City and county leaders sought to reassure the business community Tuesday that last week’s arrest of former Mayor Patrick Cannon won’t hurt Charlotte’s efforts to attract and grow industry.
City Manager Ron Carlee offered those assurances as he and Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio joined Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan in unveiling new survey results on the city’s business climate.
Carlee addressed what he called “the elephant in the room” – Cannon’s March 26 arrest in an FBI sting. The FBI case centers on allegations that Cannon took thousands of dollars from undercover agents posing as real estate developers willing to pay politicians to get their projects approved.
Carlee said the city’s form of government, which invests relatively little power in the mayor’s office, minimizes the impact of political corruption and shields city staff from undue political influence.
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He said the city’s pro-business, clean-government reputation will remain after the negative headlines fade.
“The Chamber of Commerce and the businesses that are in the city today know this is not a pay-to-play city,” Carlee said. “I don’t think any business should have any second thought about coming to the city of Charlotte.”
Morgan, making his first public comments on the Cannon case, noted that the chamber’s economic developers are traveling to Europe and Asia to tout the city.
“They will talk about the very high level of integrity and clean government in Charlotte,” he said. “They will talk about how the events of last week were quite the aberration to the way of doing business in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.”
He added that public relations spokespersons for the chamber, the city, the county, Charlotte Center City Partners, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and the Charlotte Regional Partnership met last week to talk about safeguarding the city’s image in light of the Cannon case.
Mark Beattie, a Charlotte-based principal with Hickey & Associates, a corporate relocation and site selection consulting firm, said any company considering relocating to Charlotte will be curious about the Cannon situation, but that likely won’t be key to their decision.
He said companies base their moves on more concrete factors such as the quality of the workforce, demographic trends and the quality of life – all indicators where Charlotte looks relatively strong, he said.
The arrest “doesn’t help, obviously,” Beattie said. “But it’s just one factor, and it’s not the ultimate factor.”
Morgan, Carlee and Diorio gathered to unveil the results of the chamber’s sixth annual BusinessFirst survey studying how companies feel about the local business climate.
Sixty volunteers joined chamber and city of Charlotte staff in surveying 300 companies over the course of 2013. Among the findings:
• More than a third of companies responding said they plan to expand operations locally within the next year, adding more than 1,700 jobs. Only one company said it expected to downsize this year.
• Sixty-eight percent said they find Charlotte’s business climate positive.
• Fifty-four percent of the companies said they are satisfied or very satisfied with the cost of doing business in Charlotte.
• More than 93 percent said they expect to increase their sales during the coming year.
Morgan noted that last year was the city’s second-best year for job growth in recent memory.
He mentioned insurance giant MetLife’s move to Ballantyne, bringing more than 1,300 jobs, as well as Swedish appliance maker Electrolux’s decision to roughly double its staff in University Research Park by adding more than 800 workers.
“We had a lot of (construction) cranes before the recession,” Morgan said. “They went away for a while, but the cranes are back.”