Business North Carolina April 2024

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Jones and the USGA raise the state’s prominence as a golf mecca.



Wake Forest University medical school Dean Ebony Boulware discusses healthcare’s future.


NC East Alliance is helping connect teachers with employers to show students many career opportunities.


Why Trump is counting on Michael Whatley for electoral success; Bob Timberlake releases Amishinfluenced furniture; A Triangle marketer scores by focusing on franchising; Charlotte mulls incentives for developers to revive the center city.


The state’s primo business rankings stem from solid analysis, leaders say.



Industry leaders describe the importance of N.C. transportation, shipping and logistics.



Beaches, industrial parks and a military presence help drive regional economic growth.



Megasites have the potential to transform a community, but they require a lot of hard work.



USGA executive Reg Jones preps for the U.S. Open’s return to Pinehurst.


The N.C. Golf Panel presents its annual survey of the state’s 100 best courses.


Ten treasured moments in North Carolina golf tournament history.


Moore County scores a major annual boost from a global youth competition.


Duke Energy’s bid to replace coal with natural gas pleases Person County. Environmentalists aren’t as happy.


OrthoCarolina chief Dr. Leo Spector mixes an elite business degree with expertise in spinal surgery.


Travelers between Charlotte and Asheville view Shelby as a traffic grind. Officials promise change is coming.

3 APRIL 2024 April 2024, Vol. 44, No. 2 (ISSN 0279-4276). Business North Carolina is published monthly by Business North Carolina at 1230 West Morehead Street, Suite 308, Charlotte, NC 28208. Phone: 704-523-6987. All contents copyright © by Old North State Magazines LLC. Subscription rate: 1 year, $30. For change of address, send mailing label and allow six to eight weeks. Periodicals postage paid at Charlotte, NC, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Business North Carolina, 1230 West Morehead Street, Suite 308, Charlotte, NC 28208 or email Start your day with business news from across the state, direct to your inbox. SIGN UP AT BUSINESSNC.COM/DAILY-DIGEST.
APRIL 2024
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UP FRONT David Mildenberg


Th at North Carolina has a pro-business climate envied by other states is a viewpoint widely held across the political divide, from Phil Berger to Roy Cooper. A story on page 78 describes how state ratings work.

Now, some influencers say that reputation is at risk. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s Republican March primary victory set off punditry suggesting that his views on social issues could threaten decision makers’ perception of the state.

National columnists quickly castigated North Carolina voters for favoring Robinson. They paint him as a bigot lacking respect for women and the LBGBTQ and Jewish communities, among other things.

Robinson calls that criticism nonsense, arguing his working-stiff career and life experience makes him a great choice. Many likely N.C. voters apparently agree: Polls show he is in a tight race with Attorney General Josh Stein, the Democratic Party nominee and an experienced government official.

Strong caveat here: Our magazine doesn’t endorse candidates or take political stands. I’m not credible enough to tell anyone how to vote.

But how much a governor matters for economic performance is an interesting issue. Probably not much, especially in a state with the nation's weakest gubernatorial powers, says Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper.

“At the end of the day, it is a state's business climate, labor climate and tax code that carries the day — not the particular person occupying the governor's mansion,” says site-selection consultant John Boyd, whose New Jersey company has advised businesses for decades. ”I see the state not skipping a beat on the business attraction front should outspoken conservative Mark Robinson win in November.”

Boyd notes that progressive-leaning West Coast businesses, such as Apple, Intel, Meta and Microsoft, have expanded in conservative states such as Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee. Apple, of course, has big plans for the Triangle.

Boyd cites JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon as an outspoken critic of “anti-woke” legislation, which passed in Florida, North Carolina and Texas. He also notes the New York megabank is nearing 20,000 employees in Texas and building big operations in Florida and North Carolina.

VOLUME 44, NO. 4

North Carolina's HB2 controversy in 2016 is often cited as how social-issue legislation can hurt an economy. Backlash to the since-repealed law cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tourism, convention and corporate investment, Cooper contends. Others say the impact was exaggerated.

Eight years later, CEOs understand the dangers of taking controversial political stands, and have toned down the rhetoric, says former Gov. Pat McCrory, whose failed re-election bid in 2016 was probably affected by his HB2 stand.

“The days of corporations falling for wellcoordinated political campaigns are past. Can you spell Bud Light,” he says, citing plummeting sales of the top-selling beer brand after a controversial ad campaign.

“CEOs have learned you can’t make shortterm political decisions for business purposes. People realize how hypocritical and inconsistent that is,” McCrory adds.

The NC Chamber made news with a post-primary statement contending that several populists in Council of State and legislative races defeated candidates with superior qualifications. More extreme candidates make it harder "to move our state forward,” it said.

No reference was made to the gubernatorial race, suggesting the business lobbying group knows where the key decisions are made in North Carolina and that there is no upside to riling up a potential future governor.

Business North Carolina and the North Carolina Tribune are hosting an event on April 26 in Raleigh that will spotlight key issues facing the state. We’ve invited a dozen impressive leaders to discuss issues including workforce development, artificial intelligence, college athletics reform and medical marijuana. Join us at the City Club of Raleigh for a fastpaced morning. Sign up at the Business NC website’s events link.

Contact David Mildenberg at


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with Nido Qubein

Wake Forest University medical school Dean Ebony Boulware joined High Point University President Nido Qubein in the Power List interview, a partnership for discussion with some of the state’s most influential leaders. Business North Carolina’s annual Power List publication spotlights the state’s powerbrokers.

Ebony Boulware is the dean of Wake Forest University School of Medicine and chief science officer of Advocate Health, the third-largest operator of not-for-profit hospitals. Her move to Wake Forest in January 2023 followed a distinguished career after her graduation from Duke University School of Medicine. She was a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for about 12 years, then returned to Duke’s medical school to head its general internal medicine section and, later, directed the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute. She is a graduate of Vassar College, where she played field hockey and basketball for four years. Boulware has two children, ages 17 and 18.

This story includes excerpts from Boulware’s interview and was edited for clarity.

You were a star basketball player in college. You should have been in the WNBA! But you ended up in an important medical position. How did this happen?

Sports are a great way to learn about teamwork, partnership and leadership. I’ve always been driven to be a part of a team, always been driven to win and to be a part of excellence. I think those core values are what also led me to become a leader in medicine.

Is it unusual for an English grad to be a medical student?

Yes, I think many people, especially when I was entering medical school, were focused on the sciences as their majors, and I was an English major. But I grew up in a family of two doctors, so I had some confidence about just taking the premedicine courses. I found that being an English major and in liberal arts was very informative in how I work with people and how I think about things. And so it’s been very beneficial, especially as I think about the research career that I’ve had and thinking about important problems and how to communicate with people.

Wake Forest is expanding into Charlotte, one of largest cities without a four-year medical school. What’s going to happen there?

We’re thrilled to come to Charlotte and expand our programs there. We’re building out a full medical school with the full four years of education. We’re also building our research programs. They’re enhancing our faculty. So we’re really focused on the full spectrum of activities for medical education and research. You already have the hospital because of Advocate Health.

Why don’t we have more medical schools?

Well, we are seeing growth in the number of medical schools, and our second campus is a part of that growth and trying to meet the need. We do have a need to grow the institutions of higher education with regard to medicine. And so we’re working on that at Wake Forest.


Just give me an example of your day. I know no two days are alike, and you have a family, so work-life balance is very important to you?

As soon as I wake up, I go for a run for an hour. I meditate every morning for 20 minutes. I’m just running toward good health and better health. And I get up, make breakfast for my son, get into the car, get started on emails, do some meetings, and do planning for the school, a lot of strategic planning. We have a lot of problemsolving meetings.

What is the most complex part of your job? Is it dealing with intelligent, engaged, demanding faculty?

You love them unconditionally or there’s some angst unconditionally. OK. Yes, it is truly wonderful students, truly wonderful faculty. It is expanding one school with two campuses. So it’s a very exciting, explosive time for the school. Our growth with Advocate Health is very exciting. I think just the dynamics of change are probably the most complicated aspects of practicing medicine today.

I’m going to ask you a sensitive question, which I also asked former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was the youngest woman and only woman of color to become provost of Stanford University. How did Ebony Boulware achieve what she did? You’ve had a beautifully balanced and successful life. You exude confidence and you command respect. So many others need to know your story and need to aspire to do what you have done. Tell me, what is your secret?

First, it’s an honor to even be in the conversation with Dr. Rice because I’m standing on the shoulders of people like Dr. Rice and my parents, who were early pioneers in terms of gaining professional careers and making success. In my case, my own grandmother could not get to college because she had to clean houses.

My father was part of the first generation of my family to get a college education, let alone go on to medical school. And I’m really standing on generations of people who sacrificed for that. I’ve always kept that in mind. It’s very important to work hard, stay focused and keep my goals in mind.

As you look forward 10 years, tell me where are we going to be as a nation vis a vis health care?

We’re going to be an aging nation for sure. Our hope is that we’re doing health care better and we’re making sure more people can get access to health care. So my number one concern is making sure that everybody can have access to health care.

We are improving the rates of health care insurance. North Carolina just took on Medicaid expansion. That’s an important advance. Where we see that states have taken that on, where we have more access to health care, people do have better health outcomes.

That’s an improvement. But we’re not seeing the narrowing that we’d like to see in many of the disparities in terms of health for rural individuals and people who are racial and ethnic minorities. We’re

still seeing big gaps in terms of health and health outcomes. So I’d like to see in 10 years that we’ve made an improvement there.

We can expect that we’re going to see a lot of technological improvement. We’re seeing more care being done in people’s homes outside of the health care system. And the use of things like artificial intelligence, optics, robotics, that’s really explosive.

What did you find different about the Winston-Salem campus, versus your presence at Duke. Did you find differences in the communities, in the culture, in the strategic direction and administrative viewpoints?

Both are wonderful. Winston-Salem is a wonderful growing area. There’s a tremendous investment in innovation. One of the wonderful things that I’ve enjoyed is seeing our Institute for Regenerative Medicine really grow. Director Dr. Tony Atala is an incredible leader. That has really allowed for the institution to grow, which is why I’ve been so excited to join.

The other part is retaining healthcare workers, and having a sustainable future. How difficult is that?

It’s very competitive. We’re fortunate at Wake Forest University School of Medicine to have an outstanding faculty, and we do everything we can to keep them with us as they’re making incredible discoveries. It is a competitive area, so we want to invest in people, make sure we’re out in front and make sure that we’re growing their programs.

We’ve had a huge growth in our research funding over the last several years, and so we’re very excited to be able to invest in our faculty that way.

I talk to a lot of MDs and there’s some discontent, though not necessarily at Wake Forest. Doctors are making less money and working just as hard. I have a lot of buddies who are choosing to retire. What is your observation?

We know we have very high rates of burnout in our profession. Across the entire field, we’re working hard on ensuring that physicians in particular, but nurses as well, and others who are really on those front lines have the right types of rest and integrate action and professional fulfilment so that they want to stay with us. We need this group of people.

