Sydney Lewis Sydney Lewis
Associate Manager, Communications


March 06, 2024


Barbi Jones was recommended to explore the insights offered from the Business Leads Fellowship Program by fellow North Carolinian business leader, Debra Derr, a member of Cohort 6. Jones, executive director of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce in Concord, NC, and Derr, director of government affairs at the NC Chamber in Raleigh, frequently collaborate on solving the issues facing businesses and communities in North Carolina. Derr, aware that Jones and the Cabarrus Chamber were actively working on childcare and early learning issues, recommended the program to learn how regional and local business leaders facing similar issues collaborated to find solutions. Barbi joined Cohort 7 and now serves as a homeroom facilitator for Cohort 8. Homeroom facilitators, who are previous cohort members, lead the current cohort by offering insights and shared acumen on the way.

For more than a decade, Barbi has been serving the Charlotte metropolitan area, previously working at the United Way of Greater Charlotte. At the time, the city was identified as the worst of 50 large cities for economic mobility. While at United Way, Barbi played a role in implementing a third-grade reading initiative and collective impact program to increase reading levels and other education attainment goals to promote economic mobility, catalyzing her passion for solving issues facing our education systems. She brought these insights and experiences to her work at the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“When I joined the [Cabarrus] Chamber, I felt like we needed to partner with our schools, early learning centers and secondary educational institutions to ensure a stronger, more prepared workforce,” Barbi reflects. 

Cabarrus County is a neighbor to Charlotte, just directly north. Barbi recognized that the issues prevalent in Charlotte could easily extend into Cabarrus County. “Those statistics don’t change just because you cross a county line,” she emphasizes.

The Business Leads Fellowship, for Barbi, reminded her that she was not alone in her passion for supporting the ties between education and workforce. “Not only was everyone in my cohort in similar situations, but we also now had this community to share wins and losses, supported by subject matter experts and data,” she shares.

The data and insights gained from the program enabled the Cabarrus Chamber to compel state legislators to consider the long-term impacts of childcare on families and the future workforce. Like many states, North Carolina is a childcare desert. As the pandemic subsided, communities were losing childcare centers, classes, and teachers due to a lack of proper funding. Driven to resolve this issue for the betterment of the community, the Cabarrus Chamber advocated for continuation of stabilization funding, securing $100 million to continue funding through June 2024. Additionally, Cabarrus County received $2 million for a Tri-Share project, increasing access to high-quality, affordable childcare.

The Business Leads Fellowship, through Barbi’s participation, helped her supply local partners with national data and successful ideas from other communities around the country, shaping the path forward in Cabarrus County. She connected with peers from Michigan who had already successfully navigated the launch of the MI Tri-Share. These peers, through their connection to Business Leads, shared vital knowledge about navigating challenges and driving solutions. 

“We are mightier working together than separately,” says Barbi. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has identified the biggest challenges to businesses of all sizes and through their investments in Business Leads Fellowship Program and others, empowering chambers and business support groups of all sizes to make valuable impacts at local levels.”

Looking forward, Barbi notes the impact of peer connection and her excitement to participate in this year’s new Master Classes on issues and solutions that past graduates can learn more about, including her passion for early learning through 12th grade education solutions. As a homeroom leader for Cohort 8, Barbi hears from her peers that the program is invaluable for chambers of all sizes. Her peers from small chambers have noted how the program provides access to top notch information, data, professional development, networking opportunities, and strategies. As a result, these smaller chambers, representing communities and businesses across America, can bring back these valuable insights and actionable ideas home to the areas they serve.

 The Business Leads Fellowship Program, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, equips business leaders with resources and training to improve the connection between education systems, students, and workforce opportunities in their communities through workshops covering education and workforce topics.


About the authors

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis is associate communications manager for education, workforce and corporate citizenship at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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