Watch out Atlanta and Georgia — we can see Charlotte and North Carolina coming up fast in our rearview mirror

By Guest Columnist JANICE L. MATHIS, vice president of legal affairs for the Rainbow Push Coalition in Atlanta

I confess to bias toward North Carolina. My mom went to North Carolina Agriculture & Technical University (A & T) at a time when higher education opportunities for African American women were miniscule.

My dad helped send Jesse Jackson to A & T. Watching ACC basketball was not a small factor in choosing Duke University. Research Triangle Park, former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford, summers during high school at Bennett College all leave me favorably predisposed toward North Carolina.

But early on I also heard the siren song of Atlanta.  Daddy went to graduate school at Atlanta University.  We rode the train from Greenville to visit him. We stayed and ate at Paschal’s Motor Hotel and Restaurant. It was magical.

Janice Mathis

Janice Mathis

Greenville is half-way between Atlanta and Charlotte, just about the way my heart is torn between the two cities. It is not surprising that I agree with those who tout Charlotte’s rise as a national political power.

I joke with my elected official friends in Atlanta. “How can you scare a Georgia politician? Mention Charlotte.”

All humor is based on a whacked out version of the truth. North Carolina has embraced its HBCU’s (historically black colleges and universities). Nobody talks about consolidating A & T or Johnson C. Smith or North Carolina Central.  North Carolina built the Research Triangle Park, linking and leveraging the power of North Carolina State, Duke and Chapel Hill.

North Carolina has terrible roads and great schools.

Georgia has great roads and terrible schools.

North Carolina has dedicated funding for mass transit. Last July, Georgians defeated the T-SPLOST — the regional transportation sales tax, delaying or perhaps killing realistic options for saner transportation across metro Atlanta.

Now Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is the nominee to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation for President Barack Obama. The president also has tapped U.S. Rep. Mel Watt (D-North Carolina) to be his nominee as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

North Carolina is gaining clout and recognition because its voters reject knee-jerk reactions in favor of common sense bi-partisan solutions.

Watching the Opera Carolina perform in Charlotte before a very diverse audience, it is easy to see why the Queen City is becoming a political and economic power center in North Carolina and the Southeast. Borrowing a phrase from Atlanta’s past, Charlotte seems too busy to hate.

To move forward, perhaps Atlanta must look in its rear view mirror.

A few weeks ago, as civic leader Ingrid Saunders Jones gave the first of several swan songs of her storied career at the Coca-Cola Company, she advised a stellar crowd to be intentional about preserving what is exceptional about Atlanta.

I couldn’t agree more.

9 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Excellent column Ms. Mathis, you make some excellent points.
    North Carolina is a great state that has been blessed with many great assets and Charlotte is clearly by any measure a city on the rise over the long-term, though one must keep in mind that through the economic downturn the Charlotte metro area has had a higher unemployment rate that has and continues to outpace the unemployment rate in the Atlanta metro area by up to as much as a full percentage point or more at times.
    The statistic that Charlotte continues to have an unemploment rate that is substantially higher than Atlanta during this painfully slow economic recovery is no excuse for the State of Georgia not making the proper investments in its transportation infrastructure as the State of North Carolina seems to be doing, but it is a statistic that is pertinent to this subject and definitely worth mentioning.
    I would also have to disagree with your assessment that it was Georgians’ defeat of the convoluted T-SPLOST referendum that “delayed or killed saner transportation options” across Metro Atlanta.
    “Saner transportation options” had long been “delayed and killed” across the Atlanta region by a Georgia state government that has long refused to provide even the slightest lick of leadership on the transportation issue in the roughly 30-county Greater Atlanta region.
    The T-SPLOST debacle was just a childish political game that the Georgia state government played as part of a gallingly miserable attempt to assign blame elsewhere for their own leadership and governing failures.
    It’s not the fault of the voters that Georgia’s transportation issues are not being handled and addressed properly, it’s the fault of the government of the great state of Georgia.Report

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  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    It is also worth noting that despite the high rate of population growth in the Charlotte area over the last several years, Charlotte has facing internal pressures inside the state of North Carolina from the Raleigh-Durham area, most particularly from Raleigh and Wake County (the county of which Raleigh is the seat of government).  
    Because it is home to much of fast-growing Research Triangle Park (an increasingly very critically-important industrial, business and research complex that has been dubbed “the Silicon Valley of the Southeast”) and very fast-growing mega-suburb Cary; Raleigh’s home county of Wake County has been gaining in population on Charlotte’s home county of Mecklenburg in recent years. 
    Because of that very fast growth, Raleigh’s home county of Wake (952,151) only has about 17,000 fewer people than Charlotte’s home county of Mecklenburg (969,031).
    Also, because of the area having an economy that is substantially more diversified than Charlotte’s banking and finance-focused economy, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill-Cary metro region (also known as the Research Triangle or just simply “The Triangle”) has been increasingly driving the economic and population growth in the fast-growing state of North Carolina.
    Because Raleigh-Durham is home to three major research institutions in NC State and the Ivy League-caliber universities of UNC Chapel Hill and Duke and has an economy that is well diversified with education, medicine, banking and finance, and research and development, the Charlotte metro region is in increasing danger of being passed by a Raleigh-Durham metro region (just under 2 million people) that now has only just under 300,000 fewer people than the less economically-diverse Charlotte region (just under 2.3 million people).Report

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  3. atler8 says:

    Indeed your bias is showing here but you readily admitted that right off of  the bat.
    I’ve been paying attention to the silly & lamentable fiddling going on up in Raleigh by the joke of a legislature that the citizens  of that state elected last fall.
    I’ve long felt that the Georgia legislature was idiotic & harmful to the long-term health of metro Atlanta & it’s citizens but now I know that it as a legislature is not alone in that measure .
    I wouldn’t be too certain that North Carolina or Charlotte are sitting in the cat bird seat just yet because of that important factor.
    By the way, I used to regularly visit friends in Charlotte in the 1980’s & they & their friends would all gang up on me given that I was the visitor from Atlanta, the bigger city down the road that they all longed to surpass in any or all measures.   They were pretty much saying the same things 30 years ago that you are saying here now but in the interim the state of Georgia has grown faster & displaced North Carolina in population rank & Charlotte’s over-reliance on the banking sector has come back to haunt it../
    atler8Report

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  4. DanielBryant says:

    i don’t think we should fight… we are sister cities! we ought to work together to get things done that affect our region such as an atlanta-charlotte high speed rail line, attracting businesses and residents, and sharing ideas between leaders. charlotte is a lot smaller than atlanta, but it is also a lot older and is headquarters for a ton of banks… we both have our advantages. we have a lot in common and a lot to gain by cooperation rather than one-up-manship. we’re the core of the southern part of the east coast.Report

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