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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

What's UNC Charlotte's Role In Charlotte’s Tech Boom?

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Charlotte is in the midst of a tech boom. In recent years, several high-profile companies have either announced relocations to the city or expansions. They include Honeywell, LendingTree and Lowe's, which has built its own tech center in South End. The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter reports UNC Charlotte is partially fueling the boom. For more, WFAE's "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks with The Ledger's Tony Mecia for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: Tony, so how does UNC Charlotte tie into all of this?

Tony Mecia: Well, Marshall, as you mentioned, there are a lot of companies that are moving here, a lot of tech companies moving here from all over the country. Other ones are expanding. And if you talk to them, they say that they like having the airport here and being able to travel easily. They think Charlotte's a good place to do business. The land is more affordable than maybe other places.

But the other part of the equation is, are there enough workers here to fill these jobs? Charlotte is not traditionally known as a place that has a lot of tech workers, although it really does. And, you know, quietly over the last decade or so, UNC Charlotte's College of Computing and Informatics has nearly tripled the number of students in its program to about 3,400. And these are an area of data analysis, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity. And it's really become the largest computing college in North Carolina.

So it's helping create this pipeline to all these companies that are moving here, kind of built up quietly, really, over the last few years, but becoming a pretty significant source of talent for these companies.

 Johnson C. Smith University President Clarence D. Armbrister receives his COVID-19 vaccination in March.
Kevin McCarthy
Johnson C. Smith University President Clarence D. Armbrister receives his COVID-19 vaccination in March.

Terry: I want to stick with colleges and businesses for a second. More and more are now requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and The Ledger this week reported that seems to be sparking a rise in the number of students and employees claiming religious exemptions.

Mecia: Yes, you know, it's still kind of early. We don't have a lot of numbers on this. But what you're seeing is that as businesses and universities are requiring these vaccinations — we saw Atrium Health, Novant Health, a number of smaller, independent providers like OrthoCarolina, Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat, Tryon Medical. They're requiring these vaccinations of their staff. And as that's happening, local employment lawyers have told us that they're also seeing an increase in the number of people claiming religious exemption, saying that their personal religious beliefs do not allow them to get the COVID vaccine.

Some employment lawyers say this is a pretty big loophole. Really, you don't have to prove anything. You just really have to attest that for religious reasons, you don't believe in receiving the COVID vaccine. And pretty much employers will agree with that. They don't really want to be in the position of challenging people's religious beliefs. So it's hard to say how big of a problem it is. Queens University, its president, Dan Lugo, sent an email last week to students at Queens saying that he noted that a lot of them seem to be claiming religious exemptions, even though they had not claimed religious exemptions for other vaccines that the college requires. So it does seem like we're seeing a little bit of a bump in this attempt to not get vaccinated.

Terry: Well, how big of an issue is this likely to become as more people head back to the office and also to college?

Mecia: Well, I think it will get bigger as these requirements multiply. And we've seen a number of employers mandate this both locally — and it's not just health systems, either. United Airlines came out and said it's going to require its employees to be vaccinated. A number of universities are putting in these requirements on their students. I think we're going to see more and more of it. Employment lawyers say that small and mid-sized businesses are inquiring about, can they require their people to get vaccinated?

So it seems like that's the trend. So as that happens, you're going to have ... you know, a lot of the people now who have not been vaccinated feel very strongly about not being vaccinated. And I think some of them are looking for ways to make that happen.

Terry: Finally, Tony, you have a regular column in the newsletter called "You Ask, We Answer." This week, the question was, why are single-family homes coming down in Ballantyne? So what did you find out? What is the answer?

Mecia: This is probably going to come as a surprise to no one, but it's townhouses, Marshall. Forty-two townhomes being built on five acres along Marvin Road. People who live down in that area, I think it's sort of people are asking about it, what's going in there, why are they knocking down these single-family houses? But, like a lot of other places in the city, you're seeing single-family houses replaced by a little bit higher-density housing. So that was a reader question. Happy to answer it.

Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

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