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Returning from Houston, Charlotte group reflects on growth

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  • Charlotte Chamber, city leaders learn lessons in Houston
  • Costs of the trip

    While the Charlotte Chamber and participating businesses picked up the $3,000-plus tab for their representatives to go, public money underwrote the trip for city and county officials. City Manager Ron Carlee said the city paid more than $30,000 to send three staff, six City Council members and Mayor Anthony Foxx. (Foxx, who won confirmation Thursday as the next U.S. transportation secretary, didn’t make the trip).

    Three Mecklenburg County commissioners and Interim County Manager Bobbie Shields went; commissioners Chairwoman Pat Cotham said she paid $1,000 of her cost out of her own pocket. Eric Frazier



HOUSTON After two and a half days of exploring the nation’s fourth-largest city, members of a 130-person fact-finding delegation from Charlotte said they learned valuable lessons about the perils and benefits of growth.

Business, political and civic leaders on the Charlotte Chamber’s annual inter-city visit said Friday they came away impressed by how Houstonians think big, and pull together for massive business and public works projects.

Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell and Center City Partners President Michael Smith were among many who admired the economic power of Houston’s huge health care sector, which officials said accounts for one of every four hotel stays in the city.

On Thursday, they toured the 1,300-acre Texas Medical Center complex, whose economic impact was estimated at $14 billion. Mitchell and Smith, speaking at a Friday wrap-up session, both suggested Charlotte needs to grow its own health care sector.

“It’s a big opportunity for us,” Smith said. “What else grows at three to four times inflation?”

Houston’s king-sized ambitions showed through in other areas as well, from attracting foreign investment to growing its arts sector. Chamber President Bob Morgan recalled how Duke Energy executive and chamber board president Brett Carter had observed that some of what he’d seen made him wonder if Charlotte was “playing checkers” when it ought to be playing chess.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of chess playing on this trip,” Morgan said.

Others said bigger isn’t necessarily better.

Piedmont Natural Gas CEO Tom Skains, a former Houston resident, compared Charlotte’s tree-lined streets to Houston’s sprawl of asphalt and billboards, and said he’d never leave Charlotte for Houston.

“I had a choice,” he said, “and I decided Charlotte was where I wanted to be.”

City Council member David Howard noted that Houston was suffering economically during the oil bust of the 1980s but has made a strong comeback.

“They hit the gas. They didn’t hit the brakes,” he said.

Frazier: 704-358-5145: @ericfraz on Twitter
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