Word’s out. How Charlotte is becoming a hot tech town

Word’s out. How Charlotte is becoming a hot tech town

Rendering of Centene's campus and tech hub in University City (courtesy of Centene)

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Charlotte is turning into a tech town.

What’s happening: Recent announcements from Centene, Lowe’s, Better.com, AvidXchange, and, last week, Robinhood underscore how companies increasingly picking Charlotte as a place to grow — building on the local tech ecosystem that supports future growth in the industry. According to one list, Charlotte is the country’s No. 5 tech town.

  • The city’s huge banking sector is helping to lay the foundation in particular for jobs in financial technology, or fintech.

The pandemic is creating even more opportunity for markets like Charlotte because it’s prompting tech companies to reevaluate their businesses, says Peter Zeiler, economic development director for Mecklenburg County.

  • “Some companies say if you can leave really expensive real estate and move to a lower cost environment, you de-risk your company a whole lot,” Zeiler tells me.

Meaning, if a company can save money on office space they can store more away in a rainy day fund, he says. “Change always breeds new jobs somewhere,” he adds.

tech talent charlotte

Data: City of Charlotte, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and Slalom

Between the lines: Charlotte’s pool of technology talent nearly doubled in the past decade, according to data from the city, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and Slalom, a consulting firm.

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  • Growth has started to level off, but recent major announcements “should increase the pace of growth” the groups say in their latest Tech Talent Study.

(Data: Slalom, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and the City of Charlotte; Chart: Axios Visuals)

For instance, last week the investing startup Robinhood announced plans to expand into Charlotte. We beat out St. Louis, Denver, Tempe and Fort Mill for the nearly 400-job office. [Go deeper]

  • “Charlotte is known for its talented and diverse workforce, making it an easy choice as we looked to expand our operations,” said Alex Mesa, head of customer experience, said in a statement.

Yes, but: The biggest challenge for startups in Charlotte has always been access to venture capital.

  • But Zeiler also sees that changing as local tech companies grow and go public, as Charlotte payment automation firm AvidXchange is preparing to do.

If there’s a whole new class of wealth that gets created from that IPO, it will help foster growth in the rest of Charlotte’s tech startup culture, Zeiler says.

That’s what happened in Austin, when Dell went public. Nicknamed Dellionaires, these young wealthy Dell employees and ex-employees took their cash and invested in other local tech firms, helping cement Austin over the years as a tech destination.

“It’s just easier for young businesses to get cash in Austin,” Andrew Harris, a former president of Dell who went on to run a startup called HandTech.com, told the New York Times in an October 2000 story. “An idea is not much good without money,” he added.

In Charlotte, a growing number of resources exist for young tech startups.

  • There’s Tabbris, for instance, an incubator and coworking space in South End that advises young businesses and helps provide access to capital.
  • BLKTECHCLT is a tech hub for entrepreneurs and technologists of color, providing resources like consulting, education and networking.
  • Charlotte Angel Fund invests in early stage companies in North Carolina. Some of its well-known investments include Ecomdash and Skipper.
  • Carolina Fintech Hub, a nonprofit started by city councilman Tariq Bokhari that he considers a mini-chamber of commerce for recruiting tech businesses.
Tabbris coworking space in South End

Tabbris coworking space in South End (Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios Charlotte)

What he’s saying: “The word’s out about the greater Charlotte area in terms of the tech capability. And not just tech capability, but the running-a-business capability,” Zeiler says.

  • In other words, a company needs more than just tech talent to operate. They need a human resources team, professionals who understand the regulatory environment, marketers and accounting and finance experts.

Charlotte has all of that, Zeiler says. “You can get tech talent but also the people you need to run a company.”

My thought bubble: It’s like Charlotte has had a chip on its shoulder ever since Amazon snubbed us for its HQ2 shortlist in 2017. The group that submitted Charlotte’s bid said our “pool of tech talent is lacking compared to other markets,” I wrote a few years ago. Could the same be said today of our tech pool?

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