Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said Monday it’s important for Charlotte to do something about its economic-mobility problem, an issue he said has even grabbed the attention of people outside the city.
“It’s surprising because I travel around ... and you heard more about it than you’d expect,” Moynihan said at the Charlotte Chamber’s annual economic outlook luncheon. “We have a duty here to make sure that we sort of take care of these things and do it the right way.”
The chief executive of the Charlotte-based bank was referring to a 2014 study from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley that found poor children in Charlotte have the worst odds of those in any big U.S. city to lift themselves out of poverty.
That study led to the creation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, which in March unveiled a report on how to change the trajectory for the community’s poor.
A Leading on Opportunity council has been formed to carry out the task force’s recommendations, but the council has yet to name an executive director. James Ford, co-chair of the council, said Monday that a director will be announced “in short order.”
Also Monday, Moynihan said Bank of America is giving $1.5 million over three years to the council for staffing and infrastructure. Moynihan said he hoped the funding will serve as a challenge to others to also help support the council’s work.
Other speakers Monday were prominent government and business leaders, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney; Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio; Carolinas HealthCare System CEO Gene Woods; and Kendall Alley, Wells Fargo’s region bank president for Charlotte and the chamber’s 2018 chairman.
Many of the speakers urged Charlotte’s business community to play a role in fixing the economic-mobility challenges.
“There’s a whole lot that the business community can be doing to help drive this,” said Andrea Smith, chief administrative officer at Bank of America and co-chair of the Leading on Opportunity council.
“It’s looking at do people actually need a four-year degree to do a job, or can they come out with a high school certificate ... or can they get a two-year vocational degree,” she said. “Or what’s your salary that you’re paying people as an hourly rate? How can we make wages more livable for our community?”
Alley, in his kickoff address last month as chamber chairman, also made economic mobility a key issue, and challenged the business community to get involved.
Panelists emphasized the need for Charlotte to provide good educational opportunities for all.
Pat Rodgers, CEO of Rodgers Builders, commended the county for including $6 million in its fiscal 2018 budget to expand a child-care-subsidy program for families making 200 percent of the federal poverty line or below: “I don’t think you can have access and opportunity without education,” she said.
Rodgers noted her industry needs more workers with vocational skills, pointing out the Charlotte region continues to suffer from a lack of skilled workers in the construction sector.
“The construction industry, we haven’t valued craft workers as much as we should have in the last couple of decades, and we’re paying the price for that now,” she said.