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Triangle

Banks raise Charlotte’s rate 

Not long ago, Mecklenburg County seemed almost recession-proof, buoyed as it was by Charlotte’s prosperous big banks. Its unemployment rate after 9/11 peaked at a mere 6.2% in June 2002. Meanwhile, neighboring Gaston County, once celebrated as having the most textile mills in the nation, struggled with an exodus of jobs, first to Latin America and the Caribbean, then to Asia. Post-9/11 unemployment reached 10% in January 2002.

Like many North Carolina counties, Gaston is again struggling with double-digit joblessness — 11.4% in December. Before long, Mecklenburg will, too. Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, says its unemployment rate could hit 11% by the end of this year and 13% by the middle of next year. “This is a recession that started in residential housing and spread into financial services. Charlotte’s economy is built on that sector.” About 35,000 people work there for Bank of America Corp. or San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., which acquired Wachovia Corp. last year.

Mecklenburg posted a jobless rate of 8.3% in December, but the layoffs were just beginning, says Tony Plath, associate professor of finance at UNC Charlotte. He says the two banks ultimately will lay off about 7,000 employees in the Queen City — with Wells Fargo shedding about 4,000. Plenty of smaller companies are cutting jobs, too.

Mecklenburg County might be helped by efforts to diversify, Walden says. The biotech-research campus under way in Kannapolis is expected to create 30,000 jobs a short commute up Interstate 85, and UNC Charlotte is beefing up its technological research.

But part of the county’s resurgence could rest on the availability of laid-off financial-services workers attracting new employers. New York-based Morgan Stanley has aggressively courted Wachovia employees, and persistent rumors have it basing its new retail bank in Charlotte. Another scenario has Detroit-based GMAC LLC, run by former Bank of America Chief Financial Officer Al de Molina, moving headquarters to Charlotte or expanding there.

Many Queen City bankers aren’t waiting around to collect their unemployment checks and become part of the statistics. Other banks, such as First Commonwealth Financial near Pittsburgh, have been recruiting them. “People are going to be available at a reasonable price,” Plath says.

Without a paddle

Water has been roiling more than two years at the U.S. National Whitewater Center near Charlotte. So has its river of red ink. The nonprofit that runs it lost $2.1 million in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31 — after losing $1.3 million the year before — and has yet to begin paying down its $38 million construction loan. That worries leaders in Mecklenburg County, the city and four local governments in Gaston County. Together, they agreed to cover shortfalls up to $12 million during the center’s first seven years. It increased revenue 17% in its second full year, but expenses grew 23%. Center officials pledged to cut costs, but they didn’t say how.

 

CHARLOTTE — Despite financial troubles that led to its acquisition by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, Wachovia topped other banks in the 2008 American Customer Satisfaction Index. That was the eighth straight year it ranked first.

CHARLOTTE — The Wachovia Championship golf tournament was renamed Quail Hollow Championship after the country club where it is played. Wells Fargo didn’t want to continue promoting the Wachovia brand nor, given recent public scrutiny of banks, did it want to tout its own.

CHARLOTTEUNC Charlotte appointed Gene Johnson chairman of a team expected to raise $45 million for a new football program. Johnson is CEO of telephone-service provider FairPoint Communications. The school hopes to begin play in 2013.

CHARLOTTEDuke Energy extended its employment agreement with CEO Jim Rogers five years. Rogers, 61, will continue to be compensated with stock and options rather than salary and bonuses. The total package, if he meets all his goals, is valued at $52.5 million.

MONROEATI Allvac laid off an unspecified number of its estimated 1,200 employees here. The company, part of Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Technologies, produces nickel-based alloys and titanium for the aviation and defense industries.

CHARLOTTE — The U.S. Department of Transportation says Charlotte/Douglas International Airport is the nation’s ninth-busiest airport. More than 29.2 million passengers used it during the first 10 months of 2008, up from 27.8 million for the same period the year before, when it ranked 14th.

CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers laid off about 20 of their 200 employees, citing the recession. The National Football League team sold out all of its home games last season.

MOORESVILLE — Michael Cowling resigned as CEO of Lake Norman Regional Medical Center. He was hired to run the 105-bed hospital in April 2008. It’s now under interim CEO Vicki Briggs, a division vice president of operations with the hospital’s parent, Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates.

CHARLOTTE — London-based Balfour Beatty bought RT Dooley Construction for $40 million. RT Dooley employs 140, while Balfour Beatty has 360 workers in its Southeast division, which is based here. No job cuts are planned.

CHARLOTTE — The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association laid off about 55 employees — about 10% of its staff. It blamed the sour economy and says it will save about 15% of its budget through the layoffs and other cuts.

WADESBOROPolkton Manufacturing will close its Anson Shirt factory here this month, idling about 70. The company, based in Marshville, lost a contract to make shirts for the Navy.