Charlotte: Thinking small
Long a magnet for big, multinational companies, Charlotte hasn’t developed a reputation as a technology hotbed. It’s a lot sexier and, perhaps, more impactful to attract the headquarters of Sealed Air, Albemarle or other Fortune 500 companies. Smart money is betting that fast-growing online payments startup AvidXchange can become a nationally known tech leader. (“Shooting Star,” September). But lack of support from area leadership has long been a bone of contention among some local entrepreneurs.
That could change in the next year or two. A report released in October by the Charlotte Chamber and Charlotte Regional Partnership confirms what Business Innovation & Growth Council Chief Executive Officer Terry Cox and other entrepreneurial advocates have declared for years: The Queen City isn’t startup friendly.
“In our research, we found that for a region of your size, Charlotte is not as competitive on the entrepreneurial landscape,” Amy Holloway, president of Austin, Texas-based Avalanche Consulting and the report’s author, told a chamber gathering in October. “It doesn’t have the type of robust entrepreneurial resources we see in other metropolitan areas. That’s something you all should work on.”
The city has “a risk-averse, conservative culture, which is hard to change,” says Cox, who came to Charlotte in 2003. “The best thing the corporate leaders can do is fully support an innovation-driven culture that will create wealth and jobs for the region.”
The report followed pressure from city business leaders urging better collaboration between the chamber, which focuses on Mecklenburg County, and the partnership, which spans 16 counties, including four in South Carolina. Businesses investing in both groups had questioned if there was too much duplication, such as overseas business-recruitment trips, but the relationship between the two groups has warmed in recent years. More than 100 business and government officials in the Charlotte area were interviewed for the report.
“Entrepreneurial innovation is a very big deal,” says Ronnie Bryant, the partnership’s CEO. “Both of our organizations are taking it very seriously, though the chamber is taking the lead.” One tangible recommendation involved doubling the amount of money spent to nurture promising new companies.
The report suggests the chamber create a new position, a vice president of innovation. “The recommendation [for a new position] was based on the amount we spend compared with other communities [of similar size],” Bryant says. Other suggestions are to “expand available capital and resources across the region” and “elevate and celebrate entrepreneurs.” With the state cutting funding for regional partnerships, Bryant has had to scramble for backing in recent years.
Most of the advice offered in the report is nebulous. It includes creating a “talent attraction and retention campaign,” expanding university enrollment and refreshing the partnership’s Charlotte USA brand with marketing improvements.
One recommendation certain to stir debate involves the creation of a nonpartisan executive council to influence and improve the region. The Carolinas compete aggressively for business expansions, with the Palmetto State luring LPL Financial, Lash Group and other large Charlotte employers across the state line with incentives and lower tax burdens.
Tim Sloan succeeded John Stumpf as CEO of Wells Fargo after the bank paid $185 million in fines to settle claims that employees had opened 2 million unauthorized accounts. Members of Congress had called for Stumpf’s resignation at two hearings studying the bank’s sales practices. Stumpf, a Minnesota native, joined the bank in 1982 and became CEO in 2007, a year before it bought Wachovia. About $40 million in stock awards were taken back from Stumpf, 63, who will receive more than $100 million in shares and retirement benefits. Sloan, president and chief operating officer since November 2015, has worked for the company for 29 years. Wells Fargo employs 23,000 people in the area.
CHARLOTTE — Printful, a Latvia-based company, opened a regional office in Charlotte and plans to create 200 jobs by the end of 2018. The company provides on-demand printing and embroidery services, including custom T-shirts, hats and posters.
CHARLOTTE —Duke Energy completed its $4.9 billion acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas, also based here. The utility also agreed to sell its businesses in South and Central America in two separate transactions totaling $2.4 billion.
CHARLOTTE —Autobell Car Wash now has 76 stores in five states after expanding into Maryland and North Charleston, S.C. The Howard family started the company here in 1969. It employs 3,000 people and reports more than 4 million car washes annually.
SALISBURY — Food Lion completed $215 million in renovations of 142 stores in the Charlotte region. The updated stores include expanded product selections and new décor. Last year, Food Lion spent $250 million on renovations at 162 Triangle stores.
MOORESVILLE — Home-improvement retailer Lowe’s laid off 95 information-technology workers, including 60 at its headquarters here. The company said it is streamlining some of its IT processes. Lowe’s second-quarter results fell short of analysts’ expectations, while Atlanta-based rival The Home Depot reported record earnings.
KINGS MOUNTAIN — Kings Plush plans to invest $11.5 million in a new manufacturing and distribution center adjacent to its existing plant here. The company, which started in Cleveland County in 1964 and does business as STI, will add 59 jobs to its existing 302.