I don’t know that I ever met a basketball star who rose to the deanship of the medical school. I know some who became CEOs of businesses. Are you unique in that regard?

I haven’t polled my colleagues to find out who was engaged in athletics. It’d be very interesting to find that out.

What are you most grateful for?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to help people live longer lives and better lives in the most equitable ways. That’s what really drives me. I’m also grateful to be able to train that next generation of leaders that are coming behind me. That’s the most gratifying component of the work that I do. ■

7 APRIL 2024


developers are connecting teachers with employers.

The NC East Alliance economic development agency in Greenville has come up with a plan to keep youngsters in eastern North Carolina and working in local industry. They are enlisting teachers.

The stakes are high for the future of the region from Virginia south to Jacksonville. The General Assembly and private funders, notably the BelleJAR Foundation, are providing serious money. If it works, it will be tempting for other rural areas losing population to replicate it.

The idea is to train hundreds and maybe eventually thousands of teachers in two- and three-day workshops about career opportunities in the region. So, for example, it trains teachers about jobs in the health sciences by walking them through the ECU Health complex in Greenville. It takes teachers through the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center East in Havelock. Then it helps the teachers design what they have seen into their lessons.

“For us, traditional economic development in rural eastern North Carolina was no longer effective,” says Todd Edwards, a Farmville general contractor who chairs the NC East group. “We were experiencing population loss in about two-thirds of our counties — or maybe a little more than two-thirds of our counties. Just that talent bleed.”

NC East, through its STEM East program, was helping schools with science and math, but that didn’t stop population losses. “We were training the workforce for other places. They were getting trained up and seeking opportunities elsewhere,” says Edwards.

And that was because many young people in the region had no idea what career options were available within a 15- or 30-minute drive. Their parents didn’t know. Crucially, many of their teachers didn’t.

“We have major pharmaceutical manufacturers here,” says Edwards. “We have marine systems—we have, I think, 60-something boat manufacturers in the region. We’re the epicenter in North

Carolina down here of smart ag. And I could keep going. We’ve got all sorts of advanced manufacturing, but as these students and the general populace drive by these buildings daily, weekly, monthly, they have no idea what’s going on inside.”

So NC East created the new initiative, called Industry Cluster Education, with $15 million from the legislature to help cover the next three years


There are good jobs in eastern North Carolina if you know about them. Manufacturing pays well and, by my count, there are more than 1,000 manufacturing firms in the 29 counties with 60,000 jobs.

But it will be hard to sustain them in many counties — or attract new jobs — if folks keep leaving. The 29 counties have about 1.4 million residents. The region lost around 28,500 residents between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, which doesn’t sound bad, except that growth in a handful of coastal counties like Onslow and Currituck masked losses inland. Some 22 of the 29 counties lost population, 12 of them at double-digit rates.

Economic Todd Edwards
Vann Rogerson

This shows up in public school enrollment. At an NC East conference in January, senior regional economist Laura Ullrich of the Richmond Fed showed a slide of enrollment trends between 2000 and 2019.

Six school districts showed gains, like Onslow and Pitt, home to ECU. The rest had losses, five by more than 40%.

Folks have been leaving and taking their kids. This gives a lot of urgency to NC East’s project, to give parents hope for their children.


Last summer there were three pilot workshops. The health sciences one was a good example. It started at Pitt Community College with 22 teachers from throughout the region, and it was built around a scenario. “You just got bit by a shark. Let’s talk about what it takes to stabilize you,” says Bruce Middleton, executive director of the STEM East program. It was an immersion into the variety of jobs that support ECU Health’s treatment of a shark victim. Like who maintains the medivac helicopter. Or who purchases medical supplies.

“We had teachers there, listening with both their ears,” says Middleton. “One ear may be going, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea that there were so many individual, separate career pathways.’”

“We need all the doctors and nurses,” says Middleton. “But there are also HVAC technicians, there are plumbers, there are electricians, there are computer technicians.”

The second day, the teachers went around Pitt to hear what’s involved in getting ready for the jobs they had seen, some with short certificate programs and some with associate degrees. That training is available at the 16 community colleges in the region, close to everyone.

“Then we came to the classroom, and we finished with that conversation about how do you then sit down with your standards? What are you actually having to teach at your grade level? How do you then take everything you’ve heard [and] have students have the same picture of what you’ve seen?”

When the teachers go back to school, they have access to folks in the industry clusters who have agreed to make themselves available to teachers, who can come to the schools and have the students come to them. “We use the term ‘human library,’” says Middleton.



This summer there will be as many as nine workshops, expanding to other industry clusters in the region, including maybe biopharma — a hot area — with as many as 30 teachers each. This is a heavy lift, happening right now. They have to get teachers signed up from around the region, and that means having superintendents get the word out. The community colleges, key partners in this, are handling a lot of logistics and lining up industry partners for the workshops. A lot of stuff has to get done in the next three months.

There are about 12,000 public school teachers in the region. Next summer’s workshops may include 300 of them. NC East is staffing up to bring in folks to coordinate each industry cluster, and it will be able to handle increasing numbers of workshops over the next few years. What is hoped is that teachers who go through this program will share what they have learned with colleagues in their schools.

Plans also call for a different approach to career and job fairs, which have typically been highly localized.

“When we talk to industry,” says NC East CEO Vann Rogerson, a veteran economic developer who grew up on a Martin County farm, “they are siloed within the county that they’re domiciled. The school system, the colleges, the employers have job fairs and interact with each other in that county.

“But when you really talk to the companies, they’re interested in other school systems, and other communities in their labor shed surrounding their domicile county. Companies say, ‘I want to be visible past here.’”


Middleton has been an educator for 40 years, in the classroom and administration, and wishes he could have done what he is training now. “I was a high school biology teacher. And when I think about my own teaching, I go wow, if I really thought hard about taking biology class and using, as the context for teaching, using something like this relevant to kids. Using health science or using agriculture, and at the same time connecting that to our regional healthcare and our agriculture systems.

“Not only would I have had much better luck with my kids understanding the importance of what I was teaching, because they could see it in action, but it would also be connected to a career in the region. Where they would go, ‘I’m learning this and that’s where I want to go to work someday.’” ■

9 APRIL 2024
Veteran journalist Dan Barkin writes the NC Military Report newsletter for Business NC. He can be reached at
Population growth by county from 2010 to 2020 Urban counties Less than 2% (-2%) to 2% More than 2% Rural counties Less than 2% (-2%) to 2% More than 2%


A Gastonian’s simple task: Deliver the White House to the GOP.

aston County’s Michael Whatley has the top job of helping Donald Trump get back to the White House. e former president handpicked the leader of the North Carolina Republican Party in March as chair of the Republican National Committee. Wilmington native Lara Trump, who is married to Trump’s son Eric, is co-chair.

GIt’s a prestigious post, but calling it challenging may be an understatement, given the former president’s track record for a revolving door of top associates, from cabinet secretaries to senior aides. at includes Trump’s displeasure with Whatley’s predecessor, Ronna McDaniel, who was pushed aside a er seven years, with the rst presidential rematch since 1956 looming less than eight months away.

What does the “You’re red” guy see in the Watauga County native, whose most prestigious Beltway job was as chief of sta to Elizabeth Dole, a one-term U.S. senator from North Carolina?

Trump recognizes how Whatley’s mind sees things “a step or two ahead,” says David Holt, his business partner for 15 years. Holt likens Whatley’s political savvy to the way he strategizes a game of three-dimensional chess, where each player controls three vertically stacked boards rather than a single board.

“He carefully considers all the available options and how they may play out,” says Holt. Whatley also has other intangible qualities, his longtime associate says. “Above all, he is an endlessly positive and optimistic man and he delivers what he promises. at’s a recipe for success anywhere.”

Holt, Andrew Browning and Whatley used their initials to co-found HBW Resources in 2007. e advocacy and communications company, which now has 30 employees, has run “more than 300 successful campaigns,” mostly representing energy and environmental industry clients, according to its website. ose clients include both traditional fossil fuel-oriented business and alternative energy suppliers. Holt, who worked in the George H.W. Bush administration, lives in Houston. Browning,

a U.S. Department of Energy appointee during the Clinton administration, is based in Denver.

Whatley, who declined interview requests, le HBW in May 2022 to focus on his North Carolina Republican Party job. He had lessened his day-to-day responsibilities over the previous three years as he focused on keeping North Carolina a politically red state.

“Michael has always had a calling to serve and to give back to the country. His rst love has always been politics and supporting American democracy, and politics is how he was called to serve,” Holt says. “We are very proud of him.”

Whatley declined a salary while chairing the state party, an N.C. GOP spokesman says. He resigned from the post a er joining the RNC in March. McDaniel had total compensation of nearly $360,000 in 2022, according to Federal Election Commission data.


e RNC job is a big step from his previous post, says Michael Bitzer, a politics and history professor at Catawba College in Salisbury. Whatley will have to show “absolute loyalty to Donald Trump and whether he’ll show that back is another question,” he says. Within days of taking charge at the RNC, Whatley red more than 60 sta ers and required others to re-apply for their jobs, according to Politico

Whatley stepped in with the national Republican Party facing nancial challenges. Campaign nance reports showed the RNC entered February with $8.7 million of cash on hand, compared with $24 million for the Democratic National Committee. e DNC’s chair is Orangeburg, South Carolina, native Jaime Harrison, who lost the U.S. Senate race to Lindsay Graham in 2020.

Raising a lot of money is Whatley’s rst challenge, says Bitzer. “ e real test is whoever gave to Nikki Haley, will they open their wallets and pockets to Donald Trump?” he says. “ is is going to be a monumentally expensive election.” Spending in the 2020 BidenTrump election totaled $5.7 billion, according to, which tracks campaign nance.


e RNC’s nancial troubles may solve themselves. Haley’s campaign was heavily supported by major Republican donors dissatis ed with Trump, such as the Koch family network’s Americans for Prosperity Action. With the former South Carolina governor out of the race, more money may ow to Trump. A key issue is whether the RNC will help Trump pay his legal bills, which political observers say could depress donations.

Whatley’s work in North Carolina garnered national respect because Tar Heel Republicans have been more successful politically than peers in other Southern states, including Georgia and Virginia.

Trump carried the state in 2016 and 2020. In 2022, his endorsement of Ted Budd helped the Davie County businessman win his U.S. Senate seat, overcoming a 30-percentage point de cit to former Gov. Pat McCrory.

Whatley earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UNC Charlotte, a master’s degree in religion from Wake Forest University and a law degree from Notre Dame in 1997. He moved to Gastonia more than 20 years ago to take a job as a federal law clerk in Charlotte and later worked for George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount process and for the U.S. Energy Department, before joining Dole’s Senate sta .

e GOP also continues to dominate the N.C. General Assembly, gaining super-majorities in the state Senate and House, aided by a party switch in 2023 by former Democratic state Rep. Tricia Cotham of Charlotte. Whatley also helped Republicans build a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court, which had leaned Democratic before the 2022 election.

