Banks. Who Needs ‘Em?
If the harbingers of doom have their way, the current fiasco that is the financial services industry will result in us losing one if not both of our major bank headquarters. This, the universal sentiment has it, would be very, very bad for Charlotte.
And in the short term, yes it would. Lots of people would lose jobs, the housing market would suffer, uptown condo towers would sit half full, and it would be seriously easy to get reservations at center city restaurants. There would be anguished hand wringing at scores of local nonprofits. This you know.
But I, for one, am tired of living in "the nation's second-largest banking center." It's not exactly a moniker that quickens the pulse. First of all, it's banking. Say banking to most people outside Charlotte, and they have hazy recollections of little buildings that they used to go into to deposit or withdraw money before God invented ATMs. With banking, there's not much there, there. And there's this: when explaining his mind-set upon entering a tournament, Tiger Woods once told Curtis Strange, "Second sucks, and third's worse." (Strange smirked and answered, "You'll learn." He still hasn't.)
Who wants to go around bragging at being second at something? I don't. And fact is, we're not going to overtake New York. Of course, we are first at NASCAR, but I can't quite bring myself to go around bragging about that either. There were rumors once that we were first in SPAM consumption, but those turned out to be false (Hawaii kicks our butt, apparently).
So I say if it's just banking and we're just second, the heck with it. Get out of town, BofA and Wachovia. Take your starched button downs and shiny wing tips with you. (Fifth Third, you can stay. I like that name. It's cheeky.) Heck, if Kannapolis -- Kannapolis! -- can lose a mill that was already long past its glory days and end up with a major biotech center, then Charlotte can recover from losing a Wachovia headquarters. And with no peer pressure keeping it here, maybe BofA follows in a few years. So what? Charlotte will still be Charlotte. We'll still have the trees, the weather, the people, the crazy streets, the sweet tea. The beach will still be three hours away, the mountains ninety minutes. After a short dip, our restaurants and culture offerings will keep getting better -- I promise.
Still, we did dodge a bit of a bullet. Last issue, we wrote about the amazing variety of new development coming to the southern end of downtown -- office and condo towers, museums, a theater, a ballpark, a hall of fame. At this point, all of that looks to be on track. Most of that is driven by Wachovia. If the troubles of 2008 were instead the troubles of, say, 2005, none of that happens. So at the very least, Wachovia may have left us with a nice parting gift.
Our real challenge will be finding something at which we can be first. Here, I am admittedly stumped. Former Ohioans?
Ex-Buffalonians? Apt, perhaps, but not quite what we need. City with streets named Queens? Too long. Churches? Meh.
Well, damn. Maybe we ought to keep those banks after all. At least until we come up with something better.
Coming next month: Ideas and Innovations in our Schools, the Ultimate Pet Guide, and more