Charlotte Sees Beyond Bank Of America’s Troubles

Charlotte, N.C. is perhaps best known as home of Bank of America, the country’s largest financial institution. So now, with Bank of America struggling to revive its stock price, cutting tens of thousands of jobs and widely criticized for charging customers a $5 monthly fee to use their debit cards, what’s the mood in Charlotte?

Charlotte, also home to Wachovia headquarters, has long been one of the fastest growing regions in the country. But in 2009, Wachovia collapsed into the arms of Wells Fargo and Bank of America teetered. The banks bled some 3,000 jobs during the height of the crisis, dealing a blow to the city’s economy and ego.

For Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, however, banks aren’t the only job engines.

“The economy is a lot more diverse than we’ve given it credit for. You would think that for all the talk we do about financial services here — and being the second largest financial services center in the country — fewer than 12 percent of our workforce is tied to the financial services sector,” Foxx says.

Other big sectors for Charlotte include energy, healthcare and transportation. Energy is rising to such prominence that it’s even changed the downtown skyline long dominated by banks, where Duke Energy recently opened the company’s new headquarters. The building is the largest downtown, and, through a merger, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers soon hopes to make it the largest utility in the country. Rogers boasts that Charlotte is becoming a national hub for the energy sector. And several big engineering firms have recently expanded in Charlotte to be near Duke Energy, but Rogers admits that the city has “a long way to be as important as banking.”

Along Charlotte’s main downtown drag, energy workers now compete with bankers for a sunny spot to eat lunch. Iris Jones used to work for Bank of America. She’s with Duke Energy now and says there’s a gloomy vibe around town.

“By this time, people were thinking the economy was definitely gonna pick up. I think it’s just not progressing as fast as people want it to,” Jones says.

Nearly one in 10 Charlotte residents is out of work, but people are still moving here. They’re drawn by the city’s mild weather or by the outdated perception that Charlotte’s still booming. Steve Berhannan just came from Phoenix to take a temp job with Bank of America. He was en route as the bank announced it would cut 30,000 jobs nationwide. Berhannan’s contract goes through December. After that, he’s not sure, but he says he’s got no plans to leave Charlotte.

“It’s pretty tough [in] a lot of places right now, especially in the metropolitan areas, so, [I] just gotta keep banging away at it,” Berhannan says.

“Charlotte’s Got A Lot” is the tourism mantra of city leaders. They’re intent on making a good show when the Democratic National Convention comes to town next year. It’ll bring the brightest media glare the city has ever known.

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