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AFI in Action: Charlotte, North Carolina

"Back in 2013, the release of the AFI Data Report positioned Charlotte, North Carolina 36th out of the 50 largest metro areas in the country— hardly a ranking to brag about.."

That was precisely the reaction of Michael Tarwater, CEO of Carolinas Healthcare System and soon to be chair of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest and most active chambers in the U.S. For Tarwater, immediate questions loomed: Why were Charlotte's rankings so low? What's behind these rankings? What factors comprise the index? And probably most important, what has to happen for Charlotte to improve in the rankings? Chamber leadership recognized that building toward a reputation as a healthy community could, in fact, positively influence economic development, corporate relocation, workforce attraction and workforce retention. As a result, the Chamber decided to establish the "Healthy Charlotte Council" to give the theme greater longevity and to actually integrate the Healthy Charlotte Council's efforts into the Chamber's overall program of work. 

What immediately followed on the heels of the 2013 AFI rankings announcement is a great story of leadership, commitment, collaboration and lots of energy, enthusiasm and a simply stated goal that can best be described as Healthy Charlotte's "True North" to move into the top 10 of the AFI Data Report within five years.

What is Charlotte doing to move the needle?
-Tarwater selected "Healthy Charlotte" as the theme for his year as chamber chair for 2014 and challenged the 3,000+ members of the Chamber to give health, wellness and fitness greater focus and more of a spotlight within their own organizations.
-The council is co-chaired by executives from two major health care systems—Carolinas Healthcare System and Novant Health, evidence that this would be an initiative with depth and true alignment to the factors that shape healthy communities.
-Programs are being developed to align three priorities: nutrition, physical activity and tobacco use. These priorities were selected based on the analysis of an internal Index and Audit Subcommittee.
-A scorecard has been developed to track all progress of the council against the master goal of improving Charlotte's AFI ranking.
-A public relations subcommittee is building awareness of the Healthy Charlotte initiative through media outreach, social media, speaking engagements, etc. An awareness measurement tool is being established to measure this effort going forward.
-An employer toolkit was developed to promote a culture of health and well-being among Charlotte area employees and residents.

Lessons learned—
-Coalition Building: successful coalitions engage diverse representatives of community. All sectors of a community have a role to play and need to be brought to the table.
-Leadership: actively-engaged leaders are typically those who are already passionate about the issue. You might recruit several leaders who can function as an executive committee and the roles may transition as the coalition or group grows.
-Monitoring and Evaluation: evaluation occurs at every phase of project development. The evaluation process helps form a clear understanding of what progress is being made toward your goals and objectives. You will be able to distinguish between what is working and what is not working, enabling you to measure and celebrate success!

Recent Progress
Announced in October 2016, the Charlotte Chamber Healthy Charlotte Council was awarded $25,000 as part of the GE Healthy Cities Leadership Academy. This opportunity will allow Healthy Charlotte to participate in a year-long collaborative to learn how to continue to bring together the community and the private sector in an effort to improve population health. We look forward to seeing the continued progress of the Healthy Charlotte Council! For more information, please click here.

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