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June 2002
Determining Our Own Future!
By John Paul Galles
     Congratulations to the Charlotte Chamber for providing the leadership and organizing a three-day trip for nearly 100 civic leaders to Indianapolis, Indiana, to learn about economic development in its urban center. They were provided tours of its Circle Centre Mall, the Indianapolis Artsgarden, the convention center, the RCA Dome, Conseco Fieldhouse and Victory Field. In addition, they were given briefings on how these facilities were built and what they mean to the local economy and the city.           
     
Now I did not attend, but I did grow up in Indiana, went to school at Indiana University and lived in Indianapolis for about six years. And at the ripe old age of 23, I was the campaign manager for a mayoral campaign in Indianapolis in 1971. I have watched the city grow and prosper as a result of civic leaders applying public and private dollars to targeted projects intended to boost economic growth and make Indianapolis a more “attractive” destination.            
      
Once referred to as the ho-hum city “Naptown,” Indianapolis was also identified as the “Crossroads of America.” That was about all you could come up with for this city in central Indiana surrounded by cornfields with railroads and highways running in every direction from its center. As the third largest city built on an axial basis (behind Paris and Washington, DC), Indianapolis was primarily known for the Indianapolis 500. Located on the White River, Indianapolis only had the Eagle Creek reservoir for water sports and attraction.            
    
Indianapolis is also known for its consolidated city government. In 1969, the city was expanded to its Marion County borders. Some suggested that this was done to keep the city from being controlled by its African American residents as whites fled to the suburbs. Others saw it as a way to consolidate governmental units under a unified leadership for the betterment of all residents. If I remember correctly, Indianapolis grew as a result of this consolidation from the 25th largest city to the 11th largest city. (By the way, Charlotte is ranked 26th.) This growth boosted their revenues, reduced government spending and also made them eligible for larger federal grants for all kinds of development. 
     In addition to the wise consolidation of governmental units, Indianapolis also had access to Tax Increment Financing Authority (TIFA). Authorized by its state government, TIFA was created to allow a local government, through an authority, to finance public improvements in a designated development district by capturing the property taxes levied on any increase in property values within that district. A base year is established for the development district resulting in an “initial assessed value.” In future years, any increase is referred to as the “captured assessed value” for the district.
     Many states have created TIFAs for local economic development. They are largely utilized to attract new business and support expanding businesses as a means to encourage economic growth where older industries are failing and going out of business. 
     Charlotte enjoyed an economic boom through the 1990’s. It attracted more business growth than it expected and grew comfortable with an expanding tax base that helped pay for the cost of growth. With our recent economic slowdown, the closing of many textile mills and other traditional industries, however, we are faced with ambitions for growth with little economic support from the state for highways, utilities, parks, water and air quality and other infrastructure needs. Given the state of North Carolina’s fiscal condition, we will not see much support from Raleigh to meet our economic development agenda. 
     Often referred to as “The Great State of Mecklenburg”, Charlotte appears wealthy to others in North Carolina who cannot understand our struggle with growth.
     Not everyone wants more growth. Some want slow, managed growth. Regardless of opinions about growth, we have experienced growth that needs services and infrastructure to support those who live here. Our needs are well beyond our resources.
     We must find new ways to grapple with our own problems. We need to consider new ways of tackling our own concerns within our limited means. It seems to me that we should seek to encourage our state government to authorize TIFAs within our state. If the state cannot help us, they can at least give us the means to help ourselves.
     We need to plan, manage and provide for our own destiny. It is time for us to take the proverbial bull by the horns and turn it in the direction that we choose. We cannot wait for revenues from Raleigh. Unlike Indianapolis, Charlotte is not the state capital. It will be difficult for us to convince legislators to authorize TIFAs, but we are suffering from the loss of jobs and the closing of our traditional industries. We need to do all we can to replace those industries, attract new businesses and grow existing businesses to provide jobs and grow this city. 
John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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