On the surface, it would appear that our regional economic development strategies are working well. In the past year, we have added several exceptional companies to our region including MetLife, Sealed Air, Keer America and Giti Tires.
However, beneath the surface, our economic development efforts are being scrutinized by a study group organized by the Foundation for the Carolinas. This group is made up of business representatives that were recommended by the chairs of the Chamber of Commerce and the Charlotte Regional Partnership.
Their mission is to examine the roles and functions of those two organizations with regard to economic development, as well as to learn the role of the new NC Partnership for Economic Development recently established by our Governor and the NC General Assembly.
Basically, the Foundation group is to make recommendations in January 2015 that will “clarify” economic development efforts and demonstrate how best to target private contributions for the greatest benefit to our region. In other words, businesses may give to one or two groups, but giving to three entities seems a bit much.
This region is also suffering because of indecision about long-term governance of the Charlotte Douglas Airport. While the operation remains under the governance of the City Council and the management of the City Manager, the longer term oversight and planning of airport assets is on hold.
Perhaps taking a step back, we might see the big picture more clearly. Because of Charlotte’s strategic location on the North Carolina border with South Carolina, it is essential that we examine the economic development efforts of both North Carolina (NC) and South Carolina (SC). Urban strategist Michael Gallis suggests that we view economic assets and regions geographically to see how unique assets are linked to economic regions.
While politicians frequently take credit for the role of government in economic development, they often create more interference than cooperation. We witness that disruption every time NC and SC pass along incentives to businesses to merely cross the state line with no corresponding boon to the region as a whole.
What is most important is to examine the potential relationships and capacities of NC and SC to work together and to understand the dynamics of our economic regions in relation to global markets. We need to recognize and promote our economic assets and capabilities that can be readily linked with economic regions to facilitate new opportunities for growth.
To be more specific, we have direct access to three major, deep-water ports—Norfolk, Charleston & Savannah—for distribution of goods anywhere in the world. We have two very important airports—Charlotte and Atlanta—that provide direct connections to U.S. domestic markets as well as international connections.
Our manufacturing and industrial facilities along the I-85 corridor are already pumping products totaling $1.3 trillion dollars per year. These plants can become even more advanced and efficient when linked with our intellectual and technological talent and insights.
We can also expand our agricultural capabilities to support world populations needing food, grain and livestock. We can also leverage our commercial and financial strength in support of broader participation in the growth of our combined, regional community.
And we have an abundance of smaller companies and a substantial workforce that are flexible and adaptive to new innovations and niches that support the larger business growth. Our colleges and universities provide a diverse mix of disciplines that will also contribute to our futures, educating the next generation of talent and training our workers with the skills that will be required in the new economy.
Just look at a map of the two Carolinas and mark the assets including the shipping ports and the airports. Then circle the economic regions. There is one long region along the I-85 corridor. There is an agricultural region along the I-95 corridor. Another is a technology grouping in the Research Triangle Park.
Then, identify the pockets of business activity like the Asheville region and the tourist communities. When you put NC and SC together with Charlotte at its commercial center supported by our excellent schools, colleges and universities, you will see that our potential to develop economically is substantially greater together than when our two states work independently.
The keys to linking our two states are economic development strategies that logistically connect the resources and the assets with the output, innovation and creativity of our citizens for greater participation in the world marketplace. We can do that. We must do that to successfully compete in our global economy.