Is the economic shadow over Charlotte finally gone?

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The ribbon cutting for Sealed Air’s new global headquarters in southwest Charlotte felt oddly nostalgic.

For years, it felt like every other week there was some new economic development announcement, something new to celebrate here in Charlotte.

Then came House Bill 2, the law widely seen as discriminatory against LGBT people. The backlash ground business expansions, sporting events and concerts to a halt.

After that came the massive protests against racial inequality in Charlotte after a police officer gunned down a black man in north Charlotte.

The tenor of major public events became decidedly more grim. That is, when there were any. Gov. Roy Cooper hadn’t been here for any business announcements since taking office on New Years Day.

Until Wednesday. On this day, things were … happy.

It’s an important day in the history of our state, Gov. Cooper told the crowd gathered under a cloudless sky before grabbing a pair of giant scissors. He said he looks forward to “many, many jobs to come.”

There was no mention of House Bill 2 during the formalities ahead of the ribbon cutting. No mention of Charlotte’s perseverance or resiliency or any of the typical cliches that politicians bring out during troubled times.

There was only Cooper talking about North Carolina’s educated and well-trained workforce.

This is a good thing, mostly. It’s depressing and bad for business when the news around town is negative.

But in the case of the quest for racial equality, I’ve long been worried that Charlotte would simply return to business as usual as quickly as possible without making any of the difficult choices and changes that need to be made. This is still a concern.

I asked Gov. Cooper during the press scrum after the event about the repeal of House Bill 2 back at the end of March. I asked if the shadow over economic development had been lifted.

Cooper was careful to say there was more work to be done. His constituency on the left was unhappy about the compromise that repealed the law but prevented cities from doing more to protect LGBT people.

“We made an important first step,” he said. But he seemed to say that the corporate world is satisfied.

“My promise to businesses and to the citizens of North Carolina to work for equality for everyone helped open the door for business in North Carolina,” he said. “I’ve talked to a number of CEOs who now feel comfortable to come to our state. Clearly, sporting events are coming back. It’s important to our reputation and it’s important to our LGBT citizens in North Carolina.”

Then he went right back to talking about workforce training.

Are good times back again? Should they be back so soon? Were the “good times” even really that good? I’m not sure.

But sunlight does feel good after a long winter.

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Andrew Dunn
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Editor-in-Chief