The momentum that fueled the city's boom years was essentially about large companies in established, old-line industries becoming larger. The industries of tomorrow -- in medicine, biotechnology, and the web -- so far haven't made Charlotte the next great place to land. And in this city of relentless self-improvement, the focus is on how to change that. Cheryl Richards is the dean of Northeastern University's new Charlotte campus, its first outside Boston, which opened last year as part of the scramble among universities to serve middle managers. She was part of a city delegation that visited Seattle to learn about development strategies for the new economy. The difference between the two cities, she says, is that "Seattle positions itself as growing talent. Charlotte positions itself as welcoming talent. We're importers of that talent."
Growing talent isn't easy or quick. Charlotte lacks an academic medical center, and the tech community is still oriented toward the needs of the big companies. The city and region's latest hopes for biotech are at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's well-regarded bioinformatics department and in the next county over, at the North Carolina Research Campus, which was the brainchild of billionaire David Murdock. He has poured more than $500 million of his own money into the center, which focuses on nutrition and is built on the footprint of the sprawling textile company he once owned in Kannapolis. There's still a lot of empty space, but the goal is to create a research infrastructure -- a critical mass -- where none existed.
Emphasis added. Seattle imported a lot of its talent. It still does. The region is a national draw. In the Talent Economy, a metro can't rely on only attraction. The new winners will be the places that produce talent, such as Pittsburgh.
Charlotte has long symbolized all that is wrong with Pittsburgh and other Rust Belt cities. It boomed while Pittsburgh busted. Now Charlotte is chasing Pittsburgh's tail. Given the comments posted on my blog, I gather most people don't appreciate the irony. If the trend of Rust Belt talent moving back home accelerates, where does that leave Charlotte's nascent recovery? There are more questions for Charlotte than there are Fortune 500 company headquarters. At least the city is trying to answer them and is heading in the right direction. Right now, that strikes me as faint praise.