Q: Jim, tell us a bit about what you’re doing for your corporate hometown of Charlotte.
I’ve been in Charlotte more than five years now, and one of the first things I did was catalogue the companies there. I realized we had a unique combination of energy-related companies in the community. We hosted the first meeting to bring all these people together and try to identify whether we had something special and unique. What we discovered is we are 250 companies and now 27,000 employees. So we worked to create this concept of an energy hub. Most important, we’ve been able to create almost 5,000 jobs.
Michael Porter, the professor from Harvard Business School, has written about clusters. In Minneapolis, you have medical devices. Houston is one for oil and gas. The whole logic behind the cluster concept is that you put companies together and they compete and cooperate, and it makes each of them much stronger, and it feeds on itself. That’s the kind of dynamic we’ve tried to create in Charlotte.
Q: The energy business depends a lot of government policy. Where is federal energy policy going, and how will that affect businesses in Charlotte?
The growth in energy companies is really driven by the demand for electricity, and that is driven by growth in the economy. Part of that is the development of new appliances. Electric vehicles or E-buses are another. But equally important is that the industry is driven by policy both at the state and federal level.
Q: Are you disappointed about the failure of Congress to adopt a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions?
To me, that is the only approach to address the carbon issue that allows us to successfully reduce emissions in a way that is fair and allows us to transition to a [less carbon-intensive] world. Unfortunately, the people who invented it have demonized it — the Republicans. When they created it, they called it the greatest use of market forces to solve the problems of the world.
I don’t think anything is going to happen on energy policy for the next year and a half. The economy is in such deep trouble. Congress and the president are going to be focused on it, though there are limits to what they can actually do to rebuild confidence . . . and create jobs. That’s the reality of where we are today.