A er Kay Hagan won the 2008 Senate election, Whatley returned to Gastonia to rejoin HBW. Friends describe him as an active family man and church member, even as he has traveled for corporate and political work. He and his wife, Suzanne, have three children.

“Republicans have built a strategy and organization to show up at a higher rate for elections than Democrats, and even independents. at strategy in North Carolina has worked consistently,” says Bitzer.

Trump also handpicked McDaniel as RNC chair a er his 2016 election, but criticism of her mounted because of weak fundraising and the GOP’s failure to make expected gains in the 2022 congressional elections. e Democratic party retained control of the Senate and kept the GOP from adding many seats in the House.

e RNC divides up money for both the presidential contest and House and Senate races. at’s always a tricky challenge, but even trickier for Whatley given Trump’s unusual clout over the party and the former president’s court-related nancial challenges. In February, a New York judge found Trump guilty of civil fraud, putting him on the hook for $454 million in nes and interest. He is appealing the verdict.


Back in his home county, Whatley’s rise is a matter of pride. “Gaston County has an RNC chair. at’s pretty cool,” says State Sen. Brad Overcash, a Belmont Republican seeking a second term.

He recalls how critics called Whatley a “Washington guy” when he ran for state party chair in 2019. “Oh no,” says Overcash, who’s known Whatley for a decade. “He’s been hanging around Gaston County a long, long time. He has spent a lot of time in Washington, but that’s just what a [senator’s] chief of sta does.”

“It’s incredible to see him balance his professional responsibilities with his home life,” says Jonathan Fletcher, former chair of the Gaston County Republican Party. “I think it shows his character.”

Fletcher and Overcash expect Whatley’s style to transition well on the national level. Whatley took over the state party when it was also on shaky ground, following the resignation of Chairman Robin Hayes. e former congressman from Concord pleaded guilty to bribery charges but was later pardoned by Trump.

Whatley bolstered party nances by using data to communicate fundraising strategies to potential donors, his friends note. “ ere’s nothing fake or phony at all about Michael,” says Overcash. “Yes, he’s risen to a high place in politics, yet he’s not changed at all. He’s a genuinely nice guy.”

Whatley can “take the heat when Trump gives it” and “tell Trump the truth when he needs to hear it,” adds Fletcher. “Whatley has learned to do all that masterfully. It’s not blind loyalty, but it is a combination of dependability, competence and patience. at’s a combination that anyone Trump discards either never had or has lost somewhere along the way.”

Adds Overcash: “I think Trump, and the entire national Republican push in this election, is in much better shape with Michael Whatley in charge.” ■

11 APRIL 2024
▲ Wilmington native Lara Trump and Michael Whatley were officially voted the new chair and co-chair of the Republican National Committee on March 8. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY


A star performer for decades, Uptown Charlotte ponders public support for developers.

Charlotte’s central business district is not the same bustling business hub that it was pre-pandemic, a similar fate facing many U.S. cities. Widespread retail vacancies are obvious, while eight Uptown buildings are at least 50% vacant.

Between 2019 to 2023, overall vacancy in center city Charlotte doubled from less than 10% to 21%, according to the CBRE real-estate services firm. Overall, the Charlotte market had the seventhsharpest increase in office occupancy over the past four years, among 50 markets tracked by Cushman & Wakefield, another big real estate firm.

Vacancy rates are poised to rise even higher, as many leases are set to end this year.

situation, city officials are considering supporting property developers through a combination of taxpayer funds and incentives.

The gloom shouldn’t be overstated. The district remains home to headquarters for Bank of America, Truist, Honeywell, Duke Energy and other big companies. The center city’s struggles are also tempered by growth in the South End neighborhood, which lies across a four-lane loop highway that circles Uptown. Office leasing volume gained 35% in South End last year, while the rest of the city experienced a 28% decline, according to the CoStar real estate data firm.

Still, to revive the center city and avoid a “ghost town”

The property getting the initial incentives spotlight is 526 S. Church St., which became Duke Energy’s headquarters when it opened in 1975, then called the Electric Center. The building was acquired for $35 million in December 2022 by Washington, D.C.-based MRP Realty and Charlotte-based Asana Partners. The developers plan to convert the 13-story office building into 440 residences with retail properties on the first floor. The $250 million project would include a separate adjacent retail building.

In February, Assistant City Manager Tracy Dodson, who leads economic development efforts, pitched the incentive program for MRP and Asana to the Charlotte City Council, which gave tentative approval. She promised to provide more details in the next few weeks.

Dodson and city officials say the incentives program can increase the city’s tax base, provide public parking and community spaces and create jobs. If the proposal is approved, developers may set aside some space for affordable housing, while improving adjacent pedestrian areas.

Conceptual Rendering
Charlotte Center City Partners held a design competition for ideas on how to reinvigorate older buildings. The Brooklyn and Church concept is pictured above.

Developers say incentives are needed to ease the hefty expense of converting office space to livable units. Having public support also ensures that Charlotte officials have a voice in developers’ plans, potentially steering positive impacts.

“For office to multifamily conversions to be successful, the market rent has to be strong, the construction costs have to be manageable and the [cost] basis of the property has to be extremely low,” says Rob Cochran, senior managing director at Cushman Wakefield. “Given some of the current softness in the multifamily market, converting to residential will be difficult in downtown Charlotte right now.”

Most of all, the city wants to avoid empty buildings with declining property values, which depresses tax collections. Some former Uptown employers have moved a mile or two south to South End, often taking less space. Examples include the Alston & Bird law firm and Grant Thornton accounting business. The vacancy rate for newer South End offices is less than 12%, according to CBRE.

“Right now the tax values are over-inflated on many highly vacant office buildings, and those tax values will continue to decline over time,” says Patrick Gildea, a CBRE vice chair in Charlotte. Conversions to different uses can lead to higher valuations and tax collections, he adds.

Cities such as Chicago and Washington have moved forward with conversion projects driven by tax breaks, though Charlotte’s effort is a rarity for North Carolina.

As an older building needing renovation and with a lower market value than newly built structures, the former Duke Energy site may make sense for a renovation. The project’s retail section probably needs to be “destination entertainment” that attracts people to the area, says Gildea.

“It is incredibly interesting because again we have service retail uptown, but we don’t have a lot of exciting destination or

entertainment-focused retail, and that’s the brand that Asana is most known for,” he says. Asana focuses on redeveloping retail centers in older neighborhoods, including Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte and Brightleaf Square in Durham.

Redeveloping Uptown Charlotte is challenging because many of its 1980s-era office towers “have a lot of core space, including elevator banks, that would require windowless bedrooms and other less-than-ideal layouts for apartments,” says Chuck McShane, CoStar’s director of market analytics. “Charlotte has a handful of buildings where it could work, but conversions won’t be a panacea to all of the vacancy problems.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced downtowns to diversify away from their heavy focus on offices, McShane says. Charlotte, which emerged as a major office market largely because of its big banks’ growth, has to figure out a smart response to a changing world. ■

13 APRIL 2024
Charlotte Assistant City Manager Tracy Dodson 526 Church St. served as the headquarters for Duke Energy when it was built in 1975.


A Triangle marketer scores with a focus on franchising.

Sixteen years ago, veteran Triangle marketing executive David Chapman was coaching a youth baseball team when another dad mentioned his work as an executive with a franchising company. e chance encounter prompted Chapman to shi his business’ focus to a sector that now dominates many U.S. industries.

Since then, Holly Springs-based 919 Marketing has worked for about 200 franchising companies involved in many business sectors, helping grow revenue and attract franchisees. at includes restaurants, home services, auto repair, senior housing and healthcare.

While many marketing company owners prize their independence, Chapman concluded he could have a bigger impact and expand his operation by selling a majority stake to a privateequity group. Working with a business broker, he had contact with 300 rms before picking ve nalists.

e winning bidders in November 2020 were London-based Landon Capital Partners, a familyowned group that has an o ce in Boston, and Green Farms Capital of Westport, Connecticut. Terms weren’t disclosed.

919 is among 11 portfolio companies — ranging from a Wisconsin-based cheese maker, a 2,000-employee industrial parts manufacturer based in Virginia and a Connecticut-based mattress company — listed on Landon’s website.

Since the transaction, 919’s parent, Big Rock Brands, has acquired marketing agencies in Florida and Virginia, plus a data analytics company in the Sunshine State. e combined company employs about 120 people, plus additional subcontractors.

Chapman completed his three-year non compete agreement with his investors last year, and in March stepped down as CEO. He remains chairman of 919, with the business based at his Holly Springs o ce. His son, Graham, remains chief growth o cer,

while his wife, Sue Yanello, who Chapman credits as a key force in the company’s success, is a consultant.

e company’s new CEO is Lorne Fisher, whose Fort Lauderdalebased company, Fish Consulting, was acquired by Big Rock Brands in 2023. He previously worked for the Ketchum ad agency and Visa.

Chapman was born in Winston-Salem, but lived in many places including the Bahamas, Canada and Guam, as his father took di erent jobs with AT&T. A er graduating from Appalachian State University in 1980, he worked for several companies, including the Long, Haymes & Carr advertising agency in Winston-Salem. It is now part of Interpublic Group.

He started 919 in 1996, building a traditional marketing rm with clients including Greensboro-based Apex Analytix, and Hosted Solutions, a Cary-based datacenter company that was sold for more than $300 million in 2010 a er less than a decade in business.

He shi ed to a franchising focus when he concluded the business model’s growth would accelerate. Restaurant clients over the years have included Golden Corral and Wayback Burgers.

“Franchising companies do better during economic downturns, partly because laid-o corporate executives want to own their businesses,” he says. “Good franchisors provide training and support, in return for a portion of revenue. at can be an advantage over starting a business from scratch.”

Yanello, a former television journalist in Raleigh, helped recruit a team skilled in writing, video and social media. “Having veteran storytellers has been critical,” she says. “We have former TV reporters in Dallas, Miami and other cities who know how to shape our clients’ stories and get customers in the doors.” For example, an urgent-care client developed local TV features that helped viewers identify di erent types of coughs.

“David has capitalized on market trends throughout his tenure as CEO, providing franchise brands with actionable marketing data, analytics and world-class content creation,” says Michael Kessler, a Big Rock board member who owns Green Farms Capital.

e biggest change that Chapman has seen in his career is the marketing industry’s obsession with metrics to analyze results. “Clients have to know what is being e ective. ere’s much less patience than years past.” ■



Legendary painter and designer Bob Timberlake is returning to the furniture business.

He’s struck deals for his “American Home” line with Archbold Furniture and Carolina Customer Leather to manufacture bedroom, dining room and office furniture. It’s been rolled out to test stores and will launch nationwide later this year.

