U.S. News & World Report ranks Charlotte as one of the top 20 best places to live in the United States. Its warm climate, Southern charm and impressive job growth has lured many transplants to the North Carolina city. Charlotte is also a U.S. banking center with blossoming energy, manufacturing, healthcare and environmental tech sectors. However, not all is sunny in Charlotte. Political controversy has offset some of the city’s economic gains, and recent racial unrest may also pose a threat to the city’s growth.
Protests over the September 20 shooting of an African-American man by police in Charlotte devolved into riots and violence. The shooting is being investigated. Economic experts say police shootings followed by periods of protest, unrest and violence can have a lasting impact on a community’s local economy.1
Charlotte is also at the epicenter of an economic backlash against North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, which overturned local anti-discrimination protections for lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and blocked transgender people from using public restrooms based on their gender identification over their birth gender. HB2, often referred to as ‘the bathroom law,’ was a response to a Charlotte city council ordinance which gave transgendered people the right to use public bathrooms for the gender they identified with.
The state law, adopted in March, has been widely denounced as discriminatory against the LGBTQ community and has led to a continuing loss of business statewide. Charlotte in particular has experienced dramatic economic losses, with the NBA All-Star Game, and ACC and NCAA championship games moving out of the city in protest of the state law. The loss of the All-Star Game alone is estimated to have cost the city at least $100 million. PayPal Holdings, Inc. also cancelled plans to build a global operations facility in protest of the law, losing 400 jobs for the city.2
Many small business owners in Charlotte and across North Carolina say the law impedes their ability to draw new customers and quality employees, and may force them to relocate their businesses.3 The protests against the bill have also negatively impacted the tourism industry throughout North Carolina.4
HB2 is not curtailing all new business and expansions in the Queen City. Albemarle Corp., a chemical manufacturing company, is relocating its headquarters from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Charlotte. The new headquarters will bring 120 executive-level jobs to Charlotte.5
Dimensional Fund Advisors, a Texas-based investment firm, is locating its new East Coast regional headquarters in Charlotte. The $105 million facility will create 316 jobs, among them positions for sales professionals, investment managers and tech specialists. The firm, which will be housed in a new 285,000-square-foot building set to open in 2018, has also purchased properties across the street from its new offices but has yet to disclose development plans for the tracts.6
Charlotte had the greatest year-over-year increase in employment in North Carolina, with 24,000 job gains for the local economy between July 2015 and July 2016. The bulk of those new jobs were in the professional and business services sectors. The manufacturing sector in Charlotte saw a year-over-year decrease of 600 jobs during that time.7
Charlotte’s unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in July, down from 5 percent in June.8
A report by the nonprofit American Jobs Project says North Carolina has the potential to become a crucial hub for the battery storage and components industry, which already has a strong presence in the state and in the Charlotte region. The report projects 17,000 additional jobs in the industry by 2030 if the state removes some existing barriers to the expansion of the sector. “North Carolina must overcome an undeveloped regulatory environment, lack of centralized coordination and leadership, and slow response time to market signals in order to fully capitalize on the economic benefits of utility-scale battery technology,” the report stated.9
Home to the Bank of America headquarters and major offices for Wells Fargo, Charlotte continues to be the second largest banking center in the US after New York City. In recent years, however, the city has successfully widened its economy to include the energy, manufacturing, healthcare and environmental tech sectors. Growth in these industries has increased international trade activity in the city, with Charlotte becoming the 24th largest metropolitan exporter in the US in 2014. The Charlotte Douglas International Airport helps the area maintain its cachet as a prime location for industries that export products, and makes it an appealing locale for foreign-owned companies.10
The former site of the Charlotte Observer was purchased by Lincoln Harris and Goldman Sachs in 2016. Plans for the mixed-use development include about 1 million square feet of new office space and 26,900 square feet of retail space.11
Charlotte is in the midst of a housing boom, though the rate of increase in the cost of a new home is expected to slow soon.12Housing demand is outpacing supply in Charlotte, especially along new sections of the city’s light rail system, scheduled for completion in 2017.13
Charlotte has received notable economic honors and rankings in recent years, including:
- No. 13 – Fastest Growing Cities in U.S. (2016) – Forbes
- No. 15 – Best Places to Live in U.S. (2016) – U.S. News & World Report
- No. 18 – Best Large City to Live In (2016) – WalletHub
- No. 11 – City with the Highest Startup Growth (2016) – Business Insider
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1 Poppick, Susie. “Can Ferguson Recover? The Lasting Economic Impact of Violent Unrest.” Money. Web 25 Nov 2014, accessed 21 Sept 2016.
2 Armstrong, Chris. “Potentially $5 Billion in Losses from HB2 and Still No Repeal.” The News & Observer. Web 3 Aug 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
3 Stone, Rachel. “Small Business Owners in Charlotte Call for HB2 Repeal.” The Charlotte Observer. Web 2 June 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
4 Martin, Jenna. “How House Bill 2 is Already Affecting Charlotte’s Tourism Industry.” Charlotte Business Journal. Web 1 April 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
5 Elkins, Ken. “Chemical Company Will Still Bring HQ to Charlotte: Calls for Repeal of HB2.” Charlotte Business Journal. Web 11 April 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
6 Fahey, Ashley. “Dimensional Fund Advisors Acquires More Property in South End. Charlotte Business Journal. Web 22 July 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
7 Martin, Jenna. “Unemployment Rate Dips Across Metro Charlotte, Despite Big Monthly Job Loss.” Charlotte Business Journal. 31 Aug 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
8 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC, Economy at a Glance, Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor. Web accessed 19 Sept 2016.
9 Downey, John. “How North Carolina Could Create 17,000 Additional Energy Industry Jobs by 2030.” Charlotte Business Journal. Web 19 April 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
10 Boykin, Sam. “Charlotte Poised for Growth in International Trade.” Charlotte Business Journal. Web 15 Sept 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
11 Portillo, Ely. “Plans Show 1M Square Feet of New Office Space at Former Observer Site.” The Charlotte Observer. Web 16 Sept 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
12 Singe, Kerry. “The Charlotte Housing Market in 2016: A Cheat Sheet.” Charlotte Magazine. Web 24 March 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.
13 “Light Rail Extension Heats Up Housing Market.” WCNC.com, NBC Charlotte. Web 22 Aug 2016, accessed 19 Sept 2016.