Bringing People (and Business) to Charlotte

Tune in as we talk with experts from the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and CRVA to discuss Charlotte, tourism and how these organizations help to support Charlotte’s business community.

Join the conversation on Twitter using #B2UPodcast!

Andrew Bowen: (AB)     Tom Murray: (TM)     Bob Morgan: (BM)

AB: Welcome back, listeners. Andrew Bowen here, your host of CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business resources directly to you. Presented by CBRbiz.com. Our goal in today’s episode, as in every episode, is to connect you to the information you need to start and run a successful business.

It’s a big joke around here that very few Charlotte residents are actually from here. I happen to be from here. Go, Marching Mustangs!

Charlotte natives like me are rare. Actually, every time I see somebody who is not a native and finds out that I am, I stick a little finger on my forehead and say, “Yes, I am the rare unicorn.”

However, over the years, more and more people have been moving to Charlotte, but what do you think is drawing them here? One of the things helping bring new residents to Charlotte is a local organization called the CRVA, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

The CRVA is the voice of tourism and helps drive economic development in the city. Another local asset we have today with us is the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, the voice of the business community.

Representing the CRVA and the Charlotte Chamber, we have the CEO of the CRVA, Tom Murray, here. And the President and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Bob Morgan.

Gentleman, welcome very much. Thank you for coming on the show.

TM: Glad to be here!

BM: Thank you!

AB: Awesome. Thank you both for taking time out of your day. We’re just going to start off with a really quick introduction. Tom, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the CRVA and kind of what it does?

TM: I’ve been in the tourism industry for most of my life.I mostly spent the first 30 years in the hotel business. I’ve spent some time in the cruise business and have done a few other exciting things throughout my career, but I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of visitors in a local economy. Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority is the marketing arm for the City of Charlotte in telling people what the city is for a visitor. Bob and I work closely together because the same kinds of elements that visitors want are also the same elements thatsite relocation folks are looking for and CEOs. That’s a big piece of what we do. We also run facilities, so we run the Charlotte Convention Center, back in the house of the Time Warner Cable Arena, Bojangles’ Coliseum, Ovens Auditorium, the Film Commission…

There’s quite a bit of activity here. The nice thing about Charlotte is, years ago, a group of people put all of those organizations into one.It’s pretty unique to any other city. I think there’s only one city that has anything close to it. We’re both the marketing arm and the facilities arm in the city’s tourism economy.

AB: That’s great, and you’re not a native, right?

TM: I’m not! I’ve been here 5 years but was told after 6 months that I qualify, so I don’t know if that’s true or not.

AB: Ha! Bob, would you like to weigh in on that?

BM: Well, I would agree. Tom is a native after 5 years. That’s more than enough time. I’m not a native but moved here in 1971, when I was 6 years old and went through the public schools here and returned after college. I’ve spent my career now, for more than 25 years, in economic development, primarily with the Charlotte Chamber, but for for three years across the river at the Gaston Chamber.

We are a membership-based organization. More than 3,000 companies that do business in this market belong to the Charlotte Chamber. We are funded by those private companies. We are not funded through tax dollars.

Our formal mission is three-fold. We exist to grow the economy through the recruitment of jobs and investment. We serve as a voice for business through all of our public policy engagement, also known as lobbying, at every level of government.And third, we exist to engage our members, to help them be successful in this marketplace.

And if you want to boil it down a little less formally, we get to sell Charlotte, what a great product Charlotte is, as we reach out to companies throughout the U.S. and throughout the world to make the case for why they should put jobs and investment here. We’re developing the product—Charlotte is the product. We’re helping develop it. We are a good city; there are a lot of opportunities to make it even better.

And we serve our members, those 3,000 members, giving them competitive advantages in the marketplace, whether it’s introducing them to other business people or introducing them to the resources and knowledge that can help them be successful.

