A driving force in Charlotte USA's sustained economic growth is its host of transportation and logistics advantages.
If the real estate axiom of location, location, location applies, then the region is in a geographic sweet spot between major markets in the Northeast and Southeast. Charlotte USA offers a number of advantages for easy access to those markets, including major interstates, highways, Class I and short line rail, and airports.
Two interstates - I-77 and I-85 - intersect near the city's center, while the I-277 loop encircles Charlotte's central business district. The long-awaited I-485 is scheduled for completion in late 2013 or early 2014. In addition, I-40 also serves the 16-county, two-state Charlotte USA region. As a result, more than 300 trucking firms and 100 distribution facilities have operations in the area.
The transportation infrastructure has been aided by a public commitment to investment. In York County, S.C., for example, voters added 1 cent to the county's 5 percent sales tax solely to focus on road construction projects.
"The tax began in 1997 with voters barely passing the measure, and that money went toward local improvements to I-77," says Mark Farris, York County director of economic development. "When voters saw all the positives from that 1-cent tax - called Pennies for Progress - they renewed the program three times. The latest renewal occurred in 2010 with 79 percent of voters approving it."
Farris says road improvements have led to increased investment in York County, including Ross Dress for Less' $300 million in recent years for distribution center projects. Stanley Black & Decker, US Food Service, Performance Food Group and Northern Tool & Equipment have major distribution facilities here as well.
"A key reason is because our road projects have allowed us to provide big trucks with an excellent connection between I-85 and I-77," he says. "The goal in York County is to improve all of our major roads to five lanes, and we've become recognized as a transportation success model throughout South Carolina and even into North Carolina."
Charlotte By Air and Rail
Charlotte USA also enjoys an extensive rail network, with 600 trains running through the region every week. CSX and Norfolk Southern Railway are the Class I service providers, while short line connectors include Aberdeen Carolina & Western Railway and Lancaster & Chester Railroad.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport was the sixth-busiest U.S. airport in 2012, handling more than 41.2 million passengers. The airport's more than 700 daily flights include direct service to major international business destinations including Munich, London, Paris and Mexico City.
The airport handled more than 127.2 million tons of cargo in 2012. Norfolk Southern is developing a $92 million intermodal facility on a 200-acre site at the airport. The facility will be capable of 200,000 lifts per year for transfer of trailers and containers between trucks and trains.
An additional 17 general aviation facilities also serve Charlotte USA, with all 16 counties in the region having at least one municipal airport. Of those 17 facilities, five are regional airports "“ Bryant Field Airport in York County, S.C.; Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport in Union County, N.C.; Gastonia Municipal Airport in Gaston County, N.C.; Hickory Regional Airport in Catawba County, N.C.; and Concord Regional Airport in Cabarrus County, N.C.
These airports provide facilities and services for corporate jets and general aviation aircraft, and also provide additional capacity to relieve congestion at Charlotte Douglas. Concord Regional, for example, houses several private aircraft used by NASCAR race teams, including jets owned by top racing teams such as Gibbs, Hendricks, Penske, Roush and Stewart-Haas.
A 2012 North Carolina Airport Economic Contribution Study stated the airport contributes $175 million annually to the local economy and supports almost 2,000 jobs, says Rick Cloutier, Concord Regional Airport aviation director.
"We are the fifth-busiest airport in North Carolina with about 60,000 operations a year, and we have our own rescue, security and firefighting services on the grounds," Cloutier says.
Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport offers a number of services, from hangar rentals to flight planning to conference space, designed to accommodate both weekend general aviation enthusiasts and pilots who fly the aircraft that serve corporate clients, including the nearby cluster of aerospace-related industries. Bryant Field in Rock Hill is adjacent to a 100-acre industrial park, and some sites in the park allow aircraft to taxi up to the plant door.
And like Charlotte USA, the region's airports show no sign of slowing down.
"We have a 7,400-foot runway that can land everything up to 737s." says Cloutier of Concord Regional. "We're in the process of negotiating with a few airlines to hopefully provide us with daily commercial flight offerings in the near future."