“I’ve had to fight hard to keep my furniture ‘Made in America,’ believing American craftsmanship is second to none,” says Timberlake, 86. “I spent a few days with Archbold at their facilities and having worked all year with Carolina Customer Leather, there is no question this fact remains true today.”

The “World of Bob Timberlake” line with Lexington Furniture sold an estimated $2.2 billion, an industry record after it was introduced in October 1990. Sales at the famed Harrods department store in London topped $100 million annually for more than a decade.

At the end of 2009, Timberlake’s license with Lexington expired after he objected to the company using Chinese manufacturers to make his furniture. He then worked with Hickory-based Century Furniture, which made the furniture until the end of 2019. He spent last year designing a new line and finding the right manufacturers.

Archbold Furniture, a privately held company based in Ohio, has made solid-wood furniture since 1900, though it started as a ladder

manufacturer. The ladder business was sold in 1997. In 2010, it partnered with an Amish finisher, and its products have 13 stain options applied using old-fashioned Amish techniques. The company’s furniture is sold to nearly 500 retailers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Carolina Custom Leather is based in Conover and uses solid hardwood frames and offers more than 500 leather and fabric covers in its manufacturing. Its owner, Todd Stroud, was previously president of The Tanner Co., furniture importer. He also worked at Hickory-based BradingtonYoung, which makes chairs, recliners and sofas.

“We are excited to be working with Bob on the new Bob Timberlake American Home collection,” says Stroud. “All the upholstery will have Bob’s love for the outdoors.”

Carolina Custom Leather will debut five sofas, six chairs, two office chairs and three dining room chairs from the collection in April.

Timberlake’s son, Dan, says the company conducted extensive research and evaluated furniture manufacturers to select the partners. The Timberlakes plan to strike other licensing deals later this year for lamps, lights and rugs.

The 15 test stores offering “American Home” are all east of the Mississippi River

Some of the pieces in the new American Home collection from Bob Timberlake. Famed Tar Heel artist Bob Timberlake launches furniture line with an Amish twist.

in various states – Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia, for example – says Dan Timberlake. He added that more stores wanted the furniture, but that they wanted to limit the initial rollout.

Sales are exceeding expectations, says Dan Timberlake, declining to provide numbers. The line will launch for nationwide distribution on April 13 at the International Home Furnishings furniture market in High Point.

At the Doerr Furniture store in New Orleans, the king-sized bed is selling for $3,150 while a nine-drawer dresser retails for $2,887. A fivedrawer chest costs $2,250, and a two-drawer nightstand sells for $871. A mirror is $540.

Bob Timberlake became famous in the 1970s for his paintings of rural America, which have been shown around the world. His Lexington gallery, which is open Wednesday through Sunday, sells prints and originals, as well as some of his previous furniture designs. ■

17 APRIL 2024
Bob Timberlake at his design studio in Thomasville.



Truist Financial agreed to sell its remaining holding in Truist Insurance to an investor group led by Stone Point Capital and Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. The sale values the fifth-largest U.S. insurance brokerage at about $15.5 billion and bolsters Truist’s capital.

Bojangles franchisees are suing the brand over its marketing fund, arguing that the company stopped providing regular information on how those dollars get used. Bojangles said remains “committed to working shoulder to shoulder with them.”

Virginia-based Dollar Tree will close 970 Family Dollar stores over the next few years. The company CEO says persistent inflation and lower government benefits hurt lowincome consumers who are a big part of Family Dollar’s customer base. The Levine family started Family Dollar here in 1959 and sold the business to Dollar Tree for $8.5 billion in 2015.

Charlotte Pipe and Foundry broke ground on 80 acres in Maize, Kansas. Once complete, the plant will employ at least 50 people. Charlotte Pipe, which is familyowned and has been in operation since 1901, manufactures cast iron and plastic pipe and fittings.


South Bend, Indiana-based Steel Warehouse will invest $30.5 million in a Hickory plant, creating 58 jobs. The 77-year-old industrial steel processor operates 15 locations in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. Salaries will have an average annual wage of $62,000, exceeding the Catawba County average of $54,151.

PDQ closed its restaurants here and in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Winston-Salem and Wake Forest. It also shuttered South Carolina locations in Greenville and Columbia.


Charlotte-based Albemarle Corp. is “kind of slow playing” its plans to start mining lithium at a long-closed site here, CEO Kent Masters told an industry conference. Because of sharp declines in the pricing of lithium, he says. In January, the company said it was delaying a $1.3 billion refining plant in South Carolina that was expected to open in 2026 and a $180 million research center in north Charlotte.


A 40-plus-year-old Mooresville company that makes specialized electronics parts plans to close, resulting in the loss of 97 jobs. General Microcircuits East West, owned by Atlanta’s East West Manufacturing, said layoffs start April 22.

Tire Masters closed after a massive sinkhole put the business in jeopardy. Mayor Chris Carney says the responsibility for the sinkhole has unfairly been placed on the owners. Tire Masters was at the location for 28 years.


Mills Automotive Group signed an agreement to open dealerships in Charlotte and Raleigh to sell the Fisker electric vehicle. It will also open one in Greenville, South Carolina. The Ocean SUV starts at $38,990 and has a range of up to 360 miles.


California-based GrubMarket acquired Salisbury-based Performance Produce for an undisclosed price. Performance Produce sells 80 different produce items to nearly 100 different retail customers. J.R. Roach and his wife, Virginia, founded Performance Produce in 2007 with an empty warehouse. The company now has dozens of employees.

NC TREND ››› Statewide




Dallas-based Jacobs Solutions, an international professional services firm, plans to lay off 240 workers through midMay at the military base after a government contract wasn’t renewed. The company said that its government client has selected a new contractor, who may employ most of the existing workforce.


Phoenix-based SunTree Snacks announced in September 2022 it would invest $10.1 million and create 94 jobs at a manufacturing facility here for its sweet and salty, nut-based snacks. Eighteen months later, the company announced it would permanently close the plant by April 30, putting 29 people out of work.

The 2024 North Carolina Main Street Conference brought community and economic development leaders here from across the state to examine downtown revitalization and economic development strategies. The three-day annual conference is organized by the North Carolina Department of Commerce and its Main Street and Rural Planning Center.


MrBeast — aka Jimmy Donaldson, a 25-year-old Pitt County native – was the subject of a cover story in Time

magazine. Donaldson has more than 400 million followers across all social media. The magazine calls MrBeast the biggest beneficiary of a new media ecosystem.


Nine McDonald’s restaurants in Robeson, Bladen and Columbus counties that were owned and operated by Rust Enterprises have been sold to Chapman Family Enterprises. It was established in 1969 in New Jersey. Terms were not disclosed.


The state is closer to buying more than 400 acres here, which would lead to the permanent conservation of property teeming with habitat that supports federaland state-listed species. The local board agreed to sell the tract to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for $660,000.


The N.C. Department of Labor fined Barnes Farming $187,509, its maximum penalty, after the September death of seasonal farm worker Jose Arturo Gonzalez Mendoza, 29. The agency cited Barnes Farming with three “serious” violations. W


Wanchese Fish Co., started 88 years ago by a local fisherman, closed its fish offloading and packing operations here. Cooke Seafood bought the local company in 2015. A marine and fishing equipment store will remain open.


Smithfield Foods named Kraig Westerbeek president of its hog production operations, reporting to CEO Shane Smith. Westerbeek joined Smithfield in 1993. He helped start Smithfield Renewables, the company’s carbon reduction and renewable energy platform.W


Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announced a nationwide $3 billion Clean Ports Program at the Port of Wilmington. The program will help fund a shift to zero emissions equipment and infrastructure for the nation’s ports. Officials didn’t disclose how much the Wilmington site would receive.

General Electric Aerospace will invest $46 million in North Carolina as part of a $650 million investment in its manufacturing facilities and supply chain in 2024. GE Aerospace has $22 million going to Wilmington, $11 million going to Asheville, $7 million to Durham and $5 million to West Jefferson.

Enviva Pellets, a supplier of wood pellets used for energy generation with a presence at the Port of Wilmington, filed for bankruptcy protection. With 10 plants across the Southeast, the Maryland-based company has leased a storage facility and terminal at Wilmington since 2016.

The N.C. Department of Transportation submitted the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement project for federal grant consideration, which could pay for as much as half of the $400 million-plus new bridge. The funds would go toward constructing a higher, 135-foot fixed bridge.

Monteith Construction and its Grey Interiors and Citadel Masonry units adopted an employee stock ownership plan. The 165-employee company formed in 1998 and has four Carolinas offices.

Patricia Kusek resigned less than six months after becoming a New Hanover Community Endowment director. She’s a former vice chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.

India-based industrial hose manufacturer Polyhose plans to double the size of its current facility inside Pender Commerce Park. The company picked the site in 2019 and moved into its building in 2021.

››› Statewide


Pennsylvania-based Potters Industries purchased the former Ardagh Glass facility for $6.5 million, for warehouse use. The facility, which is 500,000 square feet and sits on more than 114 acres, was previously used to make beer bottles.

Germany-based Schott Phama is investing $371 million to build a pharmaceutical production plant that will create 401 jobs. It is eligible for $4.9 million in state incentives.



A new joint venture plans to spend $60 million and add 133 jobs for a production facility here that will make parts for electric vehicle batteries. FTBC, a joint venture between Fujihatsu Tech America and Toyota Tsusho America, will make and sell prismatic aluminum cell cases and covers with discharge valves. Production should start in 2025. The operation will support the Toyota Battery Manufacturing North Carolina facility.


Old Dominion Freight Line will add a freight terminal in Buckeye, Arizona. The logistics company applied for a rezoning for nearly 160 acres in Buckeye, which is about 30 miles west of downtown Phoenix. It is projecting between 300 to 350 new jobs with an average salary of about $80,000.


Marshall Aerospace, which has plans for a $50 million plant at Piedmont Triad International Airport, launched a hiring page for the facility on its website. The U.K. aerospace manufacturer confirmed in April its plans for a 240-job maintenance, repair and overhaul facility with operations beginning in early 2025.

The City Council signed off on Oak View Group to run the Greensboro Coliseum Complex and Tanger Center, effective July 1. The Los Angeles-based company manages more than 350 venues worldwide, including the Durham Convention Center. The city, wwould still own both sites.

The city condemned the former News & Record building, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, former owner of the newspaper. The city announced in February that it would condemn the building after a fire department inspection found it contained drug paraphernalia, human waste, damaged furniture and trash.


High Point University received a $20 million donation from Doug Witcher, the founder and CEO of Greensborobased Smart Choice, an insurance agency network with more than 10,000 affiliated independent agencies. Witcher earned an education degree from High Point in 1977. The university is naming its School of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences after him. Also, trucking magnate David Congon made a gift exceeding $10 million to the university, which will name its new School of Entrepreneurship after him. It’s the largest of many donations to the school by the Congdon family, which in 1934 started Old Dominion Freight Line.

