A team of television reporters spent some time in Charlotte this month posing a question that might be uncomfortable to consider.
The team, from the award-winning PBS show "Frontline," spent about two weeks talking to Charlotte's community and business leaders. Among the larger questions it asked, the Squeeze hears, is this: How does Charlotte reimagine its economic future?
That presumes that there's some reimagining to do, given that we have gone from two bank headquarters to one - with that one, Bank of America, hobbled by the credit crisis.
Has the local economy been irrevocably changed by the recession? We went to the economist who looks closest at the city and the region, UNC Charlotte's John Connaughton.
Are Charlotte's days as a boomtown over?
"No," he says. "That's crazy. I think we'll have more people employed in the financial, insurance and real estate industries in five years than we do today."
More? Here's why: When Connaughton does some reimagining, he looks at a city not with a weakened banking spine, but one with more financial power.
"I don't think people realize how the financial industry is going to change," he says. "It's going to be a lot of power concentrated in a few firms."
Yes, he acknowledges, one of those firms - Wells Fargo - took over Charlotte-based Wachovia, but he notes that significant regional operations - the Eastern U.S. - will remain here. "If it's a better-run bank, it could be better for us overall," Connaughton says.
And BofA? "It's going to be a giant. We'll have four firms conducting 60 percent of business in the U.S., and one of those - maybe the largest - is Bank of America."
And if all this rosiness doesn't take root? Connaughton, who was not interviewed for "Frontline," cautions against what he and other business leaders see as a common mistake outsiders make - thinking that our growth is entirely bank-driven.
About five years ago, UNCC studied how Charlotte grew - both in population and income - in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. The result was startling: The city's real income growth was almost identical for each of the three decades.
"The banking industry really didn't start to take off until the late 1980s," Connaughton says. "So most of the growth in the past has been basically driven by economic growth in the rest of the community, as well."
No word on when "Frontline's" Charlotte report might air, or what conclusions the team has drawn. A producer from the show has not returned a message from the Observer. (Update: the show's director will be calling today.) But two weeks signals an impressive effort to get to know the city, so we shouldn't assume a boomtown-gone-bad angle.
We also shouldn't assume good days immediately ahead here, either, not with more banking jobs likely leaving us soon. "It's going to be tough," Connaughton says.
But: "With so much that's left here, I see Charlotte in a great position."