Business Alliance CEO: “New organization, new day”

By Susan Shackleford

Janet LaBar, president and CEO of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, stopped by the Association’s new headquarters recently to share the Alliance’s view of economic development, including diversity and inclusion.

LaBar, who came to Charlotte in late April from a similar economic development organization in Portland, Ore., is the first CEO of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, which was formed recently through the merger of the Charlotte Chamber and the Charlotte Regional Partnership.

“We felt like we would be better as one — to promote the region and to grow, develop and attract talent,” LaBar said of the merger. She was hired after a four-month national search.

“I believe talent is going to be the differentiator,” LaBar said of which regions grow and prosper. “It’s not like when I went to school and graduates moved where the jobs were. Today talent is picking first where they want to be and are hoping opportunity is there. It is incumbent on our community to attract talent and to ensure our homegrown workforce has the skills to participate in a vibrant economy.”

Part of attracting talent is increasing the annual number of graduates at regional colleges, a number that now stands at about 13,000. “We have to get this number up,” LaBar said. “We have 16 colleges and universities in our backyard. If we invest in them, that cranks up our investment in the community.”

Invited by the Association’s Diversity Council, LaBar spoke to more than 100 Association members and guests. She stressed the proactive stance of the alliance.

“We want to be less about being member reactive — let’s get in front of it,” she said. “We want to create a pro-business environment and apply the equity lens to what we do, and to work with Raleigh (the state legislature). It’s a new organization and a new day.”

Alliance leaders who hired LaBar are among the Charlotte contingent that has been working on the city’s upward mobility issue, she said. A 2014 Harvard study showed Charlotte ranked 50th out of the nation’s 50 largest cities for economic mobility for low-income people. “The leadership will not take, and will not stand for that,” LaBar said.

And neither will she.

The Alliance and her leadership place a high priority on education, job creation and diversity. Specifically, the Alliance’s Talent and Workforce Development effort “is targeted to building out social capital for people who can’t do it on their own,” she said, noting the need to help people gain the contacts and relationships they need to succeed.

“We have more work to do in this area, including partnerships with more organizations,” LaBar said.

The alliance represents 11 counties in North Carolina and four in South Carolina, with a total population of about 2.9 million people.

LaBar shared the following information about the region’s brisk growth:

  • “We are the center of the entire east coast market,” she noted. From the Charlotte region, you can reach 53% of the country’s population in two hours by air and 24 hours by truck, according to an Alliance analysis of U.S. Census and other data.
  • Growth in the region is outpacing growth nationally, 9% to 4%, based on census data from 2013 to 2018.
  • 2014 was an inflection point in terms of where regional newcomers choose to live. Based on the Alliance’s analysis of census information, most newcomers since 2014 have elected to live outside Mecklenburg County.
  • The fastest-growing age group since 2007 has been millennials born between 1983 and 1987. The group has grown by 42,974 individuals, and they are now 32 to 36 years old. These figures are based on an Alliance analysis of census data.
  • The region is gaining 127 new people per day, based on net daily movers (97) and net daily births (30), according to census figures. “Net daily births” means births minus deaths.
  • Census data also shows most newcomers are arriving from the Northeast, especially from major cities in the Washington, D.C., to Boston corridor (9,100 per year, including 6,000 from New York City alone).  Additional New York locations of Albany, Rochester and Buffalo also account for about 500 people apiece annually. Other key relocation cities are Atlanta (1,000), Los Angeles (700) and Miami (600).
  • The international growth rate is also strong — nearly three times that of the overall population growth rate. The population in general has grown 42.2% since 2000, while the number of foreign-born people moving here has grown 118.1% during the same period, according to American Community Survey data. The top five counties of origin are: Mexico, India, El Salvador, Honduras and Vietnam.
  • Between 2010 and 2018, multiracial people have been the fastest-growing group by race, at an impressive 45%, according to an Alliance analysis of census data. Second has been Asian at almost 40% and third has been Hispanic/Latino at 25%. Meanwhile, the number of African-Americans has grown 14%, and Whites, 7%.
  • “Our airport is fantastic,” LaBar noted. “Our current expansion will truly make us first class.” She noted that Charlotte Douglas International Airport offers more than 700 flights to more than 150 destinations, including 34 international. “We are so lucky and fortunate American Airlines continues to make this a major hub,” she said.

LaBar noted that the five industry sectors the Charlotte region has recently emphasized for recruiting industry are exceeding national growth rates. The sectors are: advanced manufacturing, health, financial services, logistics/distribution and information technology.

“We will be evaluating these,” she said, noting that the financial services is still the primary industry in the region. “We want more a diversified portfolio so at the next recession we are not so dependent on one industry.”

After her speech, LaBar participated in a panel discussion with representatives from three sub-groups of the alliance: the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce (represented by Ann Gonzales, president), the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce (Dianna Ward, member) and the Latin American Chamber of Commerce (Rocio Gonzalez, executive director).