In this installment of the Fast Five series, Assistant City Manager and Economic Development Director Tracy Dodson shares insight into her team's experience in helping increase business opportunities in Charlotte and nurturing local talent. Dodson and team have been instrumental in developing programs that strengthen Charlotte's workforce and recruit large companies to the Queen City. Learn more about how their work has played a large part in helping
North Carolina become a top business-friendly state.
Which part of the organization do you lead?
I wear two hats within the organization: assistant city manager and director of Economic Development. Within the assistant city manager position, my portfolio has ebbed and flowed from time to time. Right now, I'm really focused on the economic development side of my work. In the past, I've spent a lot of time working with the
airport and other departments.
Why did you decide to work for the City of Charlotte?
A little-known fact: this is my third stint at the city. I first worked for the city in 1999, and a second time in 2005. So, when I came back in 2018, it was because of a persistent city manager. A large part of that was because I had spent time talking to him about the things I felt needed to be improved by the city – things that I would see from the private sector looking in.
We had developers coming to Charlotte who would talk about how it was becoming increasingly difficult to start development projects in Charlotte. They were coming from large markets like New York City. That broke my heart. The first time I worked at the city, I left to go to graduate school, and I thought I'd never come back to Charlotte, or North Carolina. I thought I would end up in a bigger market. But once I finished graduate school, I traveled around and interviewed in several cities and decided that Charlotte is a place where you can get anything done.
That was one piece of it. The second piece of it was that I knew that the landscape around business recruitment was changing, and that the city and other municipalities would take a larger role in recruiting businesses. Coming from the private sector, I had a strong understanding of how to help the city position itself as it relates to business recruitment.
What is the biggest organizational priority you're working on right now?
No two days are the same. One thing I take a lot of pride in is positioning our work so that it resonates with council members and residents. What I mean by that is, we see projects that are sometimes seen as 'bright and shiny.' Those are projects that typically involve sports teams or high-profile organizations. An example of that kind of deal is the
Charlotte Hornets lease extension recently approved by City Council. Those deals are great, but that's only one piece of what we do.
But we also must make sure we're making investments in other parts of our city like the
Corridors of Opportunity. I spend a lot of time working to bring to life the impact the community wants to see in these corridors. To bring the right investments in the corridors, we have to work closely with the nonprofit community and private sector partners. From investments to infrastructure, we must be intentional about how we work with small businesses; how we bring jobs to the corridors; how we increase access to affordable, healthy foods; and how we create community spaces in these areas. The work spans across all city departments and private industries.
If we don't get it right and we're not collaborating and communicating, we could miss opportunities to leverage each other's strengths. We're spending a lot of time and energy making sure we get it right.
So, I see the entire spectrum of economic development. From public-private partnerships to initiatives like the Corridors of Opportunity and everything in between.
What is your favorite part about working for the City of Charlotte?
I alluded to it earlier: it's that no two days are the same. The conversations never get stale. The work is so broad and opportunities are everywhere. I'm always working closely with people who really care about our community. Everyone cares about the work they're doing and it's truly impactful to the Charlotte community.
What is your favorite restaurant in Charlotte?
I don't know that I have a favorite. My family has two, go-to options. One is Mama Ricotta's. Every year we got there the night before my daughter's birthday because it's the last place I ate before going to the hospital to deliver her. It's like our family tradition, the three of us go to Mama Ricotta's for dinner. So, that's one that's very, very special to us.
And there's a couple of others that we frequent, like Providence Road Sundries. They're like family so it's become our version of
Cheers. It's the place where you walk in and you know everyone, and everyone knows you. I used to work in the same building as the owner. And one of the women who works there was a college roommate. So, it's that 'it's a small world' feel. And that's one of the things I love about Charlotte, too. We have a lot of special places like that but those are two that rise to the top.