Summer 1994. I was driving south on I-77 with my girlfriend. We were leaving Pennsylvania on our way to Florida for a vacation. After hours of driving through mountains and forests, the highway began to widen and the Bank of America Corporate Center rose up on the horizon–taking us by complete surprise.
Charlotte. We’d heard about it. There was a pretty good NBA team here. But we lived in Northern NJ, so a small southern city like Charlotte wasn’t very well known to us. We decided to spend the night, though we didn’t see much before continuing our journey the next morning.
After one too many blizzards in the Northeast, in 1996 we migrated south to where I grew up in Florida. We got married there. I finished college there. And after a year of flitting about Jacksonville looking for work, it was clear to us that I wasn’t going to fulfill my potential as an advertising copywriter there. So I lined up interviews in Richmond, New York, and Charlotte.
New York offered the most opportunity, obviously, but I was in no rush to head back up to the cold weather. Richmond was nice, but the city had a very slow heartbeat. Charlotte was by far the most intriguing. It wasn’t too far north. It had a change of seasons. It was a pretty city with lots of trees. And North Carolina had both mountains and the ocean within its borders. The fact that the ad agency in Charlotte offered to move us up from Jacksonville was something we couldn’t refuse. So on the turn of the millennium (literally), we pulled our moving truck up to our new apartment next to SouthPark Mall and near my new gig with the ad agency.
During my first week on the job, I remember sitting down with the agency CEO to talk about where Charlotte was heading. He told me that the plan for Charlotte was to revitalize downtown (which Charlotteans called Uptown) and so he suggested that we buy our home as close to town as possible. He also said that if there was one thing I needed to know about Charlotte, it was that this was a city where if you wanted to get involved and make a difference, you could actually help shape the city’s future.
We bought a house with a big yard close to Uptown, and then had a baby. A year later I left my job with the agency to launch my own small shop where I did fairly well, and pretty good. We had another child. During that time I partnered with small and large companies helping shape perception and build brands. I also spearheaded a public service campaign that reduced the animal euthanasia rate in Charlotte by 40% over two years. In 2009, I hooked up with a local entrepreneur to build what would become the fastest-growing company in Charlotte, Boxman Studios.
This year marked our 13th year in Charlotte–the longest stretch I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life.
Back in 2000, I figured that we’d stay here for a few years and then move back to Florida. I never intended to put down roots that go deep within the community.
But we have.
I never intended to come to love Charlotte.
But I do.
I never intended to make friends who I rely on every day.
But that’s exactly what’s happened. And next week, the little southern town we stopped in for a night back in 1994 will host the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Sure, we’re the largest city in an important state this election, but as the world is about to see, Charlotte is more than a political foothold. Despite history that predates the Revolutionary War, we are a young, vibrant town full of hope and promise.
I often think back to what that agency CEO said when he told me that if you wanted to get involved, this was the city to do it. Man, was he was right. We absolutely feel vested here.
Granted, Charlotte is far from perfect. Like any growing city, we have a lot to work on. But when you look closely, you see that we are a shining example of what a new world community should aspire to be. We like to get involved. We believe that our cultural differences are a rich tapestry from which we coexist. We lift each other up and help each other reach common goals. We enjoy living in a multi-cultural urban village adorned with beautiful buildings, abundant green space, a change of seasons, and an airport from where we can launch journeys to anywhere on the planet. No, we’re not Houston. Or Atlanta. Or New York. We’re Charlotte. My daughters are Charlottean. This is their town. And it’s as much my home as any place I’ve ever lived.
Next week, people from around the world will descend upon our streets. And, if you believe the news, so too will rioters. To all of you I say welcome. And kindly request that you not trash our fair city. We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and taxes into it. Show a little respect–and respect will be returned to you. Because that’s just how we do things.
Welcome to Charlotte.