|In March 2000, after a nine-month process to clarify the image of the Charlotte region, its brand promise of balance — balance of business strength, accessibility and quality of life — was unveiled under the banner of Charlotte USA.
This balance has helped people locally, regionally, nationally and internationally recognize that the 16 counties that make up the Charlotte region are a superior place to live, work and visit.
Today eight Fortune 500 companies call the Charlotte region home. If we are to continue to enjoy similar benefits of balance, we must attract more businesses to Charlotte USA. And to stay competitive, we must stay informed both about ourselves and about our counterparts in other regions. Especially now.
The past year has been difficult for many regions. The technology industry has slowed, manufacturing has seen its worst slump since the Depression, the September 11 terrorist attacks have had and will continue to have long reaching economic effects, and consumer confidence has been negatively impacted by the recent collapse of energy giant Enron.
Because of these factors, fewer companies are considering relocation and regional competition to attract relocating businesses has increased exponentially. Now, more than ever, we must make sure that we understand and leverage our successes and identify and overcome our weaknesses.
With this in mind, the Charlotte Regional Partnership commissioned a study of awareness and perceptions of Charlotte USA. Conducted by RoperASW, a global market research firm, the study had three main goals: to measure where the Charlotte region stands as a business relocation site; to provide data-based guidance for communication strategies and tactics; and to compare current data against Yankolovich & Partners’ 1999 benchmark study of the Charlotte region versus other competitive regions in the Southeast.
The study talked to three groups of people: executives of companies located inside the Charlotte region (internal companies), heads of companies located outside the Charlotte region (external companies) and site selection consultants. In the study, RoperASW compared the Charlotte region with four competitive regions: Nashville, Raleigh, Tampa and Atlanta.
The study showed that overall impressions of the Charlotte region are more favorable than any of the other regions studied. The percentage of external companies that view us favorably increased from 45% in 1999 to 55% in 2002. External company executives credit the Charlotte region with having an available labor force, a good quality of life, good weather and a good location. Internal companies say that the region’s strengths include its status as a financial center, its full-service airport, its healthy business environment and its attractive quality of life.
External companies also exhibited strong growth in awareness of some of the region’s strengths, including very high quality of life, which increased from 61% to 67%; a very pro-business climate, which increased from 55% to 63%, and a wide range of recreation activities, which increased from 49% to 55%.
The Roper study also provided feedback to the regions’ perceived weaknesses. Although all regions experienced setbacks, Charlotte USA fared well, experiencing the fewest of any of the surveyed regions.
External companies noted few weaknesses within the Charlotte region, but naturally internal companies’ expectations of the region were higher. Internally, the most frequently mentioned weaknesses included public education, transportation, the effectiveness of local government, and traffic congestion. These are items that must be addressed if we’re to carry through on our brand promise of balance.
Internal responses showed declines from 1999 to 2002 on several measures. The biggest decreases were among the following characteristics: highly trained labor pool, which decreased from 66% in 1999 to 25% in 2002; professional sports franchises, which decreased from 80% to 56%; and top-notch medical facilities, which decreased from 80% to 61%.
It is important to recognize that both declines and improvements are based on perceptions, which, unless addressed, often become reality. For example, only 45% of external companies recognized the Charlotte region as a major financial center. In fact, Charlotte USA is home to the second-largest financial center in the country, second only to New York. Also, 58% of external companies associated the Charlotte region with a nearby full-service airport, when the Charlotte region, out of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, has historically had more flights per day per capita than any other market its size or larger. But some of our assets are recognized: the RoperASW study showed 67% of external companies associated Charlotte USA with a very high quality of life.
Charlotte USA is in a unique position of strength, but we must work to make sure that relocating businesses and internal corporations and citizens are aware of our major assets. The results of this study contribute greatly to the strategic and tactical direction for the Charlotte USA marketing plan, currently in development. A launch is planned for summer 2002.
Charlotte USA is growing and prosperous, but our region must continue to look toward new opportunities to maintain our competitive advantage. The combination of fewer relocation candidates in the short term and fiercer competition demands a louder voice in the marketplace. We need the support of businesses, consumers, elected officials and volunteers alike to build on our current success.
Our region is made up of many diverse communities, urban and rural, small and large. It is this diversity that gives Charlotte USA the ideal balance of business strength, quality of life and accessibility. And, as we in the Charlotte region know, balance is the true differentiator.
For more information about Charlotte USA, please visit their Web site at www.charlotteusa.com , or, to find out how you can incorporate Charlotte USA and its message of balance in your marketing efforts, call Angie Lawry at the Charlotte Regional Partnership: 704-347-8942.