Local business leaders learned about the state of the city at this week’s Ballantyne chapter of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce meeting.
Ron Carlee, Charlotte city manager, spoke at the Thursday, Sept. 5, meeting at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge about his philosophy and vision for the city moving forward.
“The state of Charlotte is really quite phenomenal,” Carlee said. “It’s not just that Charlotte is a great place, it’s a place that’s not satisfied. It is still aspirational.”
Carlee’s goal as city manager is to help spur growth within the community, he said Thursday. “The goal is not to grow city government. The goal of the city manager is to grow the community,” he said.
Carlee focused on three areas during his discussion: economics, ethics and engagement. He briefly discussed regulation, saying one challenge he has seen is regulation fragmentation. He also discussed investments, saying Charlotte has to make investments looking into the future instead of only focusing on current issues.
“The key is looking to the long term,” Carlee said. “We need generational decisions, not just two-year election term decisions.”
Building and growing a city is done from within the city, Carlee said, which is why putting money back into the community – such as what the city’s recently approved Capital Investment Plan will do – is so vital. That also goes toward diversifying the city’s tax base, because Charlotte “needs diverse places and diverse businesses for places to go,” Carlee said.
As for the competition between Ballantyne and Uptown to attract new businesses, Carlee said competitiveness within a city can be good. “I’d rather compete with Ballantyne than with South Carolina, Virginia or Georgia,” he said.
Carlee also took some time to address the non-business side of the city manager’s job, saying a city can’t be built with just businesses. He mentioned the nonprofit sector and said nonprofits can do things the government and businesses can’t do. “It takes all of us coming together to create a city people want to call home,” he said.
Business leaders on Thursday asked Carlee about the controversial streetcar program. Still relatively new to the debate, Carlee said the streetcar project is an unbelievably hot topic and he doesn’t understand why. He said transit moves more people, more efficiently and with more certainty, pointing to how Arlington, Va., was once struggling until it was revitalized with a transit system and saying that streetcars give a return on investments.
“You’ll never get the return on a bus, sidewalk or street lights as you will with a streetcar,” Carlee said.
He also talked shortly about the growing tension between state and local government, saying he hopes the issues can be worked through.
“My commitment to North Carolina is to work together. Ultimately the situation is either win-win or lose-lose,” he said.
One question arose from the audience about which cities Charlotte should aspire to be like. Carlee didn’t have to look far for an answer.
“Charlotte should aspire to be like Charlotte,” he said. “We need to make our own niche and distinguish ourselves from other cities.”