Office furniture-maker Haworth closed its longtime seating manufacturing facility. The company declined to release how many employees were affected by the shutdown. The company did not file a notice with the state, a requirement for companies with at least 100 full-time workers.


Lucern Capital Partners, a real estate investment firm based in Red Bank, New Jersey,, acquired four buildings within Indeener Business Park for $4.1 million. The buildings sit on 7.9 acres and are 100% occupied. An additional 1.02-acre adjacent parcel allows for further growth.


Drylock Technologies, a Belgiumbased manufacturer, plans to create 113 jobs and invest $26.9 million to build its first U.S. baby care plant. The factory will move production from Europe to a 450,000-square-foot manufacturing site that will support faster product development for U.S. clients. Drylock has a plant in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, that manufactures incontinence products.


HanesBrands reached a three-year extension of its collegiate apparel partnership with the University of Mississippi that gives the manufacturer exclusive rights to its Ole Miss clothing in the mass retail channel. Mississippi joins Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan, N.C. State, Penn State and nearly 30 schools that partner with the company.

Truliant Federal Credit Union acquired P1 Finance Holdings, a 37-yearold premium finance company based in Norcross, Georgia. Terms were not disclosed. P1 Finance, founded in 1987, focuses on helping companies finance their premiums for property and casualty insurance.

21 APRIL 2024



Labcorp faces a class action lawsuit for allegedly sharing confidential patient data with Google. The clinical lab testing company is accused of installing software that allows Google to “intercept an array of individually-identifiable health information.” LabCorp hasn’t filed any responses in court to the allegations.

The North Carolina Bar-B-Q Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class, honoring Sam Jones of Sam Jones BBQ in Raleigh, Pete Jones of Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, Kent Bridges of Alston Bridges Barbecue in Shelby, Steve and Gerri Grady of Grady’s BBQ in Dudley, Charles Hursey of Hursey’s Bar-B-Q in Burlington, Mebane and Graham, Wayne Monk of Lexington Barbecue in Lexington and Charles Stamey of Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro.

Yarn manufacturer McMichael Mills is closing its facility here, idling about 80 employees. The company is consolidating its operations with its plant in Mayodan. McMichael manufactured stretch yarns for items including socks, medical applications, athletic shoes and mattress ticking.


Loparex is closing its plant here over the next six months resulting in the loss of 91 jobs. The company uses silicone in the manufacturing of release liner solutions on a variety of paper and film substrates used in healthcare and other industries, including food labeling, hygiene, tapes, graphics, waterproofing and other uses.

Software company SAS had a round of layoffs in its Retail Solutions division. The number of layoffs wasn’t disclosed. While realigning what jobs are necessary, the

global company also continues to hire, and has 24 openings listed at its headquarters.

James Goodman, a veteran executive at the American Dental Association in Chicago, took over as CEO of the 4,000-member North Carolina Dental Society. He succeeds Alex Parker, who retired last March after 16 years as executive director.


UNC Health will remain in-network for patients insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina for another four years, extending a long-term relationship. The two sides will “continue collaboration on new ways to improve care and access for patients,” officials said.

The UNC System Board of Governors approved a policy change that will make it more complicated for state universities to move from one athletics conference to another. The board’s action comes amid an uncertain future for the ACC.


Fortrea, a $3 billion spinoff from Labcorp, agreed to sell two businesses to private equity firm Arsenal Capital Partners. Fortrea will receive an initial $295 million when the deal closes plus another $50 million upon hitting certain milestones.

Spiffy, the remote car cleaning service, acquired a Texas competitor, NuVinAir, for an undisclosed amount. NuVinAir offers vehicle cleaning technologies and products. Beyond cleaning, Spiffy provides preventative maintenance such as brake service, repairs, and advanced detailing solutions.

BioResource International, a developer of feed additives designed to aid animal gut health, was acquired by St. Louis-based Novus International, for an undisclosed amount. Novus is a global animal nutrition and health company.

BioResource, co-founded by father and son Jason Shih and Giles Shih in 1999, licenses technology developed at N.C. State University.

The Duke University board of trustees elected alumnus and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to serve as the board’s next chair. He succeeds Laurene Sperling. Silver’s three-year term will begin July 1. He’s been a member of the board since 2015.

The Duke Herbarium, one of the largest herbaria in the country, will shut down and have its plants relocated over the next two or three years, according to The Chronicle student newspaper. It’s the second-largest private university herbarium in the U.S.


Town officials hope construction on North Carolina’s first Buc-ee’s will begin in June or July, although road improvements will be needed before the arrival of the mega-store on the 34-acre site. The Texasbased company plans a 120-gas pump operation and a 74,000-square foot store.


Syneos Health, a contract-research company acquired for $7 billion in 2023, dropped out of the state’s Job Development Investment Grant program that would have paid it $8.4 million. It cited a decline in staffing. It had 2,077 employees as of December.


The N.C. Community College System board endorsed the PropelNC plan, aimed at modernizing operations and funding of state’s 58 colleges. A main focus is to reward colleges that are producing more students earning certificates and other credentials, who are in increasing demand by industry. PropelNC calls for a $68.6 million increase in state funding for updating the “resource allocation process,” plus $24.4 million more to boost per college funding by 5.8%.

››› Statewide

Advance Auto Parts struck an agreement with hedge fund operators Third Point and Saddle Point Management, which appointed three independent members to the company’s board of directors.

The Centennial Authority, which oversees PNC Arena, picked designers Gensler and local partner LS3P for the $300 million venue renovation. The project is slated to be finished by 2028. PNC Arena is home to the Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State University men’s basketball team.

North Carolina State University closed its College of Education and Department of Psychology building, or Poe Hall, for the rest of the year. Last year, the building tested positive for PCBs, toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer and are a possible carcinogen for humans.

Nowell’s Clothiers, which has been in business for 103 years, will close this spring. Siblings Matt, LuBet and Schooner Nowell are in their 70s.The business started in 1921 when Arthur Nowell and his cousin started Horton-Nowell Clothing.

Pennsylvania-based Equus Capital Partners, a real estate investment manager with an office here, acquired nine properties in the Charlotte and Greensboro markets totaling more than 1.4 million square feet for $124 million. The seller was Bahrain asset manager Investcorp. The portfolio is predominantly composed of single-tenant bulk distribution properties and is 100% leased to nine tenants.

Pin Point, the largest U.S. indoor pickleball and golf facility operator, will open a complex this summer with 16 pickleball courts, eight golf simulators, a chipping and putting area, a full-service bar, and a pro shop.

Saint Augustine University Interim President Marcus Burgess says the HBCU owes millions of dollars to contractors and the IRS. He called the situation “very dire.” WRAL News reported that the college

of about 1,200 undergrads did not pay employees on time.


Japanese pharmaceutical company Kyowa Kirin plans a manufacturing plant here that will cost $200 million and add 102 jobs. Kyowa Kirin expects to complete the project in four years. The average salary will be $91,496.

PlantSwitch, which has a technology to make plastics more compostable, raised $8 million from investor NexPoint Capital. The money will be used to launch PlantSwitch’s first commercial manufacturing facility in Sanford and expand its team.


London-based GKN Automotive is closing its Person County plant as it consolidates machining and assembly operations in Alamance County. Around half of the 475 employees will have the opportunity to transfer to the Alamance site.


The Body Shop International, a cosmetics distribution center, closed abruptly, laying off 63 workers. The London-based company filed for administration under United Kingdom insolvency laws, less than three months after it was bought by Aurelius Group.



Mission Hospital says it is the first in North Carolina to perform a new ablation strategy for treating atrial fibrillation, the most common type of arrhythmia affecting

as many as 7 million Americans. The new Farapulse PFA System increases the safety of the ablation procedure, officials said.

UNC Asheville’s $6 million budget shortfall is forcing is forcing faculty layoffs, early retirement and cuts to academic programs. UNCA’s sharp decline in enrollment is the leading cause of the financial crisis, says Chancellor Kimberly van Noort.


The Great Smoky Cannabis Co., operated by Qualla Enterprises, will open April 20, a holiday in marijuana culture. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee voted more than 2-to-1 in September 2023 in support of legalizing the possession and use of cannabis by people 21 and older. It would lead to North Carolina’s first legal purchases of marijuana for recreational use.

Tribal Alcohol Beverage Control

Commissioner George Mitchell Littlejohn was arrested on six felony charges and five misdemeanor charges related to misuse of Tribal funds. The commission was created in 2009 after voters approved a referendum to permit alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.


Mayor Wes Brinegar and Town Manager Ryan Wilmouth resigned during the same meeting . Brinegar had been mayor since 2017. He quit over how a possible firing of Wilmouth was being handled.


A vacant, 42-acre site of the former Beacon Manufacturing blanket factory will become a multi-use park. A group of local investors want to revitalize the site that housed a sprawling plant that burned in a massive 2003 blaze. At its peak, the mill employed 2,300 workers. ■

23 APRIL 2024


The transportation industry’s importance to the N.C. economy has never been more evident.

The statistics show the importance of the transportation, shipping and logistics industry to the state of North Carolina.

In 2022, North Carolina’s trucking system moved 478 million tons of freight, valued at $741 billion. From 2022 to 2050, freight moved by trucks in North Carolina is expected to increase 64% by weight and 97% by value.

In addition, North Carolina is served by 17 airports with cargo activity, as reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And with more than 3,200 miles of track, North Carolina boasts the largest consolidated rail system in the nation. From this rail network, one can ship directly to 22 different states.

Business North Carolina recently gathered leaders from the transportation, shipping and logistics industry to discuss trends and issues. Executive Editor Chris Roush moderated the roundtable. What follows is an edited transcript.

Michael Fox chair, N.C. Department of Transportation, Greensboro Kevin J. Baker executive director, Piedmont Triad International Airport, Greensboro

The discussion was sponsored by:

•Epes Transport Systems, Greensboro

•Guilford Technical Community College, Greensboro

•N.C. Department of Transportation, Greensboro

•N.C. Trucking Association, Raleigh

•Piedmont Triad International Airport, Greensboro

•South Atlantic\Wheelhouse Packaging, Winston-Salem


PECK: Our biggest issue is just strictly capacity. There’s more capacity than there is goods to move. So it’s a challenge for there to be profitable business and enough to keep drivers and companies busy. It’s a pretty broad statement, but I can’t think of anything bigger right now. And we have to reach a better equilibrium than what has been the last nine months.

BOSSONG: So our biggest challenge is that retail has shifted to just-in-time inventory. And as a result, there is a lot less demand for consumer goods right now. We do see that changing in the near term. And we do see a lot more volatility continuing whether it’s supply-chain oriented or demand oriented.

PENTZ: So my job is to teach students. What I read the most about is overcapacity in North Carolina but also globally. There’s too much production capability. There’s too much transportation capability. And I think that’s a big issue.

