When I visited Charlotte in November, I knew it had a decade of momentum. The "Queen City" grew 60 percent over the last decade. But I was more concerned with the why behind that growth beyond the obvious warmth and cost of living. What has been pulling entrepreneurs, especially from the Northeast to Charlotte?
It starts with banking. It's the second largest financial hub in the country, once again being ranked ahead of San Francisco and only behind New York. Bank of America's headquarters are here and every financial institution also has a presence. This is how the area consistently attracts top talent. And that talent stays more and more as the city grows.
It's now the 17th largest city in America with the Hornets (NBA) and Panthers (NFL) located in the heart of downtown and plenty of fun and interesting neighborhoods within a quick Uber away. It will also be home to the NBA All-Star Game in a couple weeks and the Republican National Convention in 2020. Planning for that was already well under way when I was there.
A lot of eyeballs will be on Charlotte over the next two years as this city, once thought of as an up-and-comer, has arrived and looks to cement itself as the San Francisco of the South. It has an amazing light rail system that can take you in and out of downtown in minutes.
But it's greatest appeal may be the successful startups it has catapulted in the last five years.
Unicorns are driving the entrepreneurial attraction to Charlotte.
One of the fastest growing analytics companies in the country, Tresata, is now valued over $1 billion and is transforming the South End, where that light rail system now runs through.
"Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of our country and we believe we can build one of the most dynamic entrepreneurship ecosystems in Charlotte," said Tresata CEO, Abhishek Mehta. "As a company using data to automate the solution for many a complex challenge facing humanity-fraud, good health, smart cities-we want to work with the Charlotte business community to help establish Charlotte as the data analytics capital of the world."
This ambition to plant a flag in Charlotte is interesting and plausible. You have some of the nation's best talent here or willing to come here.
Michael Praeger, CEO and Co-Founder of fintech giant AvidXchange also believes the most valuable asset in Charlotte is talent. He built a brand new campus in the Music Factory neighborhood where employees of this $1.2 billion company can now step out and immediately go to events, concerts and nightlife. When I was in his office with a sunset view of the Charlotte skyline, I immediately got the appeal.
"People want opportunity, but they also want a sense of community, and our campus provides that. It also helps the city retain top talent by providing more options where creative, highly skilled individuals can find work that makes them feel valued and supported by our community," said Praeger.
Charlotte is preparing for the challenges of growth
It's being proven with Tresata, AvidXcahnge, DealCloud and others in Charlotte that you can build a massively successful startup in Charlotte. I think people's first image of Charlotte is a place with a lot of transplants and corporate jobs. But over time it has now become a place of massive opportunity for entrepreneurs, candidly one of my favorite places as I travel the country looking for entrepreneurial hotspots.
But with success and growth comes the challenge of both keeping costs and traffic manageable. There are a lot of cities in the United States with talent that are great for entrepreneurs to grow something. As an entrepreneur looking to relocate its important to know the growth trajectory of a city where you may plan to grow something.
I talked to Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and Tracy Dodson, who left the private sector to come work on Charlotte's economic development. They both have seen the challenges other growth cities have had and addressed them head on with me as they look to make Charlotte just as desirable in 2030.
Michael Smith, President and CEO Charlotte Center City Partners, detailed where their focus will be.
"The work of great cities is to create the context for tomorrow's vibrancy through visioning, public infrastructure and private investments that support a collective vision. This decade will be our most prolific in the city's history for Center City office, residential and hotel construction," said Smith. "This development velocity did not happen by chance. Charlotte has maintained four decades of long-term planning and deliberate investment in our central business district. We are excited about Charlotte's future as we continue to attract and retain the global businesses and human capital necessary for the city's vitality."