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Charlotte opens the door to the new global economy.

With news headlines heralding political and economic changes daily, it's often hard to feel personally connected to the great events happening on the world stage. Not so for Charlotte City Manager Wendell White and Mayor Richard Vinroot.

When Vinroot was a council-member, the two were in Beijing, China during the time when tens of thousands of students filled Tiananmen Square with pro-democracy demonstrations.

"We didn't plan to come to see the kind of history book event that you can tell your grandchildren about," White says of the May, 1989 trip. "We came with about forty other citizens of Charlotte to visit our sister city, Baoding. We left with a new understanding of the freedom we Americans enjoy."

Vinroot explained their experience, saying, "The night we arrived, we got caught up in it. As soon as we approached the Square, we heard the sound of tanks and saw the tracer fire above the students protesting in the streets. It was frightening and exciting--all at the same time."

As in many other communities, Charlotte's government leaders can feel the city they live in changing rapidly. The world has grown smaller, more volatile and intensely competitive.

Last year, Mayor Vinroot established an International Cabinet of leaders from the community to address the city's evolving needs from a global perspective. The cabinet, which the mayor chairs, provides a forum in its monthly meetings for leaders to discuss hot topics and important issues that affect the city's international standing.

The cabinet identified the need for a full-time director to help prepare and implement an international strategic plan.

Beginning in August, the U.S. Department of State will provide, through its Pearson Fellow program, a mid-career officer to serve as cabinet director.

How is this international awareness beginning to affect the delivery of services? Six months ago, the Charlotte Police Department contracted for on-call translation services to respond to emergency calls in any of 140 languages. Since then, the department has responded to "911" calls in Chinese, Russian, and Korean.

To make public transit easier to use, city bus information has been translated into Vietnamese and Spanish. Crime prevention literature soon will receive similar translations.

Charlotte's status as a hub for USAir, with direct flights to Europe and the Caribbean, is another key element that has spurred its international business growth.

Charlotte has sister city relationships with cities in Russia, China, Poland, Peru, France, and Germany. City leaders in Russia and Poland have drawn upon Charlotte as a resource in their transition to democracy and capitalism. Under the Municipal Democracy Program, city leaders have encouraged exchanges of ideas on everything from devastating environmental problems to the basics of municipal budgeting.

Through continued cooperation, government and business hope to give Charlotte a smooth entry into a globally competitive 21st century.
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Title Annotation:Futures Forum; Charlotte, North Carolina
Author:Rosenstrauch, Larry; Watson, Jennifer
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 3, 1993
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