Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reinventing Charlotte

The news that continues to come out of Charlotte (North Carolina) should stoke the fires of Schadenfreude in Pittsburgh. The Southern boomtown-gone-bust might consider studying its Rust Belt doppelgänger. Charlotte has fallen on hard times:

Today, that banktown identity has been shaken by a high-flying financial system that discovered gravity the hard way. The crash exported one of our hometown banks to San Francisco, put the CEO of the other in a house in Boston, and sent legions of talented local white-collar strivers into the ranks of the unemployed. Add to that shuttered companies, large and small, and a population of other out-of-work transplants who followed rainbows of pixie dust from as nearby as Gaffney and as far away as Guadalupe and you've got something of an economic meltdown. Three years ago, some 54,000 people in Mecklenburg County were in finance jobs. Today, that has sunk to 2003 levels, at around 48,000.

That's from an introduction to an on-going column that might best be described as a regional pep talk. Charlotte is desperately seeking reinvention. Can the city escape the past?

Charlotte's recovery will be one to watch. I'm curious to see if browning greenfields matter or not. My guess is that it won't be able to successfully economically diversify quickly enough to recapture some of that lost magic. I'm trying to imagine a New Charlotte and I can't make it out.

1 comment:

Mark Arsenal said...

I could read the writing on the wall in my few short months there in '05-'06 before it chewed me up and spit me out. As much as its leaders tried to portray it as something different and "new South" and all, it was an absolute cliche.

It was utterly failing to handle its own growth. Transit was a mess, economic opportunity was totally nil outside financial services and growth-dependent sectors like construction, and there was absolutely NO defining feature to the place (which my bf and I wrote about profusely at twincitysentinel.com). Other than newness, fast growth and big plans for the future, of course. The best analogy I can come up with is Dubai - really.

I am not getting any pleasure in seeing this happen - I actually made some really good friends there, some of whom are facing very hard times now. But in the end, Charlotte wanted to be the next Atlanta, without understanding the Atlanta wanted to be the next Houston, without realizing that Houston wanted to be the next LA, without realizing that LA sucked.