Thursday, May 30, 2024

Hammer time

Stopping in Lexington seemed like a good way to break up a recent Saturday morning drive from Charlotte to Greensboro, given our magazine’s recent focus on the Piedmont city. Last month’s cover story described how the state’s biggest Ponzi scheme took shape there, and this month’s profiles a developer with deep family roots in Davidson County. One quickly learns on a stroll down Main Street that there is a lot more to Lexington than barbecue, bamboozlers and shuttered furniture factories. The jewel of the city is Lanier’s Hardware, a 75-year-old general store selling baseball cleats, chowchow, potting soil and every tool, bolt and home-improvement product known to humankind. The family-owned business covers most of a city block, feels more like the 1960s than 2015, and is filled with friendly staffers who could teach Nordstrom or Disney something about customer service.


As Lexington’s world-class hardware store shows, every town, city and state has distinct attributes that deserve appreciation. This month’s issue includes commentaries from the mayors of Asheville and Blowing Rock attesting to the strengths of their communities. But talk can be cheap. Unfortunately, the more common impulse seems to be a back-stabbing rivalry between states and regions, and between urban, suburban and rural areas.

Our new columnist, Ken Otterbourg, makes that point in discussing the North Carolina vs. South Carolina donnybrook over attracting jobs. (Fortunately, he backs our state, else we wouldn’t let him write.) Separately, Senior Contributing Editor Ed Martin tackles the thorny issue of regional cooperation in the Triad, which at times features regional dysfunction.

Economic development isn’t for pansies, making conflict inevitable, as Ed and Ken explain. It’s evident every day at my well-situated office park, which like other south Mecklenburg County sites has lost tenants and momentum to South Carolina. It’s a two-way street; Sealed Air Corp. is moving hundreds of jobs from New Jersey and South Carolina to Charlotte, as our story on top economic-development projects shows. As long as cities, regions and nations don’t develop more equitable tax systems, and industry recruiters get paid for success within strict boundaries, expanding businesses will keep fleecing the feuding municipalities and put more of the burden on local businesses and individual taxpayers. A little more cooperation might go a long way.

During my career, I’ve lived and worked in our state’s three biggest cities. Each has enviable strengths: Raleigh’s intellectual vibe, Charlotte’s vibrant downtown, Greensboro’s livability. Yet for every compliment about a peer, I hear 20 criticisms: Charlotte has no soul. Greensboro is boring. Raleigh is overrun with bureaucrats. Mutual respect seems as rare as a cool day in July.

Business North Carolina is agnostic on these rivalries. We want the whole state to thrive. There’s a better chance of that occurring with more teamwork and greater appreciation of each other’s strengths — like at that cool hardware store in Lexington.

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David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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