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How Charlotte ranks 

Residents see Charlotte one way, but outsiders often see our city another. The Queen City and the metro region have hit genuine economic turbulence for the first time in perhaps decades. Economic struggles that once largely passed us by during other recessions are now being felt here, too.

Depending on which measures they used and when they used them, those that ranked and rated Charlotte over the last year drew very different, and in some cases contradictory, conclusions. As I've pointed out before, by most measures, Raleigh seems to be edging Charlotte out a bit when cities' vital stats are stacked side-by-side. And there was bad news as well as good. But groups and publications that rank cities according to important real world stats that reflect economic strength, culture, quality of life and potential for the future still took note of Charlotte over the last 12 months. Here's a roundup:

Ninth most recession-proof: Forbes.com ranked Charlotte the ninth most recession-proof city in May, before the big bank breakdowns. In this one, the country's 50 largest metropolitan areas were scored according to their job growth, rising home values and low unemployment amid the national economic downturn. Forbes.com ranked Raleigh the fifth most recession-proof. Oklahoma City was first, with San Antonio, Austin, Salt Lake City and Houston beating out Charlotte.

Fifteenth emptiest city: According to Forbes last month, with a rental vacancy rate of 14.7 percent and a home vacancy rate of 3 percent, Charlotte ranks just slightly behind Detroit and Tampa in terms of emptiness. Las Vegas was first, Atlanta came in third and Greensboro was fourth out of the 75 largest metropolitan statistical areas Forbes looked at.

No. 1 city for black families: Charlotte topped Black Enterprise magazine's annual list. According to the Charlotte Chamber, deciding factors included the number of black residents, income, home ownership, unemployment, poverty rates, single-parent homes, education levels, illiteracy, per-pupil spending, in-state college tuition costs, teen pregnancy rates, AIDS rates, home values, cost of living and black-owned businesses.

No. 1 economic strength ranking: This one was awarded by POLICOM Corp. in June 2008, right before the banking sector began to wobble. Whatever the case, the Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord region still ranked first among 363 statistical areas, which has to count for something.

Forty-fifth in unemployment: That's according to the Charlotte Business Journal last month. The Journal ranked 49 metro areas on their unemployment and found the metro area's rate (8.9 percent) and Mecklenburg's (8.3 percent) to be sky high -- just above economically hard-hit cities like Detroit and Las Vegas. The experts say this is because so many unemployed people are moving here. But to have a rate that high just as the banks are starting their layoffs can't be good, either.

Second best place to start a small business: According to bizjournals.com in February 2009. Bizjournals analyzed the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas using a six-part formula aimed at searching for the places that are most conducive to the creation and development of small businesses. Raleigh came in first.

Second manliest city: According to Sperling's Best Places, Charlotte is the second manliest city, after Nashville. It's a dubious honor, considering that cities lost points for "emasculating" trends like having lots of home furnishing stores, lots of beauty magazine subscriptions and high sales of minivans. New York City finished last out of the 50 metropolitan cities ranked because unlike Charlotte, it lacks in the popularity of racing, home improvement and fishing.

Third best retirement place for golfers: That's according to U.S. News & World Report in June 2008. And that's based on climate, health care and recreational and cultural activities.

Tenth in volunteering: The Corporation for National and Community Service ranked North Carolina and the Triangle in the bottom third for volunteering, but Charlotte was the exception, scoring tenth out of 50 large cities for its 32.6-percent volunteer rate. Portland, Seattle and Austin, three cities Charlotte is often accused of trying to emulate, came in third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Among the best suburbs: Businessweek.com's 2009 Top 10 national ranking of the best affordable suburbs listed Cornelius at No. 7 because of the beautiful (but not very affordable) homes on Lake Norman. Fort Mill, S.C., was ranked No. 10. The suburbs were ranked by cost of living, schools, lifestyle and the strength of their local economy.

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