Charlotte, N.C., Struggles As Big Banks Founder A major banking center's biggest employers get caught up in the world's financial mess. Now, the city and its residents must deal with the aftermath.
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Charlotte, N.C., Struggles As Big Banks Founder

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Charlotte, N.C., Struggles As Big Banks Founder

Charlotte, N.C., Struggles As Big Banks Founder

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The financial crisis is hitting especially hard at the headquarter cities of failing banks, and one of the biggest is the city we'll visit next. It's part of our series "The Money Map" where we explore ways the economy is affecting different parts of the country. The city is Charlotte, North Carolina, home to Wachovia, among other banks, and also home to Julie Rose of member station WFAE in Charlotte. Welcome to the program.

JULIE ROSE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How big a deal is banking in Charlotte?

ROSE: Banking is a very big deal in Charlotte. It's central to the economy. It pays almost 10 percent of the wages in this area. And Wachovia is the second largest employer. Beyond that, though, it also dominates the skyline. I mean, the high-rises for Bank of America and Wachovia are on both ends of the main street. And actually I went down to check out a new skyscraper that Wachovia's building. Have a listen.

(Soundbite of construction work)

ROSE: From where I'm standing here, it's like a forest of cranes. They've got one, two huge yellow ones either side of the high-rise. And then three, four, five, six, seven others working on various surrounding buildings. As you can tell from the sound, construction is still under way. Wachovia had planned to move into this new high-rise next year. And if they were to walk away today, there would be quite literally a gaping hole right here in the middle of downtown Charlotte.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Julie Rose who was on the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina. So, Julie, now that Wachovia has been snapped up by Wells Fargo, it's failed, will there be a gaping hole in Charlotte's economy?

ROSE: Wells Fargo promises to finish the building, at least. Beyond that, we don't really know what's going to happen. There is concern about job losses, layoffs, and employees are nervous. Analysts say there could be a 10 percent cut. That would mean 2,000 jobs in Charlotte. You know, there's a place in Charlotte right down by the headquarters where you can go and stand on the corner and everyone you talk to will be a Wachovia employee. So that's what I've done over the last couple of weeks. I've probably talked to dozens of employees of Wachovia. And they're all very nervous. Here's one that I met. His name is Rick Eudy. And he was pretty candid with me.

Mr. RICK EUDY (Wachovia Employee): My personal portfolio has taken a very strong hit. No, I'm not planning to jump or leave because, basically, there's nowhere to jump to or go to.

INSKEEP: OK. So we don't know about his future. We don't know if Wachovia is going to disappear from Charlotte. But what if it did?

ROSE: Well there would certainly be more than just layoffs to worry about. And that's exactly what Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess told me when I went to meet with her.

Mayor Pro Tem SUSAN BURGESS (Charlotte, North Carolina): Many businesses exist here to support our banks and financial services. So, there will be a ripple effect.

ROSE: And you know, Steve, we've already seeing some of those effects, even though we're not entirely sure what will be happening in this area. It was pretty clear to me as I started talking to people up town who deal with the banks. I met a bike courier, for example. He shuttles documents between a major law firm and the big banks, like Wachovia and Bank of America. He said when things were really going high, he was delivering 50 deliveries a day, and now he's down to about 20.

And you know, there's also, of course, all those bank employees have to eat somewhere. And so food is big business downtown. I went to one of the diners. It's right in the Wachovia headquarters building, one of them. The guy's name - he's the owner of Showmars. It's the place that's famous for fried fish and onion rings, and the line is out the door at lunch and breakfast with Wachovia employees primarily. So the owner's name is Konstantine Zitsos. And he says he's definitely going to take a hit if Wells Fargo leaves or lays off a lot of people.

Mr. KONSTANTINE ZITSOS (Owner, Showmars Restaurant): If there is a loss, then we make adjustments with our payroll. And you know, if the people aren't downtown, then, you know, you have a problem. But as a company, I think we feel very optimistic. And I don't foresee this being the end of downtown Charlotte.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute, wait a minute. There's a neighborhood where everybody you meet is a Wachovia employee. Why wouldn't this be the end of downtown Charlotte?

ROSE: Well, there are other banks in Charlotte, of course, besides Wachovia. Bank of America is actually growing with its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. And that means that with Bank of America and Merrill Lynch together, we'll still be the second largest banking center in the country. So we managed to maintain our bragging rights there. But beyond that, there are other things besides banking. Of course there's - Lowes is a Fortune 500 company. Several Fortune 500 companies are located here in Charlotte. And then, of course, there's NASCAR, Steve. And that's very big business right here in Charlotte.

INSKEEP: Julie. Thanks very much.

ROSE: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: Julie Rose is a reporter for member station WFAE in Charlotte. And the rest of our "Money Map" coverage is at where you can actually see the map.

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