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CHARLOTTE–“Things are going well in Charlotte business,” says Mayor Patrick McCrory, but he has an agenda to help things go even better, he tells Local Tech Wire.
McCrory, only the third Mayor in Charlotte history to serve four terms, has a reputation as one of the most business savvy persons to hold the job. He’s won national and regional awards recognizing his leadership.
McCrory, a Duke Energy executive, says that he sees the Mayor’s position in Charlotte, where a City Manager handles day to day running of things, as “primarily economic development. The City Manager is the chief operating officer. I’m chairman,” he says.
The Mayor says items on his current agenda include renaming the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “The University is very important to us in recruiting companies such as General Dynamics. Our biggest problem with it is the state. They don’t seem to understand that it’s a major university and there’s an extreme bias toward UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. The campus has exploded in recent years and the per capita funding is ridiculous.”
But he has another gripe too. “The name of the University hurts us in recruiting. We need to change it for branding purposes. It’s only a matter of time before it’s the University of Charlotte, just like the University of Pittsburg or the University of San Francisco.”
Charlotte, once frequently confused with Charlottesville, VA, Charleston, SC, and other similarly named southern cities, is now “A good branding name,” says McCrory. “We still have a ways to go, but we’ve improved 500 percent.” He notes that brining in professional sports teams such as the new NBA franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats, helps.
McCrory regularly meets with representatives from six area businesses for “Lunch with the Mayor” sessions where executives can sound off about their concerns.
He holds similar quarterly “Breakfasts with the Mayor,” to meet with area entrepreneurs. Other city officials and business leaders such as the fire chief, airport director, and Chamber of Commerce president attend. McCrory says, “Our city is extremely entrepreneurial,” even if it’s not the “sexy, high tech” type more common in the Research Triangle.
The entrepreneurial breakfasts keep McCrory and other city officials aware of how many there are. About 150 attend the events.
“There are no speeches,” McCrory says. “I carry a microphone and walk through the audience and let them have the mike to talk to me or anyone else in the room directly. It’s one of the most enjoyable times I have as Mayor. Often we’re shielded from the entrepreneurial spirit. These people are busting it. I tell them, ‘We know one of you might be the next Bill Gates and if you are, we want you to stay right here in Charlotte. But even if you’re not, you’re our future base and we depend on you. We don’t take you for granted.”
Not all whining
What sorts of questions to the business execs and entrepreneurs ask? “It’s all over the place,” McCrory says, “from college training programs to high school student reassignments to zoning and business or police issues. We get feedback on infrastructure needs, roads, building standards, bureaucracy things that may be hindering them. The list goes on and on.
” Maybe we just didn’t return a phone call or another government office didn’t. It’s the little things they tend to remember, not the big stuff. Little stuff gets under their skin and they think, ‘These people don’t appreciate us. Every one likes to be stroked, and in business or a marriage, it doesn’t take as much as you think. But you have to mean it.
“Sometimes, what we really find out is that they just want some attention. A lot say, ‘We love it here,’ and just want to let us know it. It’s not all whining and complaining.”
McCrory says he often recalls a commercial nearly a decade ago in which a United Airlines executive was passing out tickets to his sales people. “What’s this for,” one asks. The executive says, “We’ve generated some new customers but we lost three current ones. Let’s go visit them.”
Charlotte has eight Fortune 500 companies, McCrory notes, “And we could lose one in a moment’s notice. I don’t want anyone to be able to say it’s because we didn’t pay attention to them.” He says he tries to carry that same attitude toward all businesses, large and small, new and old in the Queen City.
McCrory says state mayors have a conference call in two weeks to plan a fall economic summit. “The mayors are far ahead of the state in understanding that state cities are not in competition with each other and that if our region wins, we all win. We all have unique niches.”
The mayors he says, “Are very bipartisan and we work well together. Frankly, we understand that if Greensboro does well, Charlotte may benefit. We’re not that far from each other.”
McCrory says that some of Charlotte’s toughest economic competition comes from Rock Hill, right across the border in South Carolina.
“They have a brochure that shows a jet flying into the Charlotte airport against the Charlotte skyline saying ‘Come to Rock Hill.’ That’s tough to compete with,” he says with a chuckle.
Mayor McCrory’s office: