In 2004, the limousine industry in North Carolina had a poor relationship with the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). Operators weren’t even welcome at airport authority meetings. “Whenever folks from the limo industry showed up they were asked to leave or escorted away,” said Carolyn Henson, president of the North Carolina Limousine Association.
Carolyn Henson, president of the NCLA, leads an association keen on building relationships with legislators and airports.
One of the NCLA’s biggest accomplishments has been rebuilding its relationship with the airport authority. In 2004, the group reformed with new membership and approached the RDU to start a dialogue. After its first meeting with the airport ground transportation director, the NCLA invited the director to its meetings, and have since held some meetings onsite at the terminal conference center.
Today, the NCLA and the airport work well together. “The airport authority ground transportation director has been very helpful,” Henson said. “They’ve asked for input on what our operators need to do business at the airport.”
In fact, in 2012, the ground transportation director attended a meeting, and midway through, said the authority wanted to keep open communication. “They asked if there is a way for them to join the organization. We met as a board and they are actually an official member now. That doesn’t happen. To have them actually join, that was a huge accomplishment for us.”
Henson attributes this success to constant contact and avoiding an adversarial approach. “Temperament has a lot to do with relationships,” Henson said. “If you make it an all-encompassing relationship, it opens up a better channel for information. We understand where they’re coming from, and they get our point of view. It’s better to make them your friend than your enemy.”
With that bump behind them, a new challenge lay ahead for the NCLA. A proposal for a statewide sales tax on the service industry has been floated by the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly. The tax is being sold as a way to eliminate North Carolina’s income and corporate taxes. But the service tax would have profound effects on operators, says Henson, adding as much as eight percent to service fees. Also, because Republicans control the North Carolina House and Senate, the proposal has teeth.
Fortunately, the NCLA has fought this battle before. In 2009, the industry faced a similar looming sales tax. The association met with elected officials and spoke on behalf of the industry. They prevailed in stopping a statewide sales tax for luxury ground transportation through a grassroots effort that also encouraged non-active members to speak up. “We bombarded them with emails, phone calls, and letters and they pulled it off the table,” Henson said.
Once again, the NCLA is gearing up for a campaign. “It is important for the NCLA to come forward and explain why this would be detrimental to so many businesses in our state. When we talk to our senators it does hit home on how legislation can affect small operators.” NCLA member Diane McLean was elected to chair the Legislative Committee, and will spearhead a “mini” Day on the Hill to let state legislatures know their position.
To broaden its base, the NCLA is considering allowing all ground transportation companies in North Carolina that operate for-hire Z-plated vehicles to join the association. This would include bus companies, para-transit, and ground delivery services. A vote will be held on the matter at the next meeting.
Looking forward, the association also wants to encourage out-of-state operators to become members to grow the NCLA into more of a regional group. “South Carolina does not have an organization,” Henson said. “We do have members in surroundings states. Obviously that gives us more of a voice.”
North Carolina Limousine Association
Location: North Carolina
Officers/Leadership: Carolyn Henson, President (Prestige Limousine): Jerry Thomas, 1st Vice President (Prime Time Limousines): Teddy Crider, 2nd Vice President (Meridian Town Cars); Jamisha Breland, Treasurer (Certified Limousine); Lenora Bowman, Secretary (Johnny B’s Limousine Service)
Operator Members: 25
Other Members: 5
Vehicle Regulating Agency: NCDOT
Annual Vehicle Permit Fees: $78 per vehicle license plate and any local permit fees may apply
Annual Dues: $100, 1-5 cars; $150 6-10 cars; $200 11+
Charity Support: Make-A-Wish Foundation
Contact: Carolyn Henson (910) 409-4316