TOPICS > Economy

Charlotte Looks to Remake Banking Economy

August 6, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As a part of NewsHour Connect, which showcases some of the best public broadcasting reporting from around the country, Rob Holliday of UNC-TV brings some good news on the jobs front in North Carolina.

RAY SUAREZ: Tonight, good news on the jobs front in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County.

Our report comes from Rob Holliday of UNC-TV

ROB HOLLIDAY: Dozens of banking towers still dominate Charlotte’s skyline but these days, much of the action is shifting away from the sky scrapers into this far less glamorous operation taking place outside of uptown Charlotte.

The Siemens Corporation is laying the groundwork here for a major manufacturing facility and hundreds of new jobs.

MAYOR ANTHONY FOXX: Siemens, by itself was an 825 employee expansion. They have about 500,000 square feet of office space and industrial space in the southwest part of Charlotte. They’re going to double that.

ROB HOLLIDAY: In the past few months the city that has seen thousands of job losses in finance and manufacturing this recession, has been on a hot streak.

ANTHONY FOXX: Just about 4,000 jobs. It’s been huge.

ROB HOLLIDAY: About half of those new job announcements have come from energy companies like Siemens.

In a glistening tower that was set to be Wachovia’s new headquarters before the financial crisis, Duke Energy is helping build a foundation for Charlotte that goes beyond banking as one of America’s energy capitals.

DAVID DUNN, UNC Charlotte: You know, the last five to seven years there’s been a significant in migration of power service companies that have come to Charlotte principally around Duke Energy.

ROB HOLLIDAY: With 7,000 workers, Duke has long been one of the Queen City’s larger employers but its reach has been growing, thanks, in part, to the nation’s aging electrical infrastructure.

LISA LEE MORGAN, Calor Energy Consultants: We have to completely remake the entire electrical power grid. Every mile of transmission line has to be replaced in the ext 50 years. Every power plant has to be replaced in the next 50 years.

ROB HOLLIDAY: Duke has two new nuclear facilities planned. A good reason for suppliers like Siemens, which makes turbines, to have large operations in Charlotte.

ANTHONY FOXX: In this region, we have more nuclear know how than anyplace in the entire world.

ROB HOLLIDAY: As banking and finance has struggled this recession, Charlotte leaders have been stepping up their recruitment of energy companies. The region’s economic developers say the energy sector has added about a thousand jobs each year since 2007.

DAVID DUNN: When the economy is — is stagnant or receding and you can find one real robust growth sector, boy, it really stands out and really helps to save the day when it — when it comes to jobs and growth.

ROB HOLLIDAY: All together, about 200 energy companies are doing business in the Charlotte region. They employ more than 22,000 people and not just in traditional energy. Alongside the major manufacturers are startup companies like Sencera. Now, the company makes solar panels with a staff of only 15 but hopes to expand to 70 in the next couple of years.

RUSTY JEWETT, CEO Sencera: We looked around the country in the late ’90s for a spot where we thought we could manufacture competitively while still having access to a — a good technically astute employment base. And Charlotte was one of the first places we looked at. And we like it.

ROB HOLLIDAY: The Charlotte region is also home to companies that make fiberglass for wind turbines and even a small start-up that’s working on a generator that runs on biomass, things like wood and paper waste.

While many of the alternative energy outfits in Charlotte are small operations, at least one of them is growing rapidly, and attracting a high-profile visitor.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is good to be back in North Carolina.

ROB HOLLIDAY: President Barack Obama flew to Charlotte in April to tour Celgard. The company makes components for hybrid car batteries among other things, and plans to create about 300 jobs. Charlotte leaders acknowledge that competition in the energy economy will be fierce, but they say the foundation that’s already been put in place will be a major advantage.

DAVID DUNN: I think this is a permanent, sustainable employment and corporate effort. It takes a significant amount of engineers to design these power production facilities. Then it takes a significant amount to construct them.

ANTHONY FOXX: It is going to carry our economy long into the future and probably long past my lifetime. I believe that it’s that significant.