Like a proud Southern belle, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, has put its best on display for the Democratic National Convention. It's the first time the state has hosted a national political convention in more than 100 years, thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of Mayor Anthony Foxx. But when the hoards of delegates, politicians and media outlets depart at week's end, they will leave behind a city still basking in its transformation.
"For many decades, Charlotte has kind of been like the dinner-party guest who was a great conversationalist, but after dinner we're asking, 'What's that person's name?'" Foxx told BET.com. "I think for the foreseeable future, the world will know Charlotte."
To prepare for the convention, commercial real estate has expanded and existing infrastructures got makeovers they otherwise might not have. Foxx said the city "bent over backwards" to ensure that economic opportunities were made available to small businesses and had a stated diversity goal.
"So many times, when a convention or big event happens in the city, the first people to get the work are the people who did the work before," said Foxx. "With this convention, we're trying to create more small businesses, more women-owned businesses, more minority businesses that gain the kind of experience that will allow them to raise their hands the next time an event like this happens."
Some benefits are already in evidence, and the mayor said businesses have begun "kicking the tires" in Charlotte and are considering it when thinking about relocating or expanding. But more important, he adds, the psychology of the residents has gotten a significant boost.
Foxx said the entire community joined the city on its journey of self-improvement, by working to reduce obesity, adopting sustainable practices in their daily personal and professional lives, and putting in place inclusive business practices.
In addition, thousands of young people were able to participate in the convention through internships and jobs. The city also hosted a kid's convention during which children were "interviewed" by the media and worked the teleprompter.
The goal, the mayor explained, was to "lift the ambitions of our young people by giving them a sense that they are connected to this event" as citizens and also get them thinking about new career paths.
Other lasting legacies of this week are new farmers' markets that were created to reduce food deserts and are accessible by public transportation. Charlotte is the first city in the Southeast to have a bicycle share program, and it is working to expand its recycling capabilities in the central business district.
The story that people will be telling about Charlotte, Foxx said, "is we work together; we solve problems; we keep building."
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