Could there be a greater compliment to the strength of North Carolina business than JPMorgan Chase’s desire to build as many as 40 offices in the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham metro areas?
In terms of timing, I beat the largest U.S. bank to town by more than three decades, thanks to an editor at a Charlotte newspaper who bet on a rookie reporter in Iowa. The boss took off for California before long, but I’ve been fortunate to hang around ever since, save for a couple of years in Georgia and Texas.
Chase will be around our state for a long time too, because CEO Jamie Dimon makes very few mistakes. He also knows where to show up: In September, he was keynote speaker at the groundbreaking for the $150 million expansion of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC Chapel Hill. It was an interesting choice given how much Bank of America (ex-NationsBank), Wells Fargo (ex-Wachovia), Truist (ex-BB&T), PNC (ex-Centura) and other Chase rivals have invested in the school.
Dimon got some razzing for admitting that he didn’t know the definition of Tar Heel. And he took a funny shot from David Boliek Jr., the Fayetteville lawyer who chairs the UNC Chapel Hill trustee board. Two of Dimon’s three daughters are Duke University graduates, but Boliek suggested he direct his grandchildren to Chapel Hill where they “can save money and get a better education.”
Kidding aside, Chase’s investment sparked reflections of how the state has changed since the early 1980s. I knew nothing about North Carolina or the South at the time, but I’ve tried to be a patient student ever since.
My main conclusion: North Carolina didn’t need newcomers like me or the Chase crowd to make it a better place. It was special long before any of us jumped on board.
That differs from a popular narrative, which I’ve heard almost since I arrived, that lots of newcomers from all over the nation and world have changed a backwards Southern state to a modern powerhouse.
Yes, the increased diversity of North Carolina on many levels has had a positive impact. Sure, there are blots on the state’s history, which is also true in the other 49. Of course, I wish some different decisions had been made.
But often missing from the narrative is an appreciation of how the underlying strengths of this place, stretching back generations, paved the way for North Carolina’s increasing popularity and prominence. Perhaps one of the few benefits of getting older is gaining that
kind of perspective.
For me, those strengths include a history of business leaders who built world-class enterprises and politicians of both parties who set the stage for today’s thriving metro areas. That happened in an environment with a sense of shared purpose that appreciates workable solutions and enduring, common-sense values. Our state’s reputation for being “purple” politically is a good thing. So is being a place where it’s still OK to respectfully invite a newcomer to one’s church or synagogue or mosque.
While visiting this fall, Dimon praised North Carolina for “trying to attract business,” and predicted the Triangle would grow at a pace similar to Austin and Nashville. “And the loser, unfortunately, is going to be places like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, who have been both anti-business, have their crime problems and high taxes,” he told Axios.
I am thankful for this state. I hope we can sustain the momentum.