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Charlotte leaders, on Nashville trip, talk health care and transit

Members of a Charlotte Chamber delegation tour Nashville by bus on Wednesday during the chamber’s visit to the city.
Members of a Charlotte Chamber delegation tour Nashville by bus on Wednesday during the chamber’s visit to the city. deroberts@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte business leaders and public officials arrived in Nashville on Wednesday to learn economic development do’s and don’ts from a city that officials said outperforms Charlotte in some ways but lags it in others.

Officials from Charlotte also discussed how more collaboration within its own health care sector could help it grow, in the same way the industry has expanded in Nashville.

Roughly 130 Charlotte leaders, including Mayor Dan Clodfelter, were estimated to be part of the first day of the Charlotte Chamber’s annual intercity visit, which runs through Friday. It marks the first time it’s beenin Nashville since 2004.

Charlotte has a leg up over Nashville, a competitor city, in some areas, officials said.

For example, officials said Nashville is grappling with a mass-transit system that is outdated and insufficient for the growth that city has experienced. Charlotte has a light-rail system, while Nashville does not.

“Y’all are ahead of us by a decade or more,” Nashville real estate developer Bert Mathews said. “We are way behind.”

“We have huge amounts of growth and are operating a bus system that is incredibly efficient but old,” he said.

Nashville is ahead of Charlotte in other ways, such as in hotel construction, officials said. In Charlotte, tourism officials have said Charlotte needs more large hotels to house major events.

“You have way too many hotels here. We need more of those,” Charlotte Chamber member Ernie Reigel half-jokingly told Nashville officials.

Mathews said Nashville has 1,500 hotel rooms under construction and about 2,500 to 3,000 hotel rooms in the planning stages. In Charlotte, more than 1,900 new hotel rooms are proposed, under construction or in the planning stages in uptown, midtown and South End, according to Center City Partners.

Trip attendees also heard about Nashville’s health care industry. Hayley Hovious, president of the Nashville Health Care Council, an industry group made of health care companies, said that while Nashville is well known for its country music industry, health care has a much bigger impact on its economy. The country music industry has a $10 billion impact on Nashville’s economy, while the health care industry’s impact is $30 billion, she said.

Nashville officials said a key factor in the growth of that city’s health care sector is a strong support system for emerging health care companies.

Jesse Cureton, chief consumer officer at Novant Heath, said Charlotte has a robust health care industry, which employs roughly 116,000 people in the region.

“Health care is big business, major business in Charlotte, and it will continue to grow,” he said.

But Charlotte could also learn from Nashville and have more collaboration within the industry to make it grow even more, he said.

“There is an opportunity for Charlotte to become more collaborative. That is the new frontier,” he said.

Public officials on Charlotte Chamber trip

As in past years, the 130 or so attendees for this year’s inter-city Charlotte Chamber trip include public and elected officials from the Charlotte area. But noticeably absent from this year’s trip to Nashville are members of the Charlotte City Council.

Last year, eight of 11 council members went on the trip, to Minneapolis. This year, no council members will be attending, an unusual move made as the city looks to slash spending: Council members recently approved a budget that raises property taxes and enacts more than $7 million in budget cuts.

According to the chamber, the full cost of the trip is $3,395. As it has in the past, it is giving elected and public officials a discounted rate of $2,395.

Here’s a look at public officials attending:

▪ City of Charlotte: Mayor Dan Clodfelter planned to attend for one day only, Wednesday. He said he is returning to Charlotte for other business, including Thursday’s groundbreaking for Sealed Air Corp.’s new headquarters. Also attending from the city are City Manager Ron Carlee and interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle.

Clodfelter’s shorter trip will cost $845.10. Costs for Clodfelter’s trip will come out of the mayor and City Council’s operating budget, city spokeswoman Catherine Bonfiglio said. The cost for Carlee’s trip will come out of the city’s manager’s operating budget, she said.

Costs for Cagle’s trip will come out of airport funds, not taxpayer dollars, she said.

▪ Mecklenburg County: Four Mecklenburg County commissioners are attending, the same number as last year. They are Dumont Clarke, Jim Puckett, Matthew Ridenhour and Ella Scarborough. County Manager Dena Diorio is also attending.

County spokesman Rick Christenbury said the cost for each commissioner and Diorio will come from travel allowances, which are taxpayer-funded.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark was originally expected to attend this year but backed out because of an unexpected change of plan, CMS spokeswoman Renee McCoy said. McCoy declined to provide further details. Deon Roberts

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