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Charlotte in the Year 2030

by Mark Vitner

July 3,2004

Recently I was asked to visit with members of the Charlotte City Council's transportation Committee and CATS to give my opinions about the long-term projections in the City’s transportation plans and where I saw Charlotte in the year 2030. The key variables were population and employment, both in the Center City and the metropolitan area as a whole .

I told the Council that while I am an enthusiastic advocate of the Center City, I
would not stretch to make a point. The overwhelming majority of Charlotte’s population and employment growth over the next 25 years will occur in the city’s suburbs. During this period, the seven-county metropolitan area population will likely grow from its current 1.65 million to 2.8 million residents and the workforce would grow from 830,000 to 1.6 million. The Center City will be lucky to capture even 5% of this growth.

Contrary to popular belief, Charlotte is far more than just simply a banking town. There are over 1,000 factories in Mecklenburg County and more than 2,000 in the Charlotte metro area. Trucking and warehousing employ more workers than banking, with nearly all of these jobs outside of the Center City. Moreover, much of the new development taking place in the city is taking place in the southern suburbs, where recent arrivals such as BF Goodrich, SPX and Carlisle located to take advantage of close proximity to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. In addition, Wells Fargo Mortgage and Muzak moved to neighboring York County to take advantage of that area's lower costs.

Development is also expanding rapidly to the north, with Lowes Corporation locating its global headquarters in Mooresville and TIAA-CREF and Areva/Framatome locating their operations in the University City area.

When asked if I saw businesses continuing to migrate to the suburbs, I could only answer yes. Furthermore, noted that efforts to lure these firms Uptown would likely be only partially successful. If we make it more difficult for firms to locate in suburban Charlotte, these firms will simply locate to the suburbs of Atlanta, Richmond or Raleigh.

While this assessment may sound pessimistic to some, I feel that it is incredibly realistic. Look at the last 10 years, a period which probably marks the best decade for Charlotte’s Center City in the modern era. Uptown’s workforce grew solidly during this period, with the workforce climbing by around 7,500 workers to 55,000 and the population by approximately 4,000 residents to 9,000.

Can we possibly get to 90,000 workers in the Center City by 2030 and 15,000 residents, as the transit plan currently hopes? The employment numbers look to be a stretch. The odds of the Center City repeating the success of the last decade seem a bit remote today. Development remains in high gear, but it is much more oriented to public projects. The population numbers look a bit low.

Charlotte's best hopes for driving employment higher in the Center City are to capitalize on its unique assets. The Center City is safe, clean, and attractive. It is already the cultural and entertainment hub of the region. Uptown must continue to attract new residents for businesses to follow.

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