Business

A Londoner's view of Charlotte

Some advice from a world-class city: It takes more than flashy skyscrapers to get there.

Charlotte still has work to do to achieve that status, a top London official told business and other local leaders Monday. Among other things, it needs to attract international workers, grow industries besides banking and partner with other countries.

“We've got to work together,” David Lewis told about 100 people during a luncheon at the Charlotte City Club, 30 floors above the uptown square. “It's a global market.”

Lewis is lord mayor of London, a one-year post elected by the city's workers. In a role separate from Mayor Boris Johnson, Lewis presides over London's governing bodies and acts as an ambassador for United Kingdom-based companies all over the world.

He was in Charlotte, a stop on his latest U.S. tour, to discuss U.K. economic connections and promote U.K.-based financial services.

While Charlotte is the second-largest banking center in the U.S., it didn't make MasterCard's recent list of the world's 75 top financial centers, Lewis said.

“That, to me as an outsider, seems a little off,” he said.

Charlotte can learn from London, which topped the list. Lewis said his city's success is largely a result of international influence, pointing out that there are 300 languages represented there and 700 foreign companies on the London Stock Exchange.

Many of the city's workers don't have British passports, he said.

Tough U.S. immigration policies make such a mix more difficult in Charlotte, Lewis said.

“It's not so easy to come and work in the U.S.,” he said. “Dare I say it, not everyone's a terrorist.”

Still, Charlotte should look for “really bright guys” from other countries who can enrich its business climate.

In addition, its companies should work to establish an international presence, and local leaders should partner with leaders from other countries.

According to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, there were more than 480 foreign-owned companies in Mecklenburg County last year, up from 380 in 2000.

The U.K. had about 70 firms with operations in Mecklenburg last year, the second-most behind Germany. Some companies with a U.K. presence were represented at the luncheon Monday, including PricewaterhouseCoopers and UK Trade & Investment.

Charlotte should also take a look at the things working to its advantage, such as its quality of life and accessible airport – and the things that might be working against it, such as its infrastructure and tax rates, Lewis said.

London just set up two committees to assess the city's competitiveness in the global market. Charlotte might want to do the same, he said.

Charlotte should aspire to be more than just a banking center, Lewis said. According to the N.C. Department of Commerce, just about 10 percent of Mecklenburg's workers were employed in finance and insurance last year.

Lewis, a tall figure with steel-gray hair and a crisp suit, spoke quickly Monday, drawing a long round of applause. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who introduced Lewis, said he was impressed with the “dynamic things” going on in London, particularly with its transportation system. He jokingly asked the crowd to begin referring to him as the “lord mayor” of Charlotte.

After the talk, local leaders said they agreed with Lewis' remarks.

“I thought he was right on target,” said Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte chamber. “It's important for us to succeed, and to succeed, we have to be growing and ambitious. London is considered one of the world's financial centers, and we aspire to that same level.”

Charlotte has taken the right steps in recent years, but it's not quite there yet, said Michael Teden, British honorary consul to the state of North Carolina, who has lived in Charlotte nearly 30 years.

“Charlotte and this region have a lot of work to do,” he said. “That was the message, and it was a positive message.”

Specifically, the city needs to raise its international profile and begin thinking about itself in global terms, said Mike McGuire, Carolinas managing partner of Grant Thornton, which hosted the event Monday. “I think we're doing it,” he said, noting that people from other states and countries no longer confuse Charlotte with other Southern cities. “It just takes time.”

Some advice from a world-class city: It takes more than flashy skyscrapers to get there.

Charlotte still has work to do to achieve that status, a top London official told business and other local leaders Monday. Among other things, it needs to attract international workers, grow industries besides banking and partner with other countries.

“We've got to work together,” David Lewis told about 100 people during a luncheon at the Charlotte City Club, 30 floors above the uptown square. “It's a global market.”

Lewis is lord mayor of London, a one-year post elected by the city's workers. In a role separate from Mayor Boris Johnson, Lewis presides over London's governing bodies and acts as an ambassador for United Kingdom-based companies all over the world.

He was in Charlotte, a stop on his latest U.S. tour, to discuss U.K. economic connections and promote U.K.-based financial services.

While Charlotte is the second-largest banking center in the U.S., it didn't make MasterCard's recent list of the world's 75 top financial centers, Lewis said.

“That, to me as an outsider, seems a little off,” he said.

Charlotte can learn from London, which topped the list. Lewis said his city's success is largely a result of international influence, pointing out that there are 300 languages represented there and 700 foreign companies on the London Stock Exchange.

Many of the city's workers don't have British passports, he said.

Tough U.S. immigration policies make such a mix more difficult in Charlotte, Lewis said.

“It's not so easy to come and work in the U.S.,” he said. “Dare I say it, not everyone's a terrorist.”

Still, Charlotte should look for “really bright guys” from other countries who can enrich its business climate.

In addition, its companies should work to establish an international presence, and local leaders should partner with leaders from other countries.

According to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, there were more than 480 foreign-owned companies in Mecklenburg County last year, up from 380 in 2000.

The U.K. had about 70 firms with operations in Mecklenburg last year, the second-most behind Germany. Some companies with a U.K. presence were represented at the luncheon Monday, including PricewaterhouseCoopers and UK Trade & Investment.

Charlotte should also take a look at the things working to its advantage, such as its quality of life and accessible airport – and the things that might be working against it, such as its infrastructure and tax rates, Lewis said.

London just set up two committees to assess the city's competitiveness in the global market. Charlotte might want to do the same, he said.

Charlotte should aspire to be more than just a banking center, Lewis said. According to the N.C. Department of Commerce, just about 10 percent of Mecklenburg's workers were employed in finance and insurance last year.

Lewis, a tall figure with steel-gray hair and a crisp suit, spoke quickly Monday, drawing a long round of applause. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who introduced Lewis, said he was impressed with the “dynamic things” going on in London, particularly with its transportation system. He jokingly asked the crowd to begin referring to him as the “lord mayor” of Charlotte.

After the talk, local leaders said they agreed with Lewis' remarks.

“I thought he was right on target,” said Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte chamber. “It's important for us to succeed, and to succeed, we have to be growing and ambitious. London is considered one of the world's financial centers, and we aspire to that same level.”

Charlotte has taken the right steps in recent years, but it's not quite there yet, said Michael Teden, British honorary consul to the state of North Carolina, who has lived in Charlotte nearly 30 years.

“Charlotte and this region have a lot of work to do,” he said. “That was the message, and it was a positive message.”

Specifically, the city needs to raise its international profile and begin thinking about itself in global terms, said Mike McGuire, Carolinas managing partner of Grant Thornton, which hosted the event Monday. “I think we're doing it,” he said, noting that people from other states and countries no longer confuse Charlotte with other Southern cities. “It just takes time.”

  Comments