Chart Charlotte region's progress toward CONNECT goals

How will the Charlotte region grow? Photo of Mecklenburg subdivision: Nancy Pierce

After three years of citizen engagement and the creation of a Regional Growth Framework for the 14-county Charlotte region, the CONNECT Our Future initiative moves into the implementation phase, to assist local governments in their individual efforts to realize the goals and objectives of that framework.

One element of the implementation phase is a collaboration between CONNECT and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute to track more than 30 quality-of-life indicators as measures of success for that regional framework.

As of this week, those indicators can be viewed online via a web portal that can be accessed through the websites of both the institute and the CONNECT website's indicator page. See the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute’s online portal here.

CONNECT Our Future is a collaborative effort to establish and then support efforts toward a more sustainable future for the 14-county Charlotte region. The project is  led by Centralina Council of Governments (CCOG) in Charlotte and the Catawba Regional Council of Governments (CRCOG) in Rock Hill. With a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities program, now called the Office of Economic Resilience, CONNECT has spent three years facilitating extensive public engagement to create regional priorities, a preferred growth scenario, and a set of toolkits to assist local governments in achieving their local goals.

The three-year process engaged more than 8,400 residents and hundreds of local governments, nonprofit organizations and private sector entities. To learn more about CONNECT, the regional priorities, the preferred growth scenario, and the toolkits, go to ConnectOurFuture.org.

The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute was part of the original CONNECT team in 2011, included as a research partner to help identify a set of indicators to be used to measure the Charlotte region’s progress over time toward an enhanced quality of life. The institute worked closely with the CONNECT workgroups (including those focused on economic development, transportation, land use, housing, energy, food access and public health) and its public engagement team to identify indicators that would be relevant for measuring progress toward the regional growth framework, as well as those for which reliable data could be obtained.  An initial list of nearly 100 indicators was considered, but data challenges (in terms of both availability and quality) narrowed the list to 31.

The online portal for the CONNECT Our Future indicators organizes data around CONNECT’s six core values. Those values were generated through extensive community input and adopted by the majority of jurisdictions within the 14-county region.  Those core values are:

  • A strong, diverse economy
  • Sustainable, well-managed growth
  • A safe and healthy environment
  • Increased collaboration among jurisdictions
  • Enhanced social equity
  • High quality educational opportunities

This initial version of the CONNECT indicators looks back, when possible, to the year 2000 (depending on data availability). Some highlights:

  • The impact of the recession is clearly visible across many indicators. Unemployment rates peak in 2009, gradually improving afterward, while the housing cost-burden (the percent of owners/renters paying more than 30 percent of income for housing costs) is particularly acute between 2009 and 2011 for many of the region’s more suburban counties, such as Cabarrus, Iredell, Union and Gaston.
  • Even before the recession, the region’s economy was undergoing a major structural shift. Manufacturing was the top sector of employment for every county in the region except Mecklenburg in 2000. Today that’s true for only four counties.
  • Although the regional growth framework envisions a growing local foods movement, the data suggest more work is needed to counterbalance the trend toward fewer acres of farmland per capita in most of the region’s counties between 2002 and 2012.
  • On a positive note, air pollution in the Charlotte region has improved, with ground-level ozone and particle emissions on the decline across the region.

While the CONNECT indicators are a noteworthy start in measuring progress toward the regional growth framework, the lack of reliable data in some priority areas means that, for now at least, they do not tell the whole story. However, CONNECT’S leadership hopes that the same spirit of collaboration that helped establish the regional framework and the initial set of indicators will likewise lead to better data collection across jurisdictions, resulting in more precise and regular measures of the Charlotte region’s quality of life in the future.

“The partnership between Centralina Council of Governments and the institute allowed us to build on an existing regional asset, the Charlotte Regional Indicators Database, to store and provide access to select CONNECT Indicators that were identified through the regional engagement process,” said Sushil Nepal, project manager for CONNECT Our Future.

 “These indicators provide a solid foundation to understand where we are as a region and will assist us with measuring the region’s quality of life,” he said.

Next steps for the CONNECT project

  • The official rollout of the tools will begin in spring 2015.
  • Centralina COG staff will make presentations to each county to let local governments know what tools and resources are available, to get an understanding of how CONNECT already aligns with the work they are doing, and to see what specific needs they have that the framework and tools could address.
  • Centralina COG staff will hold regional capacity-building workshops to provide training related to the regional priorities and the Preferred Growth Concept.
  • The joint policy and program forums that make up the CONNECT Consortium will convene to set top regional strategies for the year, to get updates on local government activities and progress, and to ensure that the region is on the path to achieving the regional vision.