Charlotte is, What it Isn’t

In the past couple months, I have had the opportunity to meet plenty of young professionals who were drawn to Charlotte, and those who decided to leave Charlotte. Those who came, entered the city limits with wide-eyed expectations, while those who left didn’t leave out of angst, but were chasing “bigger” opportunities.

Bigger opportunities.

So what is the draw that Charlotte has? What bought the DNC to CLT? Besides being the biggest city in one of the swing states the Dems need to carry, Charlotte surely had a flavor that tasted better than Denver, and thankfully Cleveland.

As big as Charlotte is, it still doesn’t have that big-town vibe, that “make it here, make it anywhere” Sinatra mentality. Nor do the opportunities- though plenty of them- look like star-launchers.

Charlotte, it seems, is a place where you have to make something of yourself. You can’t just come here and expect big things to happen. You can’t “land a deal” here, but it is certainly possible to make one. You can’t run with an idea here until you network with a group of people who can help make your idea possible.

There was an article in a business magazine that said “There is No Such Thing as the ‘Self-Made Man’. I would agree, for with the world being so interconnected now, it would be a losing battle to go at it without assistance.

But what about the Self-Made City?

Charlotte doesn’t seem to be following the blueprints of Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, or New York. WHich looks like that may be the way to go. The next step for Charlotte, and rumors have already been spreading, that the city will embark on an Olympics bid.

Talk about opportunities.

I’m not lashing out on the young professionals who left. I wished they stayed and kept their talent in a city that is just about to take off. But Charlotte is different, in a good day. It’s a place where you can make your opportunity, and do what you want to progress. But it will take some time here.

Not like the other cities. Charlotte is, what it isn’t.


Charlotte- So Social Right Now

In case you missed it, Charlotte received a B from Mashable, making it one of the most sociable cities in the United States.

And people thought Charlotte was just for investors and bankers; pssht!

Good job Charlotte, and keep it up. Before we know it, people will actually start acknowledging people do art and startup-tech stuff!

But let’s not get carried away.

 


What is Barcelona Doing that Charlotte isn’t?

Barcelona

City of Barcelona

Here are a few questions:

1. Is public financing for innovative and creative companies a substitute for vigorous private investment?

2. Can bureaucrats chose winners?

3. And is the funding sustainable in an age of austerity?

Those sound like questions business and government people in Charlotte should be asking,  right? But it’s not. Those are questions posed by the private and public people in Barcelona, Spain.

Yes, Barcelona is trying to get it done.

In the March 22nd edition of The Financial Times, the special report focused on the re-branding and business shift Barcelona is going through. The similarities to Charlotte are wild, and the contrasts frightening.

The title of the article is “Art and Industry make for a gaudy mix.”

Hmm. You have my attention.

Barcelona is trying to position itself as the next international center for high-tech and service businesses. Rightfully so, since it is that direction the international business world seems to be heading. Charlotte, if you didn’t notice, is trying to do the same. But instead of trying to keep up internationally, Charlotte seems to be going toe-to-toe with Raleigh-Durham in the same state and Silicon Valley. All have a start-up culture, a talent pool, budding young entrepreneurs, and city infrastructure that still looks malleable enough to grow (I’m not positive about that, so urban planners, contact me!).

In the the article, it goes through the number of organizations trying to make sure Barcelona hits that goal:

-Barcelona Global (businesses and business pros)
– Barcelona Activa (municipality development agency)
Note: It has its own ” business ‘incubator’ and technology park”
-Innovacion Espana (Businesses and investors looking to innovate the Country)

Beneath the fold on the first page of the special report, Barcelona even took out an ad (they’re not dumb people) about doing business in Barcelona. Check out the website at http://www.bcn.cat/barcelonabusiness

According to a graph provided by the FT, close to $1 Billion of outside investment has poured into Barcelona since 2008.

Why is this comparable? Look at the statistics:

Population of Catalonia (the Spanish State): 7 Million
Population of North Carolina:  9 Million

Population of Barcelona: 1.6 Million
Population of Charlotte: 1.1 Million

Both cities are the largest in its respective state.

Both cities have rich histories in textiles, and are making a transition to finance, high tech, bio-tech and lifestyle industries.

Both like soccer/futbol. Gold Cup 2011, woo! (I digress).

But Barcelona lucks out and has a Financial Times bureau chief in Madrid. Pfft, whatever.

