CEO says Charlotte economic-development group shares Panthers’ passion

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Ronnie Bryant, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, contributed an op/ed tied to the group’s 25th anniversary.

Just like our Carolina Panthers, as Charlotte logs more wins, the Charlotte Regional Partnership gains more supporters throughout our 16-county, two-state region. Charlotte USA’s fan base, once exclusively composed of bigger companies and people with economic development in their job title, now consists of organizations of all sizes and categories rallying around regionalism.

This became especially apparent to me as I looked around the room at The Partnership’s Board of Directors meeting last week. It struck me how appropriate it was to be holding the meeting at UNC Charlotte, the second largest economic driver in the region (Charlotte Douglas International Airport is #1). In 70 years, UNC Charlotte has grown from a two-year college to an urban research university with more than 28,000 students. Founder Bonnie Cone and Charlotte leaders were forward thinking in choosing the current location. They envisioned what was then Charlotte College to serve more than the city, more than the county. They envisioned a regional university, and UNC Charlotte has far exceeded their expectations.

Board Chair Judy Wishnek, regional president of Park Sterling Bank, and I decided to invite not only our board members, but other Partnership investors and guests. As Judy presided over our first quarterly board meeting of 2016, it seemed to me that the buzz in the packed room of nearly 200 people rivaled the Panthers’ Super Bowl send-off in Romare Bearden Park. OK, maybe the crowd wasn’t quite as large, but it sure felt like a regional growth pep rally.

In addition to long-time investors, there were many newer faces, those that while economic development is not their day job are making it their business.  From performing-arts organizations and film studios to hospitality and every kind of professional service company imaginable, it was awesome. A new breed of regionalists has arrived.

Our meeting’s keynote speaker Tim Nitti, founder of GeoAnalytics Consulting, laid out the secret of Charlotte USA’s economic development success. Unlike some major markets, we have a regional economic development organization, coordinated recruitment efforts and a clearly defined strategy. We also collaborate regularly with the Charlotte Chamber, Charlotte Center City Partners and all the economic developers throughout the region.

As the Partnership celebrates its 25th Anniversary, we will not rest on our laurels. Two years ago, the state of North Carolina stopped funding the Partnership. The state of South Carolina has never funded us. In the past two years, the Partnership has continued to attract new investors.  In the first month of 2016 alone, we’ve gained 12 more, ranging from supermarket chains to more area higher education institutions. With the loss of state funding, this new support is more critical than ever. In funding the Partnership, these companies are investing in our mission of recruiting more businesses to the region.

Of course, the Charlotte Regional Partnership has a tool many other states, cities and regions don’t have. People want to live in or close to Charlotte. The city has a thriving restaurant and night life scene; outstanding art, science and history museums; pro football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer; a walkable center city; and such a high demand for uptown living, builders can’t keep up. Over the past 15 years, the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia MSA has grown by 649,117 people.

Like the Panthers’ success, our region’s dynamic growth is bringing a wide range of accolades. In 2015, Charlotte was named Major Market of the Year by Southern Business and Development Magazine,  #1 for Craft Beer Real Estate Footprint Growth (Colliers International) and #1 Southeast Highest Millennial Population Growth Rate (U.S Census Bureau). Super Bowl Champs would be a nice addition to this growing list of reasons companies are attracted to Charlotte. However, just appearing in Super Bowl 50 this weekend, on the international stage called television, is a win for Charlotte and will surely help our region deliver more site visits, jobs and corporate investment. We all just have to keep pounding.

Bryant is CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, which promotes business development in 16 area counties.

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