Saunders

Saunders: Charlotte ain't Jerusalem

Staff WriterJanuary 13, 2011 

Drats. Foiled again. Once again the Triangle has been left sucking villainous Charlotte's exhaust fumes.

Progress Energy sold out this week to Charlotte-based Duke Energy, further boosting Charlotte's image as a business mecca.

At the same time, the deal was a blow to Raleigh's efforts to be viewed as a world-class city.

Finding a city leader willing to admit that we just got pimp-slapped by Charlotte was impossible, though both Mayor Charles Meeker and David Diaz, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, cited, verbatim, "the loss of prestige" of not having Progress' corporate headquarters here.

"For downtown Raleigh, in particular, it's going to be important, since Progress Energy has been so instrumental in its revitalization," Diaz said. "I hope its corporate leadership stays as involved as in the past, and not just with donations but with concern about the center city."

"I'm from Philadelphia, not Raleigh," Diaz added, "so I don't have the Raleigh-Charlotte gene" that makes some residents of each city loathe the other. "I don't harbor any ill will toward Charlotte."

Darned if I don't. It's not as though Charlotte couldn'texist without raiding Raleigh of a blue-chip company. For those of us who grew up in little-bitty towns such as Rockingham, Charlotte was viewed as a major metropolis before it could legitimately lay claim to the title.

It was the first city many of us knew that had a 24-hour business. There were nights in the 1970s that we drove the 60 miles to see if the Krispy Kreme on Independence Boulevard really did stay open all night - and to stock up on several dozen of those glazed bad boys.

Charlotte is also the Cracker Capital of North Carolina, since Lance Inc. started making Nabs there in 1916. (If you don't know what a Nab is, just go into any gas station and ask for a pack - and a soda to wash the pack down.)

Harvey Schmitt, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, said the effect of the loss on the city "will be negligible, at least in the short term. Our ego is bruised, losing a Fortune 500 company, but I think that's more about pride."

Many Progress executives will remain in Raleigh, "as will most of the jobs in the short term," Meeker said. He added that we won't know for three to five years about the long-term effect on jobs.

I asked the mayor whether there were any Charlotte businesses Raleigh could pilfer - I suggested the Bobcats, so if we were caught, we'd only be convicted of petty larceny.

"No," he said, but business relocation works both ways. "I don't think Bank of America is going to be moving this way anytime soon, but there are companies in Charlotte that want to be in the state capital for regulatory reasons."

Fine. Let's go steal them.

Chris Fitzsimon of N.C. Watch told me a story once of a legislator who, fed up with Charlotte representatives' high-handed attitude toward the rest of the state, finally cried out in exasperation, "Charlotte ain't Mecca; Charlotte ain't Jerusalem."

Somebody should've told that to Progress Energy.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2016

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