BizWorthy: Lowe's Chooses Charlotte For Tech Hub, Ally Ends Credit Cards, And Freer-Flowing Booze

Jul 11, 2019

Lowe’s has chosen Charlotte for its tech hub. Of course, that announcement was made last month, but the logistics of building that 23-story tower in South End and bringing on 1,600 IT workers will be a story for the next few years. This week we have a better idea of the incentives package the company will receive.

Tony Mecia with the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter joins WFAE's Morning Edition host Lisa Worf for our weekly BizWorthy segment to break that down and also talk credit cards and the availability of booze.

Worf: So, first, Lowe’s expects to locate 2,000 tech workers in South End. The company says 1,600 of them will be new hires. How much taxpayer money did it take to secure Charlotte as the hub?

Mecia: I guess first off we need to point out this is a really big deal for Charlotte because we're talking about 2,000 workers located in South End in a new 23-story office tower which, for South End, is a very tall office tower. We're talking high-paying jobs. Jobs that average six figures -- more than a $100,000.

And it's really going to establish Charlotte as a tech destination, I think. I mean, if you look at the number of tech workers in Charlotte, I've reported this before in the newsletter, that it's approaching the number of tech workers in the Raleigh area, which is just astounding.

Now that does come at a cost of taxpayer money. Between the state and local incentives we're talking about more than $70 million, and now that's all spread out over the course of many years; a lot of people get very bent out of shape about incentives and say, "Well, with all these problems going on in town -- affordable housing and so on -- why are we spending millions of dollars on a Fortune 500 company?" Well, you know, it's spread out, and the argument is that these jobs would not exist in Charlotte were it not for some of the incentives that the state and local government give to the company.

Worf: You talked to the chief communications officer at Lowe's. What did she say about hiring tech talent here in Charlotte?

Mecia: I asked her, "How are you going to hire 1,600 new tech workers in Charlotte?" I mean, the unemployment rate in Charlotte is very low. It's not like you have unemployed tech workers walking the streets that are in search of jobs. And she made the point that, "Look this is going to be done gradually over a number of years."

I think their goal in the next year is to hire 400. And she said that they've really worked to make Lowe's a competitive and attractive place for tech workers, not just in terms of the salaries and the compensation but in terms of the kind of work that they're doing. They have jobs that are very fulfilling to people and that they now have a location in South End that is attractive to tech workers to come here.

Worf: Now to credit cards. Ally, which is based in Detroit but has a big presence in Charlotte, is getting out of the credit card game. What's going on there?

Mecia: It's really interesting because you see a lot going on with credit cards. Nationally, I mean, we all see the ads on TV, you know, "Use your miles, fly somewhere, get a free trip," but for smaller banks it can be a very difficult proposition to offer credit cards, because they lack the marketing muscle and they lack the ability to offer the same kind of rewards that some of the bigger players do.

The bigger players, typically you think of Chase, you think of Citibank Bank of America's in there, Discover, American Express. So for a smaller bank like Ally, which had partnered with another bank to offer a card three years ago, it can be kind of tough going.

Worf: On the alcohol front, there have been some developments that could make for some freer-flowing alcohol. What are you seeing?

Mecia: Sure. I think we had a number of trends that have converged over the last few weeks that are sort of worth paying attention to. First we had a Supreme Court decision in the last couple of weeks that looked at a fairly small issue on the surface about wine sales in Tennessee.

But the larger point of that case was that it sort of chips away at the ability of states to set regulations for alcohol that have been there since the end of prohibition in the 1930s. And so I think there are a lot of lawyers in the state sort of looking and saying, "Well, what are some ways that we might be able to challenge North Carolina's laws given this new Supreme Court case?"

At the same time you have a couple of bills working their way through the General Assembly up in Raleigh that I think are loosening some of the regulations. Gov. Cooper signed a bill in the last couple of weeks that allows public universities to sell beer and wine at sports stadiums and arenas, so I think we're going to see some of that.

And you also have some legislation that's moving its way through the General Assembly. It's going to clarify and loosen some of these other rules are going to allow things like craft beer tastings at farmers markets and making it easier for permitting to drink alcohol at larger events.