AB: You both kind of mentioned selling Charlotte as the place to be or come bring your conventions. I heard about a study not too long ago that about one-third of the people who relocate to Charlotte actually visited here first. I’m curious to see if you think it’s just just the people or just the businesses. Obviously, if someone’s going to move to a city, they’re going to want to check it out first. I think it happens similarly with businesses, too, no?

TM: We also have evidence that site selection folks who are moving businesses here first find out about Charlotte through a visit. I can’t remember the percentage, but it was about in the 30% range as well.

That first welcome is really important for us because it sets the impression of who the city is.The Charlotte visitor economy is huge in this state. It is 2.5 times as big as any other county–it measures in county, since Charlotte is mostly Mecklenburg. You could say ‘the Charlotte visitor economy.’he next closest is Wake county, so we are the largest visitor economy by far and the 6th most visited state in the country. Visitors are a really important part of Charlotte and maybe one of the keys to why we’ve been so successful.

First, there’s the investment they make by paying visitor taxes, and second, just by getting the message out of who we are. We’re a relatively new city. We certainly are a changed city in recent years. Most people don’t know about us. When they find out about us, they are impressed because we are more than we say we are.

My salespeople always say, “Get the folks here, and they’ll book us.” Because the hard part is getting them to come. Once they see our city, they see all of the beautiful amenities that we have.

AB: The way I tell people is, if I was me 20 years ago, when I was growing up here but at the age I am now, I wouldn’t have come back because, in Uptown, there was very little to do, very few attractions. The southern Tryon arts area wasn’t there. Whitewater Center wasn’t there. There was so little to do. There wasn’t really what felt like a good reason to come as a young person.

TM: We feel like this is really a moment in time for Charlotte. Lots of years of work—Bob’s work in particular—have come together at a moment when so much is happening in Charlotte. Folks are moving downtown by the thousands to live here and make this their home.

The walkability of the city is really at its highest time. There’s now retail moving downtown. 200 nights a year, we have a professional sporting event. There’s a lot going on in our community.

We have a brand called Charlotte’s Got A Lot, and it is truer now than it has ever been. We have so much to offer both residents and businesses, and now big investments in public transportation have helped matters as well. We know a lot of these new employees are taking advantage of those kinds of amenities.

AB: The things you described started getting at the idea of quality of life. I know that’s a big selling point, Bob, for businesses relocating here to have this thing called ‘quality of life,’ and the inside joke on this podcast is in every single one I have to pitch myself. The program I run at work is the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Quality of Life Explorer, where we actually try to quantify what people describe as quality of life, so thank you for letting me get that one in there.

Bob, do you have anything to add on how you sell Charlotte to other companies?

BM: Yes! I can take a little bit of a different tact. We do have a very high quality of life, and we’re sitting here on a day that it’s a 75 degree, low humidity, beautiful, sunny, bright, spring day, and our quality of life is very, very high.

Having said that, there are a lot of cities across America that offer a good quality of life. I think the three competitive advantages that matter the most certainly with the companies we work with successfully are:

One, we have a cost of living that is 95% of the national average. We’re not the cheapest market, but we’re a whole heck of a lot less expensive than some of the larger markets. You can buy more house; you can buy a higher quality of life than a lot of other places.

Second, we have a workforce that is large. It is growing. We’re the second or third fastest growing city in America. That workforce is made up of people that know how to run businesses and to make things. It is increasingly young, and it is increasingly diverse. Those are important factors to most companies as they look to build a corporate culture that allows them to be competitive, globally and into the future.

Third, you can’t say enough about the competitive advantage of the Charlotte airport, the 5th busiest airport in America and the 2nd largest hub to American Airlines, only smaller than Dallas within their network. You can get there from here. From here, you can get to virtually any major market in North America. Daily direct service to most major European destinations, several Latin American and Caribbean destinations—you can get there from here.

I think those three are the most common competitive advantages. Now, I’m also intrigued with a growing trend that we’re seeing from some of our recent corporate relocations.

