Global Summit reveals strength, weakness in Charlotte economy


April 6. By Dave Vieser. A Brookings Institution study says Charlotte’s long-term growth will be stymied by not having a top research university. Unveiled at Central Piedmont Community College’s Global Summit, the study says Charlotte’s fast growth and global connectivity have helped, but we’re running behind in research and development as well as innovation-focused companies. The lack of a top research university based in our region could impact efforts to obtain patents in the years ahead.

The Brookings study was focused on measuring the region against like-size markets, and included the performance of the energy and technology companies based in Cabarrus and Lake Norman.

“From a global perspective, we have integrated our economy very nicely within global markets,” reported Joseph Parilla, the Brookings analyst who prepared the report for CPCC. “The share of GDP devoted to export is significant and the jobs generated by such exports tend to be good paying positions,” the report says

However, Parilla believes the region suffers from not having a top research university. “The patents, research and development which such a university would generate are going to prove vital in the years ahead as established businesses such as those in the financial services become increasingly dependent on technology.”

To prove his point, Parilla noted that Charlotte was virtually dead last in research and development conducted at universities, as a percentage of GDP, barely ahead of Kansas City.

Overall economic growth has been robust over the past decade, but on the metrics of inclusion, the greater Charlotte region has lagged, according to the report. Indeed, Charlotte ranked last in a study of upward mobility for the economically disadvantaged population.

The report says the greater Charlotte region is globally-oriented. Exports and foreign-direct investment account for a disproportionate share of the regional economy, led by tradable anchors like machinery, transportation equipment and financial services.

However, the region is at risk of losing ground to other cities:

  • Innovation: Build up low levels of research and development, technology commercialization and venture capital investment in the region
  • Talent: Help employers overcome challenges in filling job vacancies, especially occupations that require STEM skills
  • Infrastructure: Address lagging broadband speeds and disparities in broadband access by income.

Local reaction to the report was mixed. “The study allows us to focus on shortcomings on which we must, and have time to, improve upon,” said Bill Russell, president and CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber. “However, we already have two outstanding traditional four-year colleges, UNC-Charlotte and Davidson College, in the region, as well as a community college system which is competitive with any in the nation. The leadership and faculty of our institutions of higher learning, with strong community and business support, need to develop educational strategies and curriculum that allow our region to remain competitive and thrive in today’s global economy.”

Parilla admitted that the Charlotte region has actually done quite well without a top research school, or a major medical school. However, he outlined three specific areas where the Charlotte region needs to upgrade business performance:


One Response to “Global Summit reveals strength, weakness in Charlotte economy”

  1. How does the research campus in Kannapolis NC fit into this study? I realize it is not the triangle research park…I believe it is up and coming , and that along with Davidson College and UNCC should have some impact on the ability to tap into the research portion of this study performed. We have the financial portion of the equation and I believe the performance of the energy companies . We should focus on the need for more technology companies and research companies to relocate to the Charlotte area.

    Posted by Suzi Wolford | April 6, 2016, 5:22 pm

Post a Comment