From Wall Street to Tryon Street: The impact of the financial meltdown in the South

In the last few weeks, we've heard a lot about the impact of the finance industry's meltdown on Wall Street. But what about Tryon Street? That's the main avenue running through Charlotte, North Carolina that is headquarters to a vast share of the country's banking might.

A little history. Over the last decade, Charlotte has emerged as a leading center for global finance, overtaking San Francisco to become the second-biggest banking center in the U.S.:

More banking resources ($2 trillion) are headquartered in Charlotte than in all but one other U.S. city. Four of the nation's top 15 banks operate in Charlotte. Bank of America and Wachovia, are both headquartered in Charlotte. Their combined deposits total nearly 1 trillion dollars and rank first and fourth nationally in total deposits.
The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce estimates that the integrated banking and insurance industries employ some 83,000 people in the metro area.
At the top of the pack is Bank of America, who under the leadership of Hugh McColl, a South Carolina native and Marine veteran, pioneered a new banking industry, using mergers and acquisitions to make BoA the biggest bank in the U.S. Mississippi native Ken Lewis took over in 2001 and accelerated the trend, landing massive deals to aquire MBNA, US Trust and LaSalle Bank Corporation.
Over the last year, BoA's take-over zeal has led it into increasingly risky investments. In August 2007, BoA aquired Countrywide Financial for $2 billion. Countrywide had earned notoriety as a leading purveyor of sub-prime home mortgages, financing 20% of all mortgages in the United States. Countrywide has been the target of numerous state investigations, as well as national scrutiny for what amounted to a $51 billion "stealth bailout" from the Federal Home Loan Bank system.
Now, in the wake of Wall Street's meltdown, BoA moved to consolidate its empire further by taking over floundering Merrill Lynch for $50 billion. To say Merrill is a shaky acquisition is an understatement: over the last 18 months, Merrill has lost over $14 billion -- a quarter of all its profits over the last 36 years.
So what does this mean for Charlotte and western North Carolina, which has become increasingly dependent on the volatile finance economy? Here's a report on Bank of America from this week's Charlotte Observer:
The Charlotte bank hasn't disclosed the amount, but analysts are expecting a big number if it's to achieve its goal of shaving $7 billion in annual expenses, or 10 percent of combined costs, by 2012. The cuts could resonate from Charlotte to Boston to New York.

At the high end, Aite Group analyst Alois Pirker said in a report last week that the bank may eliminate up to 27,000 jobs, roughly 10 percent of the combined work force of nearly 270,000 employees.
Earlier this year, Wachovia announced it was slashing 11,000 jobs in the Charlotte area after the bank posted a 2nd-quarter loss of $8.9 billion.
Charlotte and North Carolina -- especially bank CEO's -- reaped the benefits of turning the area into a financial powerhouse over the last decade. But now the region -- especially those at the bottom of the ladder -- are suffering the consequences of the boom-bust finance economy.