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February 2013
Setting Sights on the Future of Charlotte
By John Paul Galles

     Over the last 30 years, we have witnessed the population of the greater Charlotte region grow rapidly. In 1980, the city of Charlotte had about 315,000 residents. According to the 2010 census, the city grew to over 730,000. In 2012, the Charlotte Chamber pegged the population at approximately 772,000.

     The larger Charlotte region, known as the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill MSA, had a population of 1,830,400 in 2012. By 2042, it is projected that this region will grow to be over 3,000,000, a 64.7 percent increase.

     There is no doubt that the next 30 years will be much different from the last 30 years. Global economic competition will continue to cause money and jobs to move from country to country seeking lower costs and greater returns. To phrase it in some commonly used monikers, our U.S. economy has already transitioned from the Agricultural Age to the Manufacturing Age, and more recently to the Information Age.

     Looking forward, we have moved into the Conceptual Age where creativity, innovation and design skills build on the Information Age and steer us to advanced and automated manufacturing and technology.   Looking deeper into the future, we can expect that the Conceptual Age will develop into the Knowledge Age.

     How do we get ready for more change?  We set our sights on the future!

     The Knowledge Age is a new, advanced form of capitalism in which knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth, more important than land, labor, money or other tangible resources. New patterns of work and new business practices are developing, and, as a result, new kinds of workers with new and different skills are required.

     What is especially important to grasp is that the very meaning of “knowledge” is changing. Knowledge is no longer being thought of as ‘stuff’ that is developed (and stored) in the minds of experts, represented in books, and classified into disciplines. Instead, it is now thought of as almost a form of energy, as a system of networks and flows—something that does things, or makes things happen. Knowledge Age “knowledge” is defined—and valued—not for what it is, but for what it can do.

     Each new age has major implications for Charlotte, but more especially for our education systems at all levels. This new Knowledge Age is fueled by an educated and diverse population base. The latest census report identifies that 36 percent of Charlotte citizens have graduated from college. In Raleigh, that number climbs to nearly 45 percent. The concentration of higher numbers of graduates will support more jobs and wealth creation.  Expanding the percentage of graduates is one measurement tool to determine our progress. 

     Learning how Charlotte can aggressively compete in the global economy will provide the basis for economic progress for years to come. When New Orleans was rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, they chose to be service-focused. Other cities have chosen to target manufacturing, distribution or technology.  Charlotte has been known as a banking center with a focus on finance, but is also recognized for energy. Regardless, over the long term, it is imperative that educational advancements become a key component of any economic strategy for success in the Knowledge Age.

     Building a community consensus around knowledge-based objectives can be tough and challenging. Nevertheless, higher wages and greater wealth will be concentrated in knowledge-based communities. These communities targeting business growth and economic development will reap substantial rewards. They will be the centers for advancements and innovations. Thinking and adapting and innovating are essential to the future creation of wealth and jobs.

     Implementation of knowledge-based initiatives is a growing worldwide trend as countries plan to be more competitive and gain greater advantage in the global marketplace. The Science Ministry in Great Britain is fashioning government investments in higher education to support technologies closer to commercialization. The Chinese government is investing heavily in higher education to expand beyond low-skilled manufacturing.

     Charlotte will lose out and fall backwards if it does not focus on higher education as a primary community objective. We are fortunate to have the UNC system, Charlotte Research Institute, Duke, Queens, Winthrop, Wingate, Davidson, Wake Forest, Northeastern, Johnson C. Smith, Gardner-Webb, Johnson & Wales, and CPCC expanding their facilities, capacities and specialties in support of our region. Greater engagement with them will open many opportunities to benefit our children and their children with big payoffs for years to come.


John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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