Guest blog by Lisa A. Lambert
Former Charlotte Observer reporter Binyamin Applebaum recently published an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled “This is the bust in the boomtown that banks built” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/20/AR2009102003786.html).
In the piece he explores the importance of the financial sector to the Charlotte region’s economic health. The piece concludes:
Some local leaders have suggested that Charlotte diversify its economy. But it is much more common to find people who say the city's destiny as a financial center has simply been postponed.
Applebaum implies that more of the same is in Charlotte’s future. But what exactly is more of the same?
Charlotte remains a major metropolitan area, despite the financial crisis. The city is making strides to improve public transportation and greenways, and enhance cultural offerings, while maintaining a robust business community. The piece fails to mention that eight Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Mecklenburg County. It also fails to mention that the opening of the Afro-American Cultural Center will be followed by a new Mint Museum of Art, the January opening of the museum of modern art and the opening of a 1,200 seat performing arts venue in Uptown.
As the state’s only urban research university, UNC Charlotte has been a resource and partner as the region has grown. And perhaps now more than ever before the University is positioned to help drive the region’s development. For years, Charlotte was among the few major metropolitan areas in the country without a doctoral degree granting university. In 1994, UNC Charlotte implemented its first doctoral programs. Charlotte needs a highly educated workforce to meet the needs of the employers who’ve chosen the city as their home, as well as to attract new organizations, and UNC Charlotte is working to meet that need.
Exemplary of this effort is the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC), which will train engineers and contribute to research in energy production fields. EPIC is a partnership with the burgeoning energy production sector currently located in Charlotte. The initiative is indicative of Charlotte’s efforts to grow a diverse regional economy, an economy less easily shaken by global or national recession. I could cite scores of similar examples of the University’s reach into the community (including the Center City Building), but I won’t for the sake of brevity.
This brings me back to Applebaum’s piece, which read like a post-mortem on Charlotte and its financial sector. If anything can be gleaned from the piece, perhaps it’s that complacency snuffs out innovation and diversification. The financial sector was and will remain an important component of the region’s economy but Charlotte has been moving toward, and should continue to move toward, a more diverse regional economy. And UNC Charlotte will prove to be an invaluable resource in the process.
What do you think? What are some of the problems/opportunities that need to be addressed in order for the Charlotte region to prosper? How can UNC Charlotte play a meaningful role going forward?
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