Anyways, the organizations mentioned above parallel the Charlotte Regional Partnership, Charlotte Center City Partners, BIG,  and The Ben Craig Entrepreneurial Center.

Don’t get me wrong. Charlotte has certainly made some strides. Greiner-Bio One, a huge bio-tech plastics company, made Monroe its US headquarters. Siemens is doing some ridiculous expanding here, as is Celgard. Oh yes, and all those finance guys and gals are still around.

But Charlotte can do better. Charlotte’s entrepreneur and startup base needs more support. It demands more attention. Hopefully Packard Place is a start. Maybe Charlotte’s “Coworking Uptown” (which I think is Tryon Plaza’s brilliant re-branding scheme) will give it a boost. Groups like BarCamp Charlotte, Ignite Charlotte, Charlotte Ruby Group, and companies like Skookum, Flying Bridge Technologies, Enventys, YapMe, and the minds behind them should no longer dance along the “fringe” of Charlotte’s bullsh*t business class.

If we want Charlotte to be the next best thing, let’s stop just saying it and get the people who are doing stuff the resources they need.

If not, well heck…there’s always Barcelona.

 

 


Triumphs of a City

Cities are large, self-sustaining, communities. A city cannot survive without people, and people survive better and longer with other people. It’s not just a saying, it’s fact.

Edward Glaeser, a professor of Harvard, recently came out with a book that celebrates the creation of the city. In his book,  “Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier” he explains the phenomenon that occurs when people live in cities.

Two-thirds of the American population lives in cities (And Charlotte, according to the US Census Bureau, is the 18th largest city in the United States).

How interesting that these days the city is being heralded as great, like the suburbs were in decades past. New research and findings are coming out about how people live longer, are more creative, are more environmentally conscious when they live in cities.

Charlotte itself should be proud of its strides. It has come a long way. Though it still has longer bridges to cross before we can say that it “made it.”

Let’s use some logic. A community is a place where people share ideas and practices for the group to prosper. A city is a large, organized community. Naturally then, a city should be a large place where people share ideas and practices for its citizens to prosper.

Do you see that in Charlotte? Why does the phrase ‘NDA’ have to be commonplace?

I would say that Charlotte has definitely compiled many minor victories with FORTUNE 500 companies, the CIAA, the DNC 2012, the new musuems, and the like.

But to call Charlotte ‘triumphant’? I don’t think so my friend. Not yet.


What’s Race Got to Do With It?

Collage of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Image via Wikipedia

Apparently more than you think.

Every city experiences growing pains, especially when the growth reaches a rapid pace. Cultures clash, industries go boom or bust, and neighborhoods are split, built, destroyed and rebuilt.

Who thought that Charlotte would be the exception to the rule?

Charlotte was able to get through the worst part of the recession better than most cities, which is awesome. But what it continues to struggle with is race. I have had several conversations with young white and black professionals about this, and I am baffled at how quickly the conversation is dismissed by the powers-that-be.

Well, not that baffled.

Since our esteemed leaders won’t tackle the issue, I will. And I hope you join to make this less of a dictation, and more of a discussion.

I’m an under 30, black entrepreneur that’s originally from the north. From the outset from starting this enterprise, I have received less than warm receptions from my older white counterparts, and a huge majority of the black community.

But I haven’t been alone.

A few weeks ago, I had a drink with another young black professional. He’s a little older, early to mid-30’s, and he invests in companies on the side while maintaining a pretty successful sales position in a Fortune 500 company. He characterized the Charlotte black community in a way that I have never before. He said that Charlotte is being run

“…by a bunch of security guards.”

What an interesting statement, is it not? My friend was implying on the “high brow”, exclusive culture of the community. To be able to do business within, you must have started out around the same time, experienced the same pains, and as these “security guards” rose from the ground up to corner offices, the ‘home grown’ philosophy stuck.

But that’s within the community. What about the white and black community interacting?

In the Dec. 22-28 edition of Creative Loafing, Dr. Nsenga Burton wrote an article titled ” The ‘New Green’ ” and how affluent blacks are over looked in Charlotte’s high-end retail stores, and how many black patrons are gouged by outrageous prices during events that are predominantly African-American (i.e. CIAA). She even goes further and says that she hasn’t had a birthday party in Charlotte in the past five years because she wanted her friends and family to feel comfortable.

Now I’m not naive and even though it’s 2011, Charlotte is still a southern city. These kind of racial divides are going to permeate throughout business, politics, and entertainment. I understand that it is what it is.

