For the Charlotte region, being situated essentially on the edges of both North Carolina and South Carolina presents a paradox. While we frequently feel like a distant cousin of state government in Raleigh, unempowered to coordinate economic development across the state border, our location central within the Carolinas is logically integral to emerging corridors of commerce and absolutely essential to our region’s economic growth.
While that is an obvious and inevitable truth, unfortunately the Charlotte region is stuck in a state of limbo; we are seemingly unable to help ourselves.
From the perspective of economic development, we are just marginally competitive. We have made some progress in recruiting MetLife, Sealed Air and Spectra Group among others to our fair city, but we can do so much more if we stop standing in our own way.
We have yet to resolve fundamental differences over our most major asset, our airport. And our economic development organizations are at loggerheads, being functionally supplanted at least in part by the reorganization of the state’s economic development unit.
Consider the dispute over who will run Charlotte’s airport, described as “mess” by former mayor and now Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. We have accumulated over $1 million in legal fees already, where the judge has said he needs the FAA to rule before he can, and the FAA has responded that they will not act without a request from the City of Charlotte to move the airport management, and the City of Charlotte is determined to maintain ownership and management control over the airport and is not budging.
Amidst this turmoil, is anyone fretting about the amount of energies not being spent in a forward direction? Is it eerily disturbing that successful economic development seems to be occurring around us—on both local and national/international fronts? What is the real cost of doing nothing??
Land use around the airport and intermodal center is critical to our region’s economic growth and needs to be thoughtfully planned for our collective futures. We have nearly 12,000 acres that is prime for development.
Who should be out in front on this? Our two economic development groups—the Chamber and the Charlotte Regional Partnership (CRP)—are stymied by inevitable coattail snipping of the newly debuted Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, a public/private entity that can seek corporate and private contributions as well as state funds, but that has just begun operations and is still without legislative support for incentives for new and expanding business opportunities.
As a consequence, the business community, normally the bulwark of support for our economic expansion, is hesitant and perplexed about where to direct their limited resources.
The resulting quagmire has been thrown on the doorstep of the Foundation for the Carolinas, whose Economic Development Task Force has been tasked with “figuring it out,” ironically funded with the balance of Advantage Carolinas monies—the very initiative which brought the Charlotte region to presence on the world stage. This group is expected to report its results in January 2015.
Given increasing competition for global business growth and development, and Charlotte’s location (i) as the commercial center of the Carolinas (ii) along the highly productive I-85 manufacturing corridor, it is incredibly important that Charlotte get organized quickly and aggressively.
With Charlotte’s most valuable assets—our airport and new intermodal center—Charlotte should be leading, or at least facilitating and integrating economic development efforts across the Carolinas.
Economic growth is the result of business planning and decision-making. It is not the result of politics or political boundaries. While taxes and regulations affect business decisions, they may not be the primary driver of those decisions.
uLook at the corridors of commerce—look at the expansive growth that has taken place along the I-85 corridor between Richmond, Va., traveling south through Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Winston Salem, Charlotte, Spartanburg, Greenville, Atlanta and all the way to Birmingham, Alabama. Some call this “Char-Lanta.” Others call it the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion or PAM.
uLook at the competition that has developed among Southeast ports including Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and Brunswick. Together, the ports and our corridors of commerce operate substantially in tandem in the global marketplace. Together, they define a rapidly growing region that is expecting huge growth by 2060.
uLook at our neighbors in South Carolina whose economic development map includes the Charlotte region, with an I-77 Alliance formed to attract investment and quality jobs to the I-77 corridor from Columbia to Charlotte, as well as the recent proposal to deepen the Port of Charleston shipping channels from 45 feet to 52 feet to accommodate bigger post-Panamax ships.
Others are acting in our void. Charlotte is well-positioned geographically and has the assets to promote and encourage greater cooperation and integration of economic development efforts, but we are stuck in our own state of limbo for now. We cannot compete globally when we are fighting locally.
We need leadership that capitalizes on our location, our assets, our people and our position within these economic regions that offer us endless possibilities. And we need it NOW!