Cover Story: Banktown and Beantown

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte's got a lot, as the slogan goes.  But apparently not quite enough.

Right now, 135 of our city's biggest big-wigs are in Boston - on a fact-finding mission, checking out everything New England has to offer.

On the face of it you wouldn't think we have much in common.

But Charlotte is almost a microcosm of Boston.  What we have here, Boston has bigger and older.  Think teenager vs. wise old sage.

Boston's nickname is "The Hub of the Universe" and they aren't really joking.

It's one of America's oldest cities with a population of four and a half million.  Also home to Harvard and 73 other colleges and universities and a leader in health care - home to 12 of the nation's best hospitals.

Compare that to Charlotte - a New South city.  Our metro population is 1.7 million.  We have seven colleges and universities in Mecklenburg county and two major hospitals.

"We're going to learn how to do things better."  That's David Darnell, president of Bank of America's Global Banking.

Darnell and 134 other major players in Charlotte-Mecklenburg flew out on a US Airways-chartered jet Wednesday morning.

For 55 years the Charlotte Chamber's sponsored these fact-finding trips to U.S. cities bringing back ideas that's driven Charlotte to get creative.

What's come out of the trips?

  • Things like a Convention Center, an idea taken from seeing cities who've cashed in on tourism dollars.
  • A transit line and development to go with it - gleaned from Denver and Dallas.
  • A Hall of Fame, which followed visits to similar halls in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
  • And making an investment in the arts.  The new cultural arts complex, officials say, came out of Chamber Inter City Visits.

Charlotte Chamber president Bob Morgan says, "Boston offers a good set of issues that are relevant to Charlotte but also a very high level of talent of people who are studying cities and regions and economic development from a pretty big perspective."

Problems Charlotte is trying to tackle, like redeveloping rundown corridors, Boston has been through years ago.

Beantown's also had success - with its 74 institutions of higher learning - attracting research and high-tech industries.  And embracing the health care industry as an economic engine driver.

C.D. Spangler, billionaire investor, construction magnate and former UNC System president has no doubt they'll come back from Boston with something.

He says, "When intelligent people get together - they'll be more than 100 people there that have good brains and know how to talk about their situations. And when they get together they'll touch on a whole lot of things that they'll remember and when they come back they will have made relationships that they can follow up on and make some progress on the area they're thinking about."

There's 135 making this trip.  Wednesday they heard from four current and former bank chairmen and CEOs.

Thursday they'll be meeting with Lawrence Summers, one of President Obama's chief economic advisers who happens to be former president of Harvard.

Who's paying for it?  It's costing each attendee about $2,800.  A majority are either paying their own way or their company is.

Public officials are going on taxpayer dollars but that's coming out of the money the government sets aside for travel.

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