FOX: The funding in terms of being able to continue to build infrastructure and then maintain that infrastructure. We’re one of the fastest-growing states – people are going to continue to move here, businesses are going to continue to move here. And so we need to make sure that we have adequate funding to be able to maintain the good infrastructure we have already and continue to grow to keep pace with the growth we’re going to have.

BAKER: Mike already hit upon one of those being having enough funding to do what we all need to do. The state’s

commercial service airports combined have something like $300 billion or $400 billion worth of need. And then the other half of it is the planning. Right now the roadway system around here is unbelievable because of decades of planning. And we have assets at the airport that are very strong. But we need to think about 50 years out and 100 years out.


PECK: This business goes through cycles, ups and downs. We’ve been at a low trough point for quite a while. It can’t sustain much more but there are multiple ways you can reach that equilibrium. You can have capacity taken out of it, you can simply have more demand and more goods purchased, transported on trucks or rail or both. So any and all of those might solve it, but there is already some capacity exiting the market.

From a small trucking company standpoint, there’s a lot of independent contractors that are exiting. A lot of those

25 APRIL 2024
Ben Greenberg, president and CEO, N.C. Trucking Association, Raleigh Karen Pentz professor, Guilford Technical Community College, Greensboro Phil Peck president, Epes Transport Systems, Greensboro

become company drivers. There’s also a lot of small companies that are being absorbed into larger companies. There’s a lot of M&A in it. Right now, the best way is to have enough demand where those goods are priced at a profitable margin for trucking companies or any transportation means.


BOSSONG: Everyone used to have a just-in-time philosophy of inventory management. When COVID came, we saw some significant supply chain issues. Everyone’s shifted into a just-in-case model. I’m going to make sure I have inventory squirreled away in various places in my supply chain. I think this is one of the reasons why we’re seeing overcapacity. Retailers are shifting toward just in time. As they shift, they’re eradicating their inventory and putting the pressure back on the manufacturers or saying we just don’t want this inventory.

The consumer is used to instant gratification. They also have fewer dollars

to spend, for economic reasons. They’re saying, “I’m no longer going to buy a year’s worth of toilet paper. I’m going to buy this next week’s worth of toilet paper at the absolute last minute.” So they’re just in time as well. So there’s a lot of inventory that our consumer goods customers are managing their way down. As the just-in-time transition finishes, what we will see happen is everything will come back to equilibrium, and we’ll get back into growth mode.


FOX: The needs that have been identified far exceed the amount of funding that we have. And there’s virtually no part of the government where you’re ever going to be able to fully meet that necessarily. But we’d like to get a little closer, particularly given that we anticipate so much growth. Part of the reason that people like to live in the state and they’d like to come here is

we have generally good infrastructure. That’s because we planned ahead. And if we don’t continue doing that, then in 20 years, we’re going to have all this growth and people are going to be complaining that the infrastructure’s not caught up.

PECK: I think the praise is not high enough for what the state of North Carolina has done, as opposed to other states we travel in, for planning ahead years ago. Traveling through North Carolina is about as pleasant an experience for a commercial driver as any other state that we go to. Greensboro in particular is a standard by which access to highways and specifically for commercial vehicles is exactly the way you want it. I can name multiple cities and other states where you can’t share that kind of praise.

GREENBERG: I can echo that. In North Carolina, being a part of a federation of trucking associations, we have research arms that are tracking bottlenecks throughout the country. And North Carolina consistently ranks well. We want to keep our interstates off the


top 100 bad list. Right now, we’re doing well in that regard.


PENTZ: I see an increased interest, particularly in the last year where students are calling. Some of them are in another career and they’re interested in supply chain because they hear about the potential to make money. Students are asking for a supply chain job because they want a career that will help them to have a family, be able to buy a home, and be able to live the life they want. That’s what they think supply chain can offer. We want to prepare them to be able to step into a job and do that.


BAKER: I always say COVID was like throwing a bowling ball into a still pond on a Sunday morning. The ripples go on for the next 10 years. With COVID, what happens to the passenger traffic, it goes to near zero, right? In cargo, everybody all of a sudden was ordering even their food to be delivered by Amazon. So all of a sudden, all the cargo carriers went crazy. But now what you see over the last 16 to 18 months has been a 20% to 30% decline in the level of air cargo. What you’re seeing is a comparison to a spike year. So therefore, it looks a lot worse than it really would have been had you just stayed on a normal growth line.


GREENBERG: People started talking about supply chain at the Thanksgiving table. People running out of toilet paper started appreciating a little bit about what the industry does. I started joking with the tagline we were essential before essential was cool, right? You look at transportation and trucking – it’s been essential for a long time, over 85% of communities in North Carolina are solely reliant on trucking for getting their goods. I think over 96% of the freight by tonnage has moved on a truck. So we’ve always been essential. I think we’ve appreciated some of the promotion and some of the more widespread understanding at that Thanksgiving table about what transportation does for the state and for the greater economy.

BOSSONG: My son is a senior at Wake Forest, and he has a number of different avenues that he can take. He’s very interested in supply chain, as are a lot of his friends. It’s needed. It’s growing. And it’s not going to go away. AI is going to enable it and put it on steroids and really help it. I think it’s a great opportunity for young aspiring professionals.


BOSSONG: I look at it from a bigger picture on what we’re going to see happening with consumer goods and buyer behavior, not just in the transport arena. We’re going to see a lot more planning around supply chain and logistics. Where’s my inventory? And how do I optimize that? How do I make

sure I got the right inventory in the right place before emerging weather patterns? We’re also going to see AI kick in in product development of consumer goods. So we used to have a project that was going to go from concept to retail ready in 12 to 18 months. Now we’re going to start seeing things go from concept to retail ready in weeks. When that happens, it’s going to require a lot more agility on our part to make sure we’re ready because the consumer’s not going to shift in their mindset. They want it right now. We’re going to have to be very agile and have redundancy in place to make sure we can meet their emerging needs.


FOX: A close second to funding is technology. Technology in transportation has been changing ever since the invention of the wheel, and the method by which we power our transportation is clearly evolving. We will have to deal with that, and that also impacts the funding as well because the vast majority of the funding for transportation infrastructure in North Carolina is motor fuels tax. Even if you don’t have an electric car, you might have a hybrid and traditional gasoline-powered cars are getting more fuel efficient with the technology. So that source of revenue is declining. We have to account for that and work toward different methods of funding. Autonomous vehicles will come at some point, and we have to make sure we have the infrastructure to handle those. Can those vehicle’s sensors read the markings on the road?



FOX: On a couple of different campuses, they have some little robots that will deliver pizza, and you just see him running around. We’ve got a couple of autonomous shuttles that travel around the state that run a fixed route, and people just get on and get off. And those are well accepted and working well. So I think the future is there.

BAKER: Think of George Jetson’s birthday. The show was set in 2062. And he was 40 years old. Supposedly, the birth date was July 31, 2022. He was flying all over the place. Think of

that drone that flies you around. It’s happening. They’re flying right now with people on a trial basis. It’s going to be the next big thing in this industry. It doesn’t necessarily replace the airplanes that fly you from New York to London, but it could replace the plane that’s going to fly you from New York to Boston.


GREENBERG: The move toward zero emission vehicles is definitely something that’s concerning the industry, in terms of what the government might be trying to mandate. California is kind of leading the way there. We saw a little bit of that in North Carolina in the last session that was resolved in the budget about whether the

OEMs are going to be required to sell a higher percentage of electric trucks.

I think everybody agrees that technology is interesting and exciting. It’s just not there yet. And we’re all concerned about the current freight recession that we’re in. And you can’t really add too many variables in there from a cost standpoint. I think a lot of people see these large trucking companies and think they must be deep pockets, whether it’s for building new roads and bridges or for producing cleaner air. But the reality is, you’ve got a lot of companies that spend $1 to make a nickel. That’s what you’re talking about in terms of operating ratios. And the pressure that you’re seeing to early adopt a technology that is just not viable for most use cases is stressful for the industry in terms of when you look at what an electric truck can do versus what a clean diesel engine can do.

29 APRIL 2024

What does Robeson offer in terms of transportation and logistics?

We have a thriving truck driving school in our continuing education site. The 400-hour program is currently equipped to run five day classes per year and two night classes per year. We’re exploring opportunities as we speak with local manufacturers, to put a program together with logistics management courses.

What kind of demand are you seeing from companies?

Quite a bit. Kayser Roth just built a new center at the I-95 and 74 corridor. We’ve been working closely with them. Campbell Soup needs workers, and a lot of people are looking at supply chain logistics, as well as transportation because they’re running out of warehouse space. Businesses are looking for expeditious movement of product and low time on the shelf for their products. We’ve got within an hour radius a ton of businesses that are needing that support. The students can go to Raleigh, Wilmington or Florence and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. We’re sitting in the eye of the storm.

Is there demand from students too?

What would those include?

It will include organizational behavior, logistics courses and some business management courses. We want to partner with these businesses to give them what they want, of course. It will have a minimum of 64 credit hours. It will have business law, introduction to logistics, an accounting course, economics and a computer course. And then it will have global logistics, fleet and distribution management and transportation management and the general education requirements from the state.

A lot of students are inquiring about it because they’re jumping on the two-year program. We’re seeing more universities roll out supply chain logistics, and we want the students to be ready to roll into those programs. I don’t think there’s a conversation where someone doesn’t interject supply chain management and logistics. It’s because of the market we serve and the economy we serve.

Victor "Scott" Lamm Robeson Community College’s dean of University Transfer, Health Sciences, and Business programs


PECK: For a trailer, 12 to 15 years is a good life cycle, and then there’s an aftermarket for a trailer, but a tractor is anywhere from four to six years.

But here’s a real life example for what would be installed at the 2027 emission standard. Well, those trucks will be purchased in 2026 for the ’27 model year. And in order to get ahead of that, a lot of carriers are discussing a pre-buy for ’25 model trucks to avoid the ’27 emissions because early indications of those trucks will cost about 20% more than the current trucks.

So there are companies entertaining keeping trucks for seven, eight, nine

years before they trade or sell them to try to avoid the early adoption of the ’27 emission standards. A lot of companies got burned from the 2010 emissions standards. People still have scars from that. This ’27 change is probably more costly in dollars, but could be equally impactful.

There are increasing maintenance costs as the truck gets to 400,000 miles. These trucks travel 100,000 miles a year. You have a driver component as well. If you’re trying to recruit the best drivers in the industry, and they come to your company and you have keys to a truck with 800,000 miles on it, you can’t put lipstick on that and make it look good. They want to drive a newer vehicle. So it’s a driver recruiting and retention piece as well.


PECK: That’s the one bright spot right now as drivers are available. Recruiting is going very well. Freight is not keeping up with that. So it’s unfortunately a little bit of a double-edged sword. You can recruit the drivers, but then you can’t keep the drivers because you can’t keep them busy. But recruiting is going as well as it has over the past couple of years. Some of that is drivers that own their own truck that are getting out of it. They can’t do it by themselves.

