Economic Engine

A grant from The Duke Endowment will launch UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute on a two-year project to research economic disparities within the Charlotte region – specifically, disparities between our robust urban cores and lagging rural communities. The analyzed data will help identify ways to strengthen economic ties between the two.

Across North Carolina, there is a stark difference in rural and urban economies, as John Connaughton reported in last week’s Barings/UNC Charlotte Economic Forecast. Since 2007’s recession until 2016, Charlotte and Raleigh counties boasted 90 percent of the job growth across the state. That leaves many counties, especially those previously reliant on the textiles and furniture industries, experiencing economic risk and a declining quality of life.

UNC Charlotte is responding. During the next two years, the Urban Institute will work with regional rural communities to create a shared vision for economic renewal. The goal is to identify locally based strategies for economic revival, while navigating political, geographical and ideological differences. The $329,174 grant will fund the research.

 As the region has experienced a decline in manufacturing from the traditional textile and furniture industries, it also has lost the economic and cultural linkages that once helped build a shared regional identity, said Jeff Michael, director of UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute.  “The conventional economic development model practiced by many rural communities – industrial recruitment – may no longer be enough to guarantee stable employment at sustainable wages long term.”

The project will take an in-depth, data-driven look at the greater Charlotte region to understand economic connections that once existed and whether they still do. Researchers will approach communities to hear voices of local residents and identify untapped connections that could foster new economic activity. The project also will include an online offering exploring the research, local stories and community knowledge.

The grant was made possible through The Duke Endowment Rural Church program area. “This program believes regional economies create a mutually beneficial bridge between rural and urban communities,” said Robb Webb, the program area’s director. “We are excited that research to test this hypothesis is launching, and we’re eager to learn what the institute discovers and how we may apply those findings.”

The project will be led by Jeff Michael, director of the Urban Institute; Bill Graves, associate professor in UNC Charlotte’s Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, and whose expertise includes impacts of economic changes in the southeastern United States; and Mary Newsom, director of urban policy initiatives at the Urban Institute; Chris Danis, a student in the University’s Public Policy Ph.D. program, will assist.

The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, founded in 1969, is an applied research institute that seeks solutions to the social, economic and environmental challenges facing communities in the Charlotte region. It is the oldest research center at UNC Charlotte.

The Duke Endowment, based in Charlotte, works to help people and strengthen communities in North and South Carolina. Industrialist James Buchanan Duke established the endowment in 1924 with $40 million. Since its inception the endowment has awarded nearly $3.6 billion in grants.