Cover Story: Southeastern cities working together

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - City leaders from Charlotte and Atlanta meeting in Charlotte discussing plans for future growth in the southeast. They say without a plan the region will grow without direction.. which in the end, could hurt us economically.

Tuesday began a discussion toward planning for growth of the entire southeast.. what they're calling a "mega region".

An area that follows the I-85 corridor stretching from Raleigh.. through Charlotte.. and connecting with Atlanta.. following I-20 to Birmingham, Alabama.

The Piedmont Atlantic Mega Region.. they're calling it.

The idea-- work together to manage growth.. create jobs and protect the environment.

Charlotte, North Carolina.

And Atlanta, Georgia.  Both New South cities bursting at the seams.  And long-time competitors in the race for companies and jobs.

But what's this?

The Atlanta Mayor and the Charlotte Mayor.. both in Charlotte today talking of working together?

"I think this is a historical moment for this region."

The saying goes-- you keep your friends close and your enemies closer.. well, they're certainly not our enemy.. but in a ballroom in an uptown Charlotte hotel today began a dialog of the two cities Atlanta and Charlotte setting a course of cooperation.

"The truth of the matter is we haven't nearly has as much contact as we need to have," says Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Here's the issue--  Growth is coming to both cities  There's 34 million people now in the region that includes Charlotte and Atlanta.

By 2050-- that population is predicted to jump 70 percent.  That's 23 million more people.

And if the two cities don't coordinate with others in the southeast corridor.. like Birmingham and Raleigh and smaller communities like Gastonia.. problems will result.

"The lack of planning means we'll have high unemployment," says Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.  "We'll have a bad environment. We'll have congested roads. And we won't have the water we need to live."

Issues have already come up over the use of water.

South Carolina is taking North Carolina to the U.S. Supreme Court over a plan to divert river water from the Catawba River to Concord and Kannapolis.

And traffic throughout the corridor is getting worse.

"We've got to learn to unstop our freight corridors. Some of the worst bottlenecks in the country are right here in Atlanta and Charlotte," says Dr. Catherine Ross, a transportation expert at Georgia Tech.

Solutions are being sought.. one that may emerge.. high speed rail linking cities of the southeast.. this year the federal government's dedicating more money to the initiative.

What may come out of these meetings.. a plan of how to grow together and share resources... the ultimate goal.. making the southeast an attractive place to live and work.

"What are our similarities that we can build on.. that we can be competitvie in 20 or thirty years," says Mayor Franklin of Atlanta.

Leaders say if you don't plan you can lose your economic edge.

Charlotte's mayor told us--if we don't work together we're not going to have the same quality of life.. the same environment and the same opportunities for jobs.

Who is in this group?  Mayors, economic development officials.. planning officials.. as well as business leaders.. an executive from Duke Energy was there for example.

They're holding closed-door sessions.. brainstorming sessions that will conclude Wednesday.