Rob Christensen

Charlotte isn’t happy playing second banana to Raleigh

What does Raleigh’s competition for Amazon’s HQ2 look like?

Amazon narrows the field for the company’s second North American headquarters, and Raleigh is a finalist. Here are some pros and cons of each contender.
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Amazon narrows the field for the company’s second North American headquarters, and Raleigh is a finalist. Here are some pros and cons of each contender.

The oddsmakers say Raleigh is a long shot to land the much coveted second Amazon headquarters – the bookies of course being experts on corporate relocations.

Paddy Power has Raleigh at 20-1 odds with Boston, Austin and Atlanta the favorites. Sports Betting Dime has Raleigh at a 22-1 shot with Atlanta, Washington and Boston the favorites. Bovada also has Raleigh a long shot behind favorites Nashville, Washington and Atlanta.

But even if we don’t get the Amazon headquarters with its promise of up to 50,000 jobs – and who knows how many indirect economic benefits – we can clearly enjoy the discomfiture and the sense of bewilderment from our big sister, Charlotte.

Unlike Raleigh, Charlotte did not make the final cut of 20 finalists. And the city’s fathers are fit to be tied.

Charlotte has long viewed itself as sort of the Capital of the Carolinas, with Raleigh and Columbia being mere provincial outposts.

It’s by far the largest city in the Carolinas with 842,000 people, nearly twice as large as Raleigh. It has the tallest buildings. Its corporations gobble up the home-grown businesses of other cities like kudzu (Progress Energy in Raleigh and Wachovia in Winston-Salem). It is home to two of the three major-league professional franchises in the state – the Carolina Panthers of the NFL and the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA.

It does not deign to notice the Raleigh-based Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. When the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, a Charlotte Observer writer asked what the hubbub was about because Charlotteans didn’t really think of hockey as much of a sport.

Of course, the Triangle has its own NBA team. It’s attached to Duke University.

When Charlotte looks in the mirror and squints real hard it sees another Atlanta, long the unofficial capital of the South. It most certainly does not see Raleigh as rival-worthy.

Raleigh hosts state political conventions; Charlotte national conventions.

That is why Charlotte City Councilman Tariq Bokhari was “absolutely flabbergasted” that Charlotte didn’t make the Amazon list and, by implication, that Raleigh did.

“Clearly the concentration of their top research universities there makes a difference,” Bokhari said of the Triangle.

It should be noted that Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles graciously called for support for the Raleigh effort. Class tells.

The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer’s longtime competitor but now our sister paper within McClatchy, held its nose and grudgingly wished us well.

Its editorial, “We can’t believe we’re saying this about Raleigh and Amazon,” said:

“You know how when you’re the fan of a college sports team, and your biggest conference rival is in a bowl or tournament game, and you root for that rival because it’s good for the conference?

“Yeah, we don’t do that either.”

“But we hear it’s a good thing. So: Go Raleigh.”

Acknowledging the competitiveness between the two cities, The Observer acknowledged “we haven’t always looked kindly on each other.”

“Part of that is our sensitivity here to the Charlotte-hating coming from folks three hours away, the perpetual sneering at our bigness and corporateness. That might have occasionally resulted in snideness on our part, too, such as when this newspaper referred to Raleigh as a “pimply adolescent” and “a smaller town without small-town charms.”

(This reminds me of when I was the paper’s Washington correspondent and I telephoned a federal office and after introducing myself was greeted by a hearty guffaw from the receptionist. “You mean the Raleigh paper has a Washington correspondent?” I might as well have said I was the Washington correspondent of the Mayberry Gazette.)

There has always been much to admire about Charlotte – a city with a lot of get-up-and-go that has helped make modern North Carolina what it is today. It has often attracted smart, talented people from across the state.

But there has also been a little bit of insularity about Charlotte – where people think the world revolves around what has been called The Great State of Mecklenburg.

Whether the Raleigh area is ready for the growth on hormones that would come from a second Amazon headquarters is another question. The Triangle is becoming a poster child for urban/suburban sprawl. Highway construction has not kept pace with traffic and mass transit is totally inadequate.

But not to worry, because the bookies say it’s not likely to happen anyway. And if by some chance Amazon does locate its second headquarters in the Triangle, you can be certain that Charlotte will say: We didn’t want it anyway.

Rob Christensen: 919-829-4532, @oldpolhack

Book club

Quail Ridge Books’ Bridging the Divide Book Club meets for the first time this year on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. Rob Christensen will moderate a discussion on Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money.”

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