Two of the Charlotte regions economic-development leaders on Thursday admonished state and city elected officials for fighting in public, saying it was hurting Charlottes image and ability to attract new businesses.
Charlotte Chamber president Bob Morgan and Charlotte Regional Partnership chief executive Ronnie Bryant were speaking to roughly 400 business leaders attending a conference on global competitiveness. They separately addressed growing acrimony between Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and state Republicans, including GOP Gov. Pat McCrory.
Citing blue city... red state dynamics, Morgan said tensions between a Democratic-controlled city and Republican-controlled state government are pulling us more apart than together.
Charlotte Democrats have accused McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, of meddling in local affairs, from control of the airport to the citys plans for a $119 million streetcar extension.
Republicans have accused Foxx of bad faith while the mayor has criticized a culture of intimidation.
Such dissension can harm Charlottes ability to recruit new businesses, Bryant told the crowd that gathered Thursday at Central Piedmont Community Colleges Harris Conference Center.
Bryant, who helps recruit businesses to the Charlotte region, told how he recently dined with two New England business leaders who were touring the area.
They commented on the acrimony.
They asked, What is going on between your mayor and governor? Bryant said. This is serious. ...We need to minimize that type of public display of dissension.
Bryant later told the Observer that was the first time in his eight years working in Charlotte that a client had expressed concern over public officials ability to work together. The comment shocked him, he said.
He said he hasnt taken a position on the volatile issues, including whether the airport should be run by an authority, but urged leaders to stop being so inflammatory.
Its not about taking something behind closed doors. Im not advocating closed sessions, Bryant said. Im only advocating a degree of civility.
Morgan, the Chamber president, told the crowd such public acrimony hurts Charlottes image because one of the Queen Citys historic attributes has been its perceived ability to get along and solve problems. He attributed the tension to policy differences, partisanship, personal feelings and the exercise of power.
The game is on, Morgan said. We have to figure out a way to manage those differences in a way to retain our ability to get the job done.
Chamber officials later declined to comment further.
Control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport has been among the most contentious issues. On Wednesday, an N.C. Senate panel endorsed a bill to create a new Charlotte airport authority and strip control from the city. The city wants to study such an idea before it is approved, but Republican lawmakers are pushing for a vote.
Another point of controversy is the proposed Charlotte streetcar extension, which Foxx says could rejuvenate Beatties Ford Road and Central Avenue. But McCrory vehemently opposes using property tax dollars for such a project and has said state money for the light-rail extension to UNC Charlotte could be at risk if the city builds the streetcar.
The $1.1 billion Lynx Blue Line extension cant be built without the N.C. Department of Transportations $299 million grant.
On another issue, some state lawmakers have raised questions about the citys plan to double Charlottes prepared-food tax from 1 percent to 2 percent to help upgrade Bank of America Stadium. The Republican-led General Assembly would have to sign off on any local tax hike. Two lawmakers said last week that any such tax increase would require a vote by the public.
Thursdays conference was sponsored by Central Piedmont Community College. The goal was to get business and civic leaders thinking about how Charlotte can best compete globally.
Global transportation routes are changing and will mean increased opportunity for the region.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport is opening a $90 million intermodal facility, which will link air, freight and interstate trucking to and from three major ports Jacksonville, Fla., Savannah, Ga., and Charleston.
The Panama Canal is also being expanded within the next two years, which will let ships from Asia reach the U.S. coast more quickly and directly. Thats expected to heighten the importance of East Coast ports such as Charleston and bring more freight through Charlotte.
N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker, among the first of the speakers, told the crowd that the region should expand on its already strong manufacturing sector and exports. Many of Thursdays speakers stressed that the region needs to focus on developing advanced manufacturing and ensuring it has a well-trained workforce.
Decker later said she hoped attendees would be inspired to think more about how they can take their business around the world.
I hope business owners will get excited about doing business globally, she said. Its not a choice to play, the question is what role do we want to play, do we want to be a leader.
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