The new leader of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce delivered more than an acceptance speech at the group's annual meeting last week in Greenbelt--he taught class.
Vocabulary was at the center of the lesson, as Norman L. Carter defined--more than once--the meanings of the words "partnership" and "alliance."
Elementary stuff, without a doubt. But Carter, a Potomac Electric Power Co. executive who says he loves the county but is frustrated by certain aspects of its development, wanted to be clear about the basics of his strategic plan, the "Three P's."
A distant cousin of the "Three R's" (that old school adage about "reading, writing and arithmetic"), the Three P's are: partnerships, policy and profit. And Carter wants to see the chamber, a nonprofit alliance of about 700 businesses, do more with the Three P's under his one-year term as president.
About 300 chamber members gathered to hear Carter speak and to see the installation of new officers.
"Our chamber's continued success will depend, in part, on our ability to strengthen and enhance our existing partnerships and alliances with county elected officials, businesses, civic and community organizations," said Carter, an accountant who is the manager of economic development for Pepco.
Webster's dictionary "defined 'ally' as 'someone or something associated with another as a helper.' . . . The new millennium represents an opportunity for you to become a special ally of the chamber, not only to grow your business but also to contribute to our county's economic well-being," he said.
Among Carter's other priorities are the establishment of a "high-tech council to focus on the unique needs of the high-tech industry," forming partnerships with "nontraditional" groups such as the Red Cross and the YMCA and giving all members an increased role in forming the chamber's legislative agenda.
He also would like the chamber to concentrate on work-force issues such as the availability of trained and qualified employees and increasing volunteerism in the public schools.
But there was minimal emphasis on change in the schools or reducing crime, two issues that have been the county's bane for years.
"I think all the pieces are coming together," Carter said in an interview. Concerning schools, "we've got some issues, and hopefully we'll start devising some strategies to address the problems."
And despite the ever-present worry in parts of the county about crime, the topic wasn't mentioned at all.
The mood was jubilant as the crowd absorbed Carter's message over grilled chicken and vegetables. A jazz ensemble from the Prince George's Arts Council that played between speeches helped set the festive tone. It was also the chamber's 75th anniversary. The audience was speckled with power brokers from throughout Prince George's and a slew of elected officials.
Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) spoke briefly before administering oaths to new chamber officials and throwing a few jabs at County Council members, four of whom were present: Vice Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills), Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington), Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) and Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie).
"I'm really encouraged by what I think will be a great relationship with Norman and the board," Curry said.
Then he decided to joust a little bit.
After administering oaths and praising the simplicity of the chamber's elections and installation, Curry continued: "Dorothy, Audrey, are you all learning from the efficiency of this? . . . Nothing about my job is so easy," he said, lamenting the need to deal with "nine junior county executives."
The new officers raised their hands when Curry told them to. They spoke when he told them to. "I swear, I wish I could master this in Upper Marlboro," he said.
Bailey and Scott, sitting at a table together, shot back: "In your dreams!"
"Well, everybody's got to have dreams . . . . And I don't care what Bailey says, this is the part that's hard for the council: Would you please raise your right hand?" he said, taking a jab at the Democrat-controlled council.
There was another oath for chamber members, and Curry said, "Just teasing, y'all relax."
Bailey, for one, was relaxed. "I'm never really surprised or taken aback because I can give it as well as take it," she said. "Today was truly in jest."
Carter left the joking to the politicians, keeping to his message--and the crowd seemed receptive to it.
"I agree that we've got to do a lot more to support each other and build strong relationships," said Christopher Lawson, president of Bowie-based PrimeInsurance Inc., a chamber member who attended the June 23 lunch. As for Carter's plan, "you've got to put it into play. It must be applied, and not just at the top, but all the way down to the members."
A tall man with a wide smile, Carter moved from his native Pittsburgh to take a job in Washington with Pepco 18 years ago. He lived on Capitol Hill until he got married and decided, in 1993, that he wanted to start a family in a larger house.
Like so many others in Prince George's, he was drawn to the county by the housing stock and "because we did not want to be a minority in our own community," said Carter, who is an African American.
Meanwhile, he became involved with the chamber because of his role at Pepco, which, back then, had to do with seeking minority businesses for contract consideration.
That led him to "a whole new realm of chamber activities," he said.
Carter became treasurer of the group, then a board member, then a member of the executive committee.
He likes to golf, lives in Fort Washington with his wife, Zelia, and their 11-year-old son, Norman IV. He said that self-confidence is the basic element of his success.
"Because I have a young family, it keeps me in tune with what's important in the county," he said. "I'm well-prepared to lead an organization like this and I think it will be a lot of fun."
CAPTION: Norman L. Carter, a Potomac Electric Power Co. executive who is the new president of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce, wants to bolster alliances with local organizations. Carter, of Fort Washington, addressed chamber members at their annual meeting last week.