Companies are more and more about culture, and we see instances of companies that, maybe through acquisitions, they may have headquarters in one state, but they have major operations in two or three other locations, and they want to consolidate them. And they don’t want to consolidate them in their existing location. They’re looking for somewhere new that they can create a new culture that is diverse, and that is forward thinking, and that does position them, they think, to be competitive going forward.

When we talk about things like the Whitewater Center, and the Levine Cultural Campus, and the offering of professional and collegiate sports—all of these things get to the ability to attract the kind of talent and to create the culture that a company thinks is going to allow it to be successful.

AB: And all the same things that, Tom, you get to sell for someone who is just visiting, and, Bob, for anybody who moves here permanently, you get to take full advantage of it.

Bob, what kind of programs does the Chamber offer for business relocation and retention even for businesses who are here, or that move here, and then want to grow or stick around?

BM: Well, we work with companies that we’re targeting, or that are looking at Charlotte. There’s some salesmanship that goes into economic development, but companies are making a business decision, and they need the facts. They need the kind of data that will allow them to make a good business decision, so on our website, in our hands, in our briefcases–we’ll travel–we try to get the facts and the good information and research in the hands of our clients.

We take the approach…we’d rather think of the client’s question before they do, so that we can provide the answer and put it in their hands.

We have a team of four developers who are armed with that research. They scour the planet. Two are focused primarily on domestic targets. One is a native of Munich, Germany; we get more of our foreign investment out of Germany and Western Europe than from anywhere.

We have a young woman who’s a native of Shanghai, who spends regular time in Asia. Eight years ago, we had five Chinese companies in this region. Today, we have 38, and there’s tremendous growth potential going forward.

We go after the new jobs and investments through that development team. We work with companies as they relocate in a variety of ways, from helping their employees to understanding the community to being able to make good decisions about where to buy a home, where they might put their kids in school.

We work with all of our existing members in multiple ways. BusinessFirst is the most notable, where we regularly contact existing businesses to find out what’s working for you in Charlotte and, more importantly, what’s not. What do we need to improve? Whether it’s things at the Chamber, whether there are things in the public sector, the City and County are partners of ours in this effort, and we call on more than 300 businesses a year. We try to learn from them the macro answers to those questions and see where we need to readjust and redeploy resources accordingly.

We also develop the casework; if a specific company has a specific need, we’re able to address that, and hopefully their experience here is better than ever. Retention is a key part of economic development as well.

TM: It’s interesting that he pointed out those two countries—Germany and China. We try to work alongside with the Chamber in thinking about markets that are important to them as well, and we often do that through strategic events. Next year, we are hosting the NBA All-Star game. One of the hugest fan bases is in China, so it will be shown in multiple cities across China. And it’ll be a good way for people to find out who Charlotte is.

AB: And we happen to have Jeremy Lin, too.

TM: Exactly. And then this summer, July 30th, we’ve got Bayern Munich playing Inter Milan in an International Soccer Match in Bank of America Stadium. There are, what, about 200 or so German companies now in this marketplace? We feel like we could play to our international strengths, and we hope that we will continue to get our notoriety out there in Europe. Last year, we hosted Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain; the year before, we hosted Liverpool and AC Milan.

A lot of those strategic events are a way that we can help get name recognition out there, so when somebody calls on the Chamber of Commerce, they also can talk about the fact that Bayern Munich was in our city this summer.

There’s a nice play-off there. That kind of marketing, you couldn’t do. You just can’t afford to pay for those kinds of impressions made in other parts of the world, and we think these strategic events are really important.

AB: That’s great! So you actually jumped to the next question I was going to ask, which was how do the two organizations really work together to advance each other’s missions, but if you’re doing targeted, international placements, then when someone from the Chamber calls, everyone already knows where Charlotte is on the map.

I remember—was it a month or two ago when somebody asked about why Charlotte is still Charlotte, North Carolina and not just Charlotte, like a Baltimore, New York or San Diego?

