Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Up front: Here’s Johnny

With The Donald setting the world on fire, America’s passion for brash talk may be at a record pitch. Having strong views appears more en vogue than offering deeper analysis of what Garrison Keillor calls “life’s persistent questions.”

He’s no Trump, but Charlotte developer Johnny Harris likes to say it straight, too. Speaking to North Carolina commercial real-estate professionals in Pinehurst in mid-March, he quoted retail legend John Belk: “When you are the oldest guy in the room, you can say anything you want to.”

When you serve on key boards, run Quail Hollow Club, enjoy an Augusta National membership and hold interests in massive real-estate projects, you can also say about anything you want.

Harris shared the stage with John Kane of Raleigh and Robin Team of Lexington, both real-estate powerhouses. Harris’ verve overwhelmed those guys, akin to the debates in which Trump overshadowed his rivals.

Here are some of Harris’ insights:

  • If you’ve got a problem with fracking, “you are stupid.”
  • If Nikki Haley was our governor, North Carolina would dominate industrial recruiting in the South.
  • Americans should be concerned that their likely choices for president are so lacking.
  • The Triangle could rival Silicon Valley’s tech industry, except poor political leadership blocks light rail.
  • Charlotte hasn’t been the same since the city council changed to district representation.
  • South Boulevard, once the armpit of Charlotte before light rail, is attracting young people who previously preferred Atlanta. They won’t ride buses, but they love trains.
  • Some multilevel parking lots will be converted to other uses because millennials don’t want to own cars.
  • Governments should offer incentives to any expansions or new projects that create jobs.
  • N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla is fighting with one hand tied behind his back because of state Republican lawmakers.
  • Overly optimistic real-estate developers didn’t cause the 2007-09 recession. Trading of little-understood mortgage-backed securities deserves the blame.
  • Today’s least attractive real-estate assets are suburban office buildings. Office dwellers want to walk, not drive, to nearby lunch spots.

That’s Johnny Harris: at times wrong, but never in doubt.

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Correction: A March listing of the state’s largest Best Employers misstated the types of workers included in a salary survey. The list studied exempt employees.

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

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