Insurance costs are too high. Fuel’s too high. And they just want to come to a company and be a company driver versus their own authority. There’s a lot of that going on. But it’s still a transient

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business. A lot of businesses couldn’t survive on 90% turnover, and that’s what the trucking business deals with.

GREENBERG: The only caveat I would put for it in the industry is for diesel mechanics. Those are still hard to come by. Everybody needs diesel mechanics. It’s probably the only trade where you can have a job probably before you attend your first class. If you enroll in a program, you can have a job as a diesel mechanic in North Carolina and probably in every other state. That demand is real.


GREENBERG: I think we’ll be following a similar model to aviation. I think we’re going to have the person in the seat with a little bit of a different job, but I still think there’s going to be a person in that seat. Because if you could tell me that an 18-wheeler is going to be able to navigate downtown and make those turns without having a person in there, I’m skeptical. You might see more platooning where trucks are communicating more closely and operating more like a train on the road.

PECK: Autopilot has been around for a long time. But every time I get on a plane, I still look to the left to see if there’s a pilot. And I think the same public acceptance of truck driving, looking up and not seeing somebody in the seat, is going to be extremely disruptive and hard to take.

FOX: In this particular region, we’ve sort of developed a hub for transportation technology. You start with the VinFast site where they’re going to make the first electric vehicle autos to be made in North Carolina. And then a little further up is Toyota and its battery site, and then just right out the window there, you’ve got Boom Supersonic manufacturing the first supersonic plane since the Concorde. There’s also Siemens in Lexington building its new version of passenger rail cars. So we’ve got sort of a new tech transportation hub going in North Carolina, which I think is very positive and will keep the state in a leadership position.

PENTZ: A bright spot I think is the interest now as new students are showing up, and the tools that we are introducing to those students that helps them to gain an understanding of how a transportation company operates. We use a lot of simulations. We use a lot of technology, we teach technology in our classes. This past fall, we introduced a transportation management system in our transportation management class. In our warehouse, we have a virtual reality forklift where you put on the headset and turn on the program, and it walks you through how you do a variety of things in a warehouse.

BOSSONG: The bright spot for us is I think we have the forward thinking leadership in place in the state of North Carolina, where we have the right infrastructure in place, the right culture and the workforce in place, and the collaboration across the industry, so that we can meet tomorrow’s needs.

PECK: I couldn’t be happier about being in a state that’s positioned as well as it is. I think the most exciting thing is the image of a truck driver in particular changed over the last couple of years. The image

of a truck driver and the image of the industry as a whole has changed. It’s not just turning a wrench and being a grease monkey or driving a truck. There’s a lot more than that. So I’m excited about opportunities to attract people to our industry. And because we’re always going to be essential. I really believe that but it’s refreshing to have that image change. I’m excited to be in an industry that people know now is important. And maybe they want to be a part of that essential status.


BAKER: The changing technology in transportation across the board. Obviously, there’s going to be a long learning curve here and a lot of bumps in the road with the technology. But this does feel like an inflection point in the history of transportation, where things are going to have a major change over to a different way of doing things. And I think that’s pretty cool.

GREENBERG: It feels we’ve kind of found the bottom and we’re on our way for recovery. But other than that, I think the bright spot is just the collaboration that I’m seeing from the industry. It just feels like more stakeholders are sitting around like this, talking about the issues and trying to put our best foot forward, whether it’s solving for infrastructure dollars, doing our best to come up with creative ways of making sure that we’ve got good roads and bridges, because that’s the workforce and workplace for our professional drivers. Sometimes it takes tough challenges to bring those folks together to try to work collectively to solve this problem. ■




olf is more than a game of 18 holes in North Carolina. It’s a $4.2 billion economic driver in the Tar Heel state. Those dollar signs are projected to expand this year when the United States Golf Association plays host to its U.S. Open Championship June 13-16 at the Pinehurst No. 2 golf course.

It will mark the fourth time the event has been contested at the Sandhills resort, and the first time since Martin Kaymer won the event in 2014.

North Carolina will be a destination for major golf tournaments for years to come. Four more U.S. Open Championships are scheduled at the Pinehurst No. 2 course by 2047, and the 2025 PGA Championship will be held at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club. In 2029, the U.S. Women’s Open is slated for Pinehurst. Additionally, the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte and the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro are televised internationally and showcase North Carolina.

Golf means more than just professional play to North Carolina, which has more than 520 courses. Golf generates $2.3 billion in direct spending, including nearly 53,000 jobs and total wage income of $1.3 billion, according to the state.

The North Carolina Golf Panel celebrates the sport with its 29th annual ranking of the state’s best courses, which debuts in this magazine. About 175 business executives, golf industry members and media members rate the courses spanning the state.

While there are limited changes from year to year, Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham made a notable jump, moving from 17th to 10th. Formed by a group of Triangle business leaders in 1999, the private club is scheduled to host the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in 2026. Newcomers to the list are High Meadows Country Club in Roaring Gap and Deep Springs Country Club in Stoneville.


2024 TOP 100 Golf Courses

(second number is previous year’s ranking)


72 7,588 76.5/138

Par Yardage Course rating/slope


72 7,085 74.3/145


72 7,204 75.2/134



72 7,396 75.0/140


72 6,826 73.4/141


70 7,126 73.9/145


70 7,037 74.5/140


71 7,117


72 7,247 75.3/140

11. 12. PINEHURST NO. 4

72 7,227 74.9/138


72 7,212 75.0/141

13. 16. PINEHURST NO. 8



72 7,102 74.8/142



71 7,335 75.9/146


71 7,394 75.9/143



72 7,170 74.5/137


72 7,003 73.4/134



72 7,009 74.1/141



72 6,732 71.0/126



71 6,784 72.0/136


72 7,026 74.3/132



72 6,927 73.7/138


72 7,126 74.4/141

Alamance, Burlington

37 APRIL 2024
PINES 71 7,015 73.5/135
7,099 74.1/137
72 7,005


72 7,062

Par Yardage Course rating/slope







72 7,067

33. 30. PINEHURST NO. 9




72 7,175


72 7,065 74.5/140












48. 60. OCCANO

49. 51. PINEHURST NO. 7


72 7,100 75.7/144
7,082 74.4/138
6,606 71.5/127
6,728 72.7/140
72 7,112
7,125 75.1/143
71 6,510
71 7,003 73.8/144
6,946 73.4/139
72 7,139 74.7/144
72 7,223 74.9/138
SYLVA 70 6,859 73.0/145
HIGH POINT 72 6,972 73.9/139
GREENSBORO 72 7,255 75.4/140
GREENSBORO 72 7,270 75.7/141
72 7,223 74.9/138
MERRY HILL 72 7,257 76.3/139
PINEHURST 72 7,216 75.5/143
BOONE 72 6,327 69.9/129
2024 TOP 100 Golf Courses
Trump National, Mooresville NC GOLF



Par Yardage Course rating/slope










59. 64.





72 7,034 74.1/136


70 6,671 73.1/133


72 6,830 73.5/134


71 6,304 70.7/138


72 7,108 74.6/138


72 7,446 76.4/139


71 6,940 73.9/137








7,212 74.7/141
7,358 74.4/142
ASHEVILLE 71 6,672 72.3/134
WAKE FOREST 71 7,074 73.9/139
GREENSBORO 70 6,821 74.2/139
DURHAM 72 7,105 73.9/141
72 7,105 73.9/141
6,750 72.8/137
WILMINGTON 72 7,112 74.8/138
GASTONIA 72 7,042 74.2/135
6,888 73.9/136
71 6,354 70.2/129
72 6,800 72.5/136
72 7,101 73.9/130
72 6,162 69.9/130
DURHAM 72 7,068 73.4/140
6,900 72.8/128
2024 TOP 100
Elk River, Banner Elk

2024 TOP 20

for the top 50 picks.

41 APRIL 2024
Panelists’ top picks
Pinehurst No.2 Courses Open to Public Play 1. Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst 72 7,588 76.5/138 2. Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Southern Pines 71 7,015 73.5/135 3. Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst 72 7,227 74.9/138 4. Pinehurst No. 8, Pinehurst 72 7,099 74.1/137 5. Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club, Southern Pines 72 6,528 71.3/127 6. Pinehurst No. 9, Pinehurst 72 7,125 75.1/143 7. Mid South Club, Southern Pines 71 7,003 73.8/144 8. Bryan Park (Champions), Browns Summit 72 7,255 75.4/140 9. Grandover (East), Greensboro 72 7,270 75.4/140 10. Finley Golf Course, Chapel Hill 72 7,223 74.9/138 11. Occano, Merry Hill 72 7,257 76.3/139 12. Pinehurst No. 7, Pinehurst 70 7,216 75.5/143 13. Forest Oaks Country Club, Greensboro 72 7,212 74.7/141 14. Lonnie Poole Golf Course, Raleigh 72 7,358 74.4/142 15. The Cardinal by Pete Dye, Greensboro 70 6,821 74.2/139 16. Duke University Golf Club, Durham 72 7,105 73.9/141 17. The Currituck Club, Corolla 72 6,888 73.9/136 18. Southern Pines Golf Club, Southern Pines 71 6,354 70.2/129 19. Grandover (West), Greensboro 72 6,800 72.7/137 20. Crow Creek Golf Club, Calabash 72 7,101 73.9/130
for the best public and semi-private courses in the state.