TM: I think there’s an old saying that people are worried about if it’s still Boston, Massachusetts, and it’s still Charlotte, North Carolina. I think people know where Charlotte is more and more now. As Bob pointed out, it’s the 2nd fastest growing city in the country, so some people have figured it out. But it is our work to market the city and make sure we get that message out.

Most of our paid medias are only within a 250-mile radius. The rest is stuff that we’ve done through either earned media or strategic events.

BM: I would add that–I think this is a great example–while the CRVA’s job is to bring in tourism and visitors, our job is to go after jobs in investment. But if you go back to the downturn in 2008, which was, after all, a banking crisis, and as Charlotte looked to respond to that, one of the opportunities that quickly popped up was: Let’s go recruit the energy sector and make a play to bring more energy sector jobs to Charlotte, with Duke Energy as an anchor within that industry.

As we started to do that–targeting companies–the CRVA stepped into the frame and began to recruit energy related meetings, meetings that brought people here from all over the country and all over the globe. They came and got that favorable impression of Charlotte.

I don’t have any direct evidence that that’s what caused any one of the 5,000 new energy jobs that we’ve created since then, going from 20,000 to 25,000. This is a great example of where we’re each in our own lanes and yet able to work together complementary for the benefit of Charlotte around the same opportunity.

If you look at things like the Democratic National Convention, we certainly at the Chamber did not own that, but it was a unique opportunity to work to message positive things about Charlotte to the 15,000 members of the media that were here, and to the 350 representatives of foreign governments, to all of the delegates, to the television audience. That was a huge example of how we’re able to work together.

Again, we didn’t own the convention itself. Tom and his team had a whole lot more to do with the hosting of it, but we were able to play a complementary role to help leverage that event to Charlotte’s advantage.

TM: That’s something I would say about this city is that we work well together. People always say we have a can-do spirit, and I think you could almost say that together we have a can-do spirit. We’re collaborating on all kinds of things that are not necessarily exactly our ‘day job,’ but it’s good to be informed and work together.

We both have partners like Center City Partners and Charlotte Regional Partnership, the Arts and Science Council, and others that we all work together to make sure that we support the city that we all care about so much.

AB: In your perspectives, where to from here? I guess, take that as you may.

BM: Well, I would say it’s a fascinating and risky time for us. I just read a headline that there are three new cranes going up in Uptown, additions to however many other cranes are already up.

We’re in a wonderful economy in terms of the investment that’s taking place. There are residential towers for all of the young people that are moving here, corporate office towers for companies that are planning to come here. And yet, there’s no secret that we in Charlotte and the state of North Carolina are dealing with the controversy over HB2, which is a state legislative response to Charlotte’s attempt to pass a Non-Discrimination Ordinance that includes protections for the LGBT community. The firestorm around that issue has put a big question mark on Charlotte and on North Carolina and questions whether in fact we are truly a city that promotes and engages in the practices of diversity, inclusiveness and equality.

We all know Charlotte to be that. The passage of HB2 has caused that to be questioned, not just nationally but across the globe. Whether one is for or against what the City tried to do, for or against what the state tried to do in response, the fact is we are suffering severe economic pain. The risk–if we don’t back up in some way at the city and state level–is that that pain is going to get worse.

It is real economic damage in terms of jobs lost and convention bookings lost. But it’s also the perception again that North Carolina has been perceived as the gold standard of progressive economic development across the country, and now if you travel anywhere, people are asking, “What in the world is going on with all of the noise that’s coming out of that issue?”

I think we’re at risk of damaging the brand and the economy that have served us so well. We need our leadership at both the City and the State to help us find a solution. And we need to be urgent about that.

AB: That’s all the time we have for today. We had Tom Murray, the CEO of the CRVA. Tom, thank you very much. And we also had Bob Morgan, the President and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. Bob, thank you again for being here.

Everyone, thank you very much for tuning in. For more information about the Charlotte Chamber or the CRVA, or to listen to archived podcasts, visit us at CBRbiz.com.

Thanks again for tuning in to CBR’s B2U podcast, presented by CBRbiz.com. Until next time, we mean business.


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