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Searching For Charlotte

The Q.C. may be booming, but when it comes to an identity, some say our fair city is drawing a blank.



Describe Charlotte in one word. OK, how about one sentence?

Bet you can't. And that's probably because Charlotte -- including the city's citizens, elected officials, business types and more -- has no idea who or what it is.

Hell, Charlotte doesn't even have a unique nickname: Cincinnati is the Queen City, too. Chicago is the Windy City, Los Angeles is La-La Land and New Orleans is the Big Easy, even if it is a little windblown and water logged after Hurricane Katrina. And Charlotte, well ... crickets are chirping.

But screw a nickname -- what about an identity?

You ever notice that whenever it's time to build something new or rearrange Uptown (again), a delegation of politicians head to some other city to get a blueprint? In hip-hop, that's called being a biter.

Even when you log on to and look at the list of 101 things to do in Charlotte, 98 of them are outside of the Queen City. OK, that's a bit of a stretch, but a number of the activities are outside of the city limits, which makes you wonder: Just what does Charlotte have to offer?

If you listen to people who have just moved here, the city is boring. And if you can find a native Charlottean, then maybe you should play the lottery because that's sheer dumb luck.

So the question is: How do you define Charlotte?

What Charlotte Used to Be

Charlotte native, lawyer and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Parks Helms has seen Charlotte go from mill town to banking center. Unlike other cities that lose an industry, Charlotte evolved and changed.

Helms: "I think every city has a character that more or less defines its image across the region and across the state and across the nation. Charlotte is a city that has worked very hard to create a good reputation as a good place to live and work and make your home."

Charlotte stands out to industry and businesses looking to relocate as well. Helms says that similar cities that compete with Charlotte don't have what this area has.

Helms: "When I compare Charlotte with other comparable cities and comparable populations, I think Charlotte, and I know I'm somewhat biased here, and this region stands out as perhaps the best mid-sized city in the United States to live and work. But I think about places like Tampa, Florida and Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee, that are usually our competitors when it comes to new businesses and industry seeking to relocate. And a lot of this, I think, is because when you have a tradition, historically of the public sector and the private sector working together, it creates an environment that is attractive to creative young people. While at the same time, being a community that is sensitive to our senior population." And according to Helms, that's something that isn't always easy to do.

Helms: "We have been very successful in creating that kind of environment. I remember in the '50s and the '60s we were a manufacturing community. We became a distribution center and all of the related transportation needs that go with that kind of a city. Gradually, over the years, the textile industry went off shore and overseas and the mills closed. We had an evolution in the economic backbone of this community. A part of that role has been filled by the banks and financial services community. The leadership of the banks has been involved particularly in the last two decades in partnership with local government, actually redefining the image of this community."

Charlotte is recognized nationally as a banking center. According to a New York Times report, the Queen City bumped La-La Land and is now the third largest banking center. Good for business, but what about people?

And how much does the fact that Charlotte is a big banking town factor into people's reasons for moving here?

Moving Here

Charlotte Bobcats grassroots marketing coordinator, Jessica Davis came to Charlotte for the education.

She attended Johnson C. Smith University in the shadow of Uptown and decided to make the best of the professional opportunities that the city offered her after graduation. "I went to high school in Atlanta, and Charlotte, when I first got here, was very dead," says Davis. "As I started to learn about Charlotte, [the city] really put me in mindframe of Atlanta before the 1996 Olympics. It was big, yet it wasn't too big. People didn't mind stopping you and asking 'where do you go to church?' Charlotte still had that down-home feel, and that's what made me stay after graduating in 2002."

Though Charlotte offers her professional opportunities, the 27-year-old said when it comes to herpersonal life, things are much different.

Davis: "On the personal level, I definitely think that Charlotte has a lot of work to do. The nightlife and the social scene in Charlotte is a lot better than what it was when I got here. But it's still not at that city caliber that I'm looking for. Charlotte has some catching up to do as far as the nightlife and the social scene. I think the nightlife scene and the social scene is coming along more slowly than some of these high rises that are going up."

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