But even so, I too am going to raise my voice and say that I am thoroughly disappointed in that status quo. I am disappointed that within the black small business community (from my experience), because we look the same we should give discounts. I am disappointed that I don’t see more black professionals in general business outings or events, like Business Leaders of Charlotte, or BarCamp, and other technology events.

We ALL got to work together to make Charlotte the next big thing. I don’t care if you’re Magenta, if you got a skill and/or a business network that can make Charlotte prosper, I want to know you.

I hope that we can bridge these communities together (not to mention the Hispanic, and Asian populace as well) and truly become an international city, and act like an international city, instead of just saying Charlotte is an international city.

And no, just because Mayor Foxx is black, doesn’t mean racism is over in Charlotte, smartass.

Comments, suggestions, disagreements and anecdotes are, as always, encouraged and appreciated.


Charlotte in 2012: The Road for the Dems starts here!

Cleveland National Democratic Convention Ribbo...

Image by Cornell University Library via Flickr

Today it was announced that the 2012 Democratic Convention will be held in Charlotte, NC.

Yes, our dear Crown Town did it!

The twitterverse in Charlotte has been going on non-stop about it. This is exciting news; Charlotte won over St. Louis, Cleveland, and Minneapolis.  Just to be considered as a gathering place was an honor, and now since that consideration has turned into a reality, the city has to be psyched.

Charlotte can now officially join the ranks of the big name cities like Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Charleston, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta and Philadelphia, whom have all hosted one before.

Big ups to everyone involved. But this is just the beginning. Now that Charlotte has it, how will it handle it?

This will be interesting.


The City Edition: Atlanta

Seal of Atlanta.

Image via Wikipedia

Ah yes, A-Town. The Big Peach. The Athens of the South. Or, as Atlanta business leaders donned it in the 1960’s, “The City too Busy to Hate.”

Now, according to ATL’s city website, it is now calling itself the “City not too Busy to Care.”

How in the world did Atlanta become the 9th largest city in the United States, and such a tourist destination? There has to be a method to the madness. What did Atlanta do that Charlotte didn’t, and can it imitate Hotlanta’s success (while avoiding its troubles)?

First a few facts about Atlanta (gathered from Wikipedia and the city’s site):

Settlers took over parts of native american land in 1822. It was formerly named “Atlanta” in 1847.

With Atlanta being one of the biggest cities, it has the fourth largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies, and has business operations for 75% of Fortune 1000 companies. All of that combined, Atlanta accounts for two-thirds of Georgia’s economy. Well how did they all get started there? Several factors.

First, as it always seems to start- transportation. In 1836, the Georgia General Assembly agreed to start building the Western and Atlantic (At-lan-tic….At-lan-ta, see?) railroad system. It’s goal was to connect the east with the expanding mid-western part of the United States.

Then comes the Civil War (or for my racist/Confederate counterparts, the “War of Northern Aggression”, that still makes me laugh) and Atlanta rapidly becomes a military stronghold and asset for transporting military supplies. We know the story. The south loses, General Sherman burns most of ATL to the ground, and reconstruction begins.

In the 1880’s, an Atlanta newspaper man don’s Atlanta as the “New South.” Sorry, Charlotte, Atlanta has us beat for the term about…130 years or so (on the city website, ATL calls itself THE Capital of the Southeast. Yes, look it up.)

Then comes another factor. Atlanta was home to leaders of social change. Martin Luther King Jr. used ATL as the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. A nonviolent student protest group had its headquarters there too. The 1960’s are a turbulent time for Atlanta, but it seems like it may have come out all right.

Fast forwarding, Atlanta was able to attain a global reach. It’s airport is known to be, according to passenger and aircraft traffic, as the busiest one in the world. As we all know in 1996, Atlanta was host to the Summer  Olympics.

And of my final point, Atlanta was able to make itself a destination. American Style Magazine in 2010 named Atlanta the 9th best city for the arts, and in 2009 National Geographic Traveler named ATL as “Place of a lifetime.”

In summary, Atlanta achieved growth and stature by-
-Transportation
-Attracting leaders of social change
-Attaining a global reach
-Making itself a destination

Obviously I left out urban planning. I’m not an urban planner, so looking at its fabric is something I cannot even pretend to highlight. I’m sure its decent, though.

Does Charlotte have those attributes? If so, which ones? If not, how can it improve to be a real competitor against the “Capital of the Southeast?” And one more question to ponder. Does Charlotte need to compete against Atlanta?