Why Charlotte’s future is bigger than its past

We’ve experienced great growth and transformation in the Queen City. Charlotte’s been a boom town for years and the rave reviews keep coming in, including being ranked as the No.15th best place to live in the U.S., according to U.S. News & World Report. Millennials want to be here. Our cost of living is favorable. We’ve been named among the top real estate markets and among the fastest growing economies.

Have we peaked? I say we’re not even close. I think we’ve just gotten started on our growth trajectory, and that our future is going to be bigger than we’ve imagined. I’ll explain why shortly, but first a reminder of where we’ve come from.

The Queen City hasn’t always been a shining star in our state. I often talk to people who are new to Charlotte and they are surprised to hear that growing up in Charlotte you’d look to Greensboro or Winston-Salem for leadership. People would say those two towns were the business hubs for the state. Back then, tobacco was king in North Carolina. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the largest tobacco company in the world, was headquartered in Winston-Salem. The power banks did not include Bank of America. They were Wachovia and BB&T – both anchored in Winston-Salem. And our airport, it grew because Piedmont Airlines moved from Greensboro to CLT.

Forty years ago, Charlotte was really struggling. The textile industry was starting to die. Furniture production was dropping. What changed?

In the 1970s, air conditioning became common. Can you imagine being productive in this summer heat and humidity with no air conditioning? My father, a longtime local civic leader, said the two best things to happen to the South was desegregation and air conditioning. He was a wise man.

Liquor by the drink in 1976 really changed Charlotte. Before liquor by the drink was allowed, there were basically no restaurants other than “meat and threes”, only private clubs because that’s where you had to go to get a drink. Once we passed liquor by the drink, Charlotte started getting restaurants and hotels, and hotels that had restaurants. The hospitality industry was born.

Around the same time IBM created a beachhead and moved more than 1,000 families from New York to Charlotte. The IBM move was the first large corporate relocations that would bring professionals and prestige.

Why am I so bullish about our future? Three things: Charlotte’s booster gene, its government style, and corporations that value civic involvement by their employees.

First, the booster gene. Charlotte’s leaders have always been overconfident and lucky. We’ve carefully selected leaders who took risks by building public infrastructure and national businesses. They took on bold public policy.

Another plus is we’re a manager- and city council-led city. This allows for lessons to be learned and consensus to be created behind the political scene. It allows for the government to be proactive, not reactive. Such a government responds better to socio-economic issues because it represents a broader perspective than a city led by one person. Our managers also have been highly trained and efficient. Ours is a very clean city and less corrupt and well managed (former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon aside).

My third point involves Charlotte’s history of strong civic and business leadership that’s been more interested in making a contribution than receiving an award. I’ve worked with many companies that have relocated into Charlotte. Inevitably, their leadership gets tapped by the Charlotte Chamber or religious affiliations to take leadership roles as it’s expected that business leaders be civic oriented. I tell people moving here the first calls you get are from the chamber of commerce and your religious affiliation and they are all going to be asking you to step up, not only with pocketbook, but with leadership. That’s a good thing for the city’s social fabric.

I think our future is going to be bigger than our past. I grew up here and have seen a lot and remain convinced the best is yet to come.

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