Is Charlotte just banking?
Posted on 30 Sep 2008 by Justin Ritchie
A question we’ve all asked from time to time and a perception that we have nationwide.
Is Charlotte just banking?
That concept is made even more important today as Citibank bought out Wachovia, betting on a federal bailout of US banks which may never come.
Charlotte is home to seven Fortune 500 companies (Bank of America, Lowe’s, Duke Energy, Sonic Automotive, Family Dollar, Goodrich, and SPX) and 21 companies with more than $1 billion in annual sales. Clearly a business town. But is it all based on the financial sector? As the second largest financial center in the country we have easily earned a reputation as a banking center. But surprisingly the largest portion of the local economy comes from wholesale trade, closely followed by services, manufacturing and construction.
As of April 4th, 2008, out of the 565,415 people employed in Mecklenburg County, only 54,303 were in finance and insurance. While the banks have long represented us on the national spotlight, the Queen City is the heart of the fourth largest manufacturing center in the US. Textiles drove this manufacturing expansion initially, but now the optical tech, defense, plastics and medical equipment industries are building a new infrastructure of high-tech jobs.
One of the main problems with manufacturing is that most think of it as an assembly line, or a massive plant full of chemical laden air and dust with a vastly undereducated employee base. The new manufacturing revolution requires quite a different employee. Workers and technicians find themselves as a part of an intelligent assembly process for equipment and end products. High-tech manufacturing employees are working on multi-faceted complex control panels and machining systems that require an adept and talented workforce. Mecklenburgers might be surprised to know that some of the solutions for the 21st century are being designed and built in the their backyard. Two examples are General Dynamics which is developing chemical detection devices that are as small as magnets on a refrigerator while Sencera is creating the next generation of thin-film solar photovoltaics that will fuel the new energy economy.
But it is not just technology that the region produces — it’s also food, due to Pepsi, Lance, Frito Lay, one of the largest Coca-Cola bottlers in the nation, and the Compass Group.
Most dramatic over the last decade has been Charlotte’s transition into an engineering town with a global impact. The recent conflict in Georgia affected one local firm’s designers, as their project was a mixed-use development in the former soviet nation. An excellent example of why everyone should care about globalization. Areva, Shaw, the Electric Power Research Insitute (EPRI) and Duke Energy are working on solutions to energy challenges, while companies like Fluor are solving the most complex engineering problems in the world. Firms like the latter are building an energy economy center for the city as the national focus on the issues surrounding this business becomes stronger in focus every day.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Charlotte’s economy to those that regard the city as “banktown” (with all the stereotypical images of up-tight suits that indulge in only the expensive) is the booming local creative economy. Amazing national work has been done by local advertising and branding firms Boone Oakley and A3 while Charlotte Arrangements is the US leader in stage set-ups.
While Charlotte has received a tremendous economic contribution from banking institutions, it has grown far past its one dimensional mantra of the 90s. Now, as the most economically dynamic and energetic city of the southeast, we will face tough challenges presented by national financial restructuring. If a de-emphasis on banking is in our future, it will only reveal Charlotte as the multi-faceted business leader it has become.