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Charlottes Economic Outlook

by David Darnell

August 9,2010

As chair of the chamber, serving as one of Charlotte’s strongest supporters is part of my role. That part comes naturally because I care about my hometown and want to see it and its residents prosper. However, I recognize that realism is essential to leadership. So here is my take on Charlotte’s economy: we still have a lot of work to do to recover fully from the recession, but we are doing a lot of the right things to get there.

The evidence that we’re doing something right lies in the numbers. And they are heading in the right direction. In terms of jobs, we’re still down from 2008, but we’re up almost 10,000 from this time last year. Mecklenburg County’s unemployment in June was 10.6 percent, down from 11.5 percent a year ago. June unemployment rates were 10.1 percent for the state and 9.6 percent for the country. Our unemployment rate is elevated by the more than 50,000 new residents migrating in each year seeking employment based on the positive news about Charlotte. In the eyes of a corporation examining Charlotte as a potential new location, these unemployed residents represent available workforce and factor into our region’s positive attributes.

Partially because of those attributes, we continue to recruit new companies and jobs to town. Already in 2010, 464 new or expanding firms created 6,759 jobs in Charlotte. The chamber played a direct role in recruiting more than 3,000 of those jobs. The chamber focuses on recruiting companies in the finance, transportation and distribution, manufacturing, health care, energy, and bioscience sectors, because we already have a strong presence in these areas and want to focus on our strengths.

More positive numbers can be seen in the Charlotte Business Growth Index. The Business Growth Index combines a wide variety of economic indicators (such as new residential permits, new vehicle registrations, retail sales, and more) and combines them into two indices that show where our economy is now and where we predict it is headed in six to nine months. The Business Growth Index predicts the Charlotte economy will grow at an annual rate of three percent over the last half of 2010.

Another thing we’re doing right is strengthening our focus on small businesses. Approximately 97 percent of businesses in Mecklenburg County are small businesses (have fewer than 100 employees) and employ 56 percent of the workforce. Helping these businesses grow will stabilize and diversify our economy.

The recent Access to Capital for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs presented by the Charlotte Chamber and the City of Charlotte was a ground-breaking partnership with local capital resources and small business assistance organizations. The event was designed to help entrepreneurs find the capital to sustain and grow their businesses, and early feedback on the results of the event is positive. Audio from all of the workshops is available free on the summit’s web page. I encourage anyone who owns a business or is thinking of starting one to use this resource.

Also on the small business front, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx established the Small Business Opportunity (SBO) Program Task Force in January to review the city’s SBO and provide recommendations for improvement. The task force’s recommendations were presented to City Council on July 26, but no action will be taken until a thorough review is completed by the council. I look forward to digging into these recommendations and following the council’s deliberations. If you are on Twitter, follow the #cltcc hashtag for updates and opportunities for public comment on this issue and other matters before City Council.

Of course, the Charlotte In 2012 Committee is working hard to advocate for our city, and I believe we have a strong chance. A successful bid to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention would infuse our economy with as much as $200 million in new revenue and would positively impact us for many years.

So as tough as the economic environment has been for residents, business and governments alike, we are starting to see hopeful signs all around us. During this time, we’ve all had to make difficult decisions to bridge to better times. The good news is that we are sharper and wiser for it, which will continue to serve us as well as the economy recovers.

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