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Charlotte Today - Charlotte Tomorrow

by Winn Maddrey

September 8,2009

I have been in three places/conversations in the past few weeks, all of which, in different ways, made me think of the concept of place and where Charlotte fits.

The first was a business trip to a resort in the Poconos Mountains, in Pennsylvania. The second was a conversation around North Carolina’s creative economy. The third was a conversation about entrepreneurship and how it is a part of our economy that’s taking shape.

I had never been to the Poconos before. I was told that the Poconos had once been a desired destination and an escape for urbanites in New York City, Philadelphia and other areas. For some, that still exists. What I drove past, where I stayed and the conversations I engaged in pointed to a different direction, truly a divergence from the self-formed stereotype I had taken up into the mountains. Once there, it seemed to me to be a place that time had forgotten, relegated to a combination of insignificance and wistful glistening of nostalgia. This appeared to be a harkening to the days of old, with the knowledge that recreating the past is not possible – a certain finality or cloud hanging over the area.

Last week, I was part of a series of focus groups taking place around the state, trying to capture content, synthesize feedback and then shape a conversation at the February 2010 Emerging Issues Forum. I found several items interesting. One generational perspective seemed to be questioning when the next group of “leaders” would step into the fold in Charlotte and assume their role of controlling the future of the community. At the same time, I heard a perspective that seemed far more egalitarian around various issues and with a voice that presumed people would rally to what interested them – ebbing and flowing from one issue to the next – and step aside for others in issues of less appeal.

A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a dialogue around the premise that Charlotte has an undiscovered and/or untapped entrepreneurial ecosystem. It needs to be encouraged and grown in order to be more of the mainstream in our transitioning economy. The plan was to toss some ideas around, see what’s going on and see if any sparks could be generated. I do admire the effort and it reminded me of the late 1990’s when the “dot com” bubble leap was akin to the 1849 Gold Rush of striking out and getting rich. At that time, however, a combination of reality, life and profits set in, recasting the expectations of our national economy. This conversation set out to aspire and pose some important, key questions. But I think they only scratched the surface.

These three disparate places/conversations brought me to a list of questions:
• Who is Charlotte today?
• What will she look like when she “grows up”?
• How do you get there from where we are now?
• The approach that got us here needs to shift in order to get us to tomorrow, right?

By no means do I believe that I hold the answers to these questions, but for sake of conversation, I think I am cheating if I do not take a stab. So here goes:

• Who is Charlotte today? A community that grew rapidly and came together and got it done.
• What will she look like when she grows up? This is the real opportunity. Hopefully, she will look like a community that can debate, disagree and still get along while moving ahead.
• How do you get there from here? Hard work, better listening, inviting more people to the conversation, willingness to be open to the possibility that one might not be 100% right. One also needs a dash of patience and willingness to try new things.
• The approach that got us here needs to shift to get us to tomorrow, right? The can-do attitude of Charlotte that has been a part of this community is its best asset; that’s the path.

Going forward, I hope that any current uncertainty will become the rallying point for the people of Charlotte to pull together, in the present and in the future.

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