended her talk by saying North Carolina is changing and growing in both size and diversity, and that is good news.
Other speakers continued in a similar tone to Spellings. Anthony Pugliese, the 2016 chairperson of the chamber’s board of directors, noted several improvements the chamber worked for in 2016.
“One of the greatest threats to our local and regional economy in 2016 came from North Carolina’s House Bill 2. I am proud that your chamber was the first chamber in the state of North Carolina to condemn the law and to call for its repeal,” he said.
Joel Levy, the 2017 chamber board chairperson, called for compromise across the political spectrum.
“At the chamber, while continuing to be a strong and effective advocate for business interests of our community, we embrace our role as community conveners and seek partners with intersecting interests to form effective coalitions,” he said. “Please join us in modeling the behavior we wish to see on a state and national level.”
Pugliese presented awards to several community members, including Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, who received the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award.