72 7.392 76.1/143

Par Yardage Course rating/slope



71 6,840 73.2/140


72 7,055 74.3/140





72 7,021 74.6/141

83. 79. TIGER’S EYE

72 6,849 73.3/141






70 7,101 74.6/140


71 6,898 74.1/135


70 6,005 69.7/127


90. 91. LINVILLE RIDGE LINVILLE 72 6,775 72.8/136


72 7,257 75.2/137





Talamore, Southern Pines






72 7,111
7,099 74.3/137
72 6,947 74.2/138
7,503 76.5/142
7,004 73.5/144
7,014 74.9/142
STONEVILLE 72 6,936 73.8/136
TOXAWAY 71 6,500 70.9/134
72 6,525 71.3/134
72 6,855 71.3/142
72 7,045 74.3/139
WHITSETT 71 7,016 73.8/139
72 6,625 73.2/144
2024 TOP 100 Golf Courses



1. Old Town Club, Winston-Salem

2. Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro

2. Old North State Club, New London

4. Forsyth Country Club, Winston-Salem

5. Starmount Forest Country Club, Greensboro

6. Bryan Park (Champions), Browns Summit

7. High Point Country Club (Willow Creek), High Point

8. Greensboro Country Club (Farm), Greensboro

9. Grandover Resort (East), Greensboro

10. Forest Oaks Country Club, Greensboro

11. The Cardinal by Pete Dye, Greensboro

12. Pinewood Country Club, Asheboro


1. Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte

2. Charlotte Country Club, Charlotte

3. The Club at Longview, Waxhaw

4. Myers Park Country Club, Charlotte

5. Trump National Golf Club, Mooresville

6. Gaston Country Club, Gastonia

7. Ballantyne Country Club, Charlotte

8. Cedarwood Country Club, Charlotte

9. The Club at Irish Creek, Kannapolis

10. River Run Country Club, Davidson

11. Providence Country Club, Charlotte

12. Carmel Country Club (South), Charlotte


1. Cape Fear Country Club, Wilmington

2. Eagle Point Golf Club, Wilmington

3. Country Club of Landfall (Dye), Wilmington

4. Country Club of Landfall (Nicklaus), Wilmington

5. Bald Head Golf Club, Bald Head Island

6. Porters Neck Country Club, Wilmington

7. The Currituck Club, Corolla

8. Crow Creek Golf Club, Calabash

9. Leopard’s Chase, Sunset Beach

10. Tiger’s Eye, Sunset Beach

11. Thistle Golf Club, Sunset Beach

12. Crystal Coast Country Club, Pine Knoll Shores


1. Grandfather Golf and Country Club, Linville

2. Elk River Club, Banner Elk

3. Mountaintop Golf and Lake Club, Cashiers

4. Rock Barn Country Club (Jones), Conover

5. Biltmore Forest Country Club, Asheville

6. Champion Hills Club, Hendersonville

7. Linville Golf Club, Linville

8. Balsam Mountain Preserve, Sylva

9. Hound Ears Club, Boone

10. Country Club of Asheville, Asheville

11. Mimosa Hills Golf Club, Morganton

12. Blowing Rock Country Club, Blowing Rock


1. Old Chatham Golf Club, Durham

2. Raleigh Country Club, Raleigh

3. MacGregor Downs Country Club, Cary

4. Governors Club, Chapel Hill

5. Prestonwood Country Club (Highlands), Cary

6. Treyburn Country Club, Durham

7. Finley Golf Course, Chapel Hill

8. Lonnie Poole Golf Club, Raleigh

9. The Hasentree Club, Wake Forest

10. Duke University Golf Club, Durham

11. Hope Valley Country Club, Durham

12. Carolina Country Club, Raleigh


1. River Landing (River), Wallace

2. River Landing (Landing), Wallace

3. Occano, Merry Hill

4. Brook Valley Country Club, Greenville

5. Benvenue Country Club, Rocky Mount

6. Greenville Country Club, Greenville

7. Carolina Colours Golf Club, New Bern

8. Cutter Creek Golf Club, Snow Hill

9. Wilson Country Club, Wilson

10. Highland Country Club, Fayetteville

11. Walnut Creek Country Club, Goldsboro

12. Belmont Lake Golf Club, Rocky Mount


1. Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst

2. The Country Club of North Carolina (Dogwood), Pinehurst

3. Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, Southern Pines

4. Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst

5. The Country Club of North Carolina (Cardinal), Pinehurst

6. Pinehurst No. 8, Pinehurst

7. Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club, Southern Pines

8. Dormie Club, West End

9. Forest Creek Golf Club (South), Pinehurst

10. Pinehurst No. 9, Pinehurst

11. Mid South Club, Southern Pines

12. Forest Creek Golf Club (North), Pinehurst

Cape Fear Country Club, Wilmington
Golf Club,
Old Chatham


County scores an annual boost from a global competition for talented youth duffers.

Dan Van Horn founded U.S. Kids Golf in the mid-1990s while raising a family in Atlanta. Watching his two sons struggle with adult-sized golf equipment, the former three-sport high school athlete came up with an idea to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for kids.

Tapping into his engineering background and an entrepreneurial spirit, Van Horn invented clubs that were 25% lighter than adult clubs, with four lines of swing weights and shaft flexes for different ages and skill levels. His product morphed into a major youth golf equipment and services provider, with distributorships in 80 nations serving nearly 4,500 accounts.

In 2000, Van Horn staged a tournament at Jekyll Island, Georgia for kids aged 6 to 12, calling it a “world championship.” Some 250 players showed up, along with their families.

In August, the tournament will celebrate its 25th anniversary, including more than a dozen since Van Horn moved the event to the Pinehurst area in 2005. Now, more than 1,500 players from 50-plus nations are represented each year. “The synergies around the Pinehurst-Southern Pines area as a golf capital have been important to us,” Van Horn says. “It seemed like a great place to layer in more of the idea of kids golf, family golf.”

The Parade of Nations, a vibrant display of cultural unity held on the first Tuesday of August in Pinehurst, showcases the participants’ diversity and fosters a sense of community among players, families and spectators. The event, which has a player registration fee of $425 to $495, is a cornerstone of the Sandhills region’s hospitality calendar, significantly benefitting hotels, restaurants and shops.

“Pinehurst Resort and U.S. Kids Golf have created a winning partnership, crowning young champions on the course while leaving an economic impact off it,” says Eric Kuester, vice president of sales/marketing & business development at the resort. He estimates a $16-million annual economic impact for the two-week event, “It leaves a lasting mark on our communities.”

The event has attracted youngsters who have become famous pros, including Justin Thomas, Colin Morikawa, Lexi Thompson and Alexa Pano. It didn’t hurt that Netflix in 2013 produced its first original documentary, “The Short Game,” for an inside look at the championship.

The Moore County event is part of what has become the world’s largest golf tournament organization, hosting 2,173 events in 2023. More than 90% of U.S. Kids Golf events are local competitions, in more than 100 cities. Nearly 30,000 players in 63 countries will take part in a U.S. Kids Golf event this year. Those playing in the annual championship must qualify by earning points through local competitions.

Van Horn, who splits his time between North Carolina and Georgia, declined to provide financial details. But Golf Business magazine in 2022 noted “no company in golf has done more to grow the game than U.S. Kids Golf.”

In 2015, the group’s foundation acquired the Longleaf Golf & Country Club, midway between Pinehurst and Southern Pines. Van Horn calls it “a living lab,” with the course offering seven tee locations measuring from 3,200 yards to 6,800 yards. The foundation constructed a Learning Center and a six-hole, par-3 short course, while renaming the facility the Longleaf Golf & Family Club.

There, the U.S. Kids Golf Coaches Institute trains golf coaches, certifying more than 6,500 since its inception. The institute’s innovations include the Player Pathway program used at many golf academies and the Longleaf Tee System, which scales yardages depending on age and skill. It’s working with the U.S. Golf Association to refine its programs across the industry.

“I really felt there were three necessary components in youth sports, not just golf,” says Van Horn. “Equipment, competition, and instruction. I think the initiative for kids to play golf is more than just kids playing golf — it’s getting the whole family into playing golf.” ■



This year marks the 25th anniversary of Payne Stewart’s unforgettable victory at the 1999 U.S. Open, contested that year for the first time on Pinehurst No. 2. With the tournament returning to “The Deuce” in June for the third time since Stewart’s win, we thought we’d look back on 10 other memorable championship moments in North Carolina during the past quarter century .

2001 Women’s U.S. Open (Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club): Australian Karrie Webb’s final-round 68 made her the first woman since 1972 to win consecutive U.S. Opens. Hosting its second women’s national championship in five years, Pine Needles was the perfect canvas for Webb’s combination of power, finesse and resilience.

2003 ACC Men’s Championship (Old North State Club): The closest finish in ACC Tournament history saw Clemson (865) come from behind to narrowly overcome Wake Forest (866) and UNC

(869), capturing the fourth title for coach Larry Penley’s program during a seven-year stretch. Entering the event, the Tigers ranked No. 1 nationally, followed by Wake Forest (2nd), UNC (10), Georgia Tech (15), and N.C. State (16). UNC’s Richard Treis won the individual title by two shots over WFU’s Bill Haas.

2013 Wyndham Championship (Sedgefield Country Club): Just two weeks after his 23rd birthday, Patrick Reed used an extraordinary approach shot on the second playoff hole against 20-yearold Jordan Spieth to secure his inaugural PGA Tour victory. Five years later, both were major champions and Spieth was three-quarters of the way to a career grand slam. The former Greater Greensboro Open endured financial challenges before gaining the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts sponsorship in 2007 and moving to Sedgefield Country Club in 2008.

2014 Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens (Pinehurst No. 2): The back-to-back U.S. Opens left an indelible mark, as No. 2 hosted both the men’s and women’s championships in consecutive weeks. In the men’s event, Martin Kaymer led wire-to-wire in wrapping up his second major title. A week later, Michelle Wie clinched her maiden major victory, fulfilling the promise she showed as a teenage prodigy.

2017 PGA Championship (Quail Hollow Club): Charlotte’s annual PGA Tour site hosted one of golf’s four major championships for the first time, setting records for ticket and merchandise sales. More than 200,000 people were on site for practice and championship rounds. Justin Thomas, then 24, won the first of his two PGA Championships.


2019 U.S. Amateur (Pinehurst Nos. 2 & 4): William Holcomb IV became a fan favorite during his unexpected run to the semifinals, especially with veteran Pinehurst caddie Keith Silva on his bag. Moments after falling to John Augenstein in the semis, Holcomb and his wife, Graycie Lee, grabbed a few wedges and headed to The Cradle, the resort’s 9-hole short course, where Holcomb aced consecutive holes. It’s the only time that feat has been accomplished since the Gil Hanse-designed par-3 course debuted in 2017.

2020 Women’s North & South Amateur (Pinehurst No. 2): During her finalround win over Allisen Corpuz, Rachel Kuehn had her mother, Brenda, as her caddie. A former Wake Forest University standout, Brenda was eight months pregnant with Rachel in 2001 when she competed at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles. Since 2003, 15 champions of the Pinehurst event have gone on to earn LPGA Tour status.

2020 North & South Amateur (Pinehurst No. 2): Ty Strafaci became the first grandson of an N&S Am champ to capture the longstanding event, and he did it with his father as his caddie. Strafaci’s grandfather, Frank Strafaci, won in 1938 and 1939. Honorable mention moment: In 2021, Jackson Van Paris, a Pinehurst native now starring at Vanderbilt University, advancing to the finals with a dramatic chip-in on the 20th hole to defeat his veteran opponent, Chad Wilfong. Van Paris is credited with arguably the finest shot in the championship’s last few decades.

2022 Presidents Cup (Quail Hollow Club): The 14th edition of the event pitting Americans versus internationals was originally scheduled for fall 2021, but was delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Quail Hollow’s inaugural hosting of the matches, Team USA, captained by Charlotte native Davis Love III, retained the cup for the ninth consecutive time.

2023 U.S. Adaptive Open Golf Championships (Pinehurst No. 6): After completing her final round of the USGA’s 15th, and newest, national championship, 31-year-old Kelsey Koch, who was born without a left tibia bone and had her leg amputated at 11 months old, was proposed to on the green by her boyfriend and caddie, Josh White. (She said ‘yes.’) The Pinehurst No. 6 Community Association memorialized the moment by bequeathing the happy couple a lifetime membership. ■


March 1 marked 100 days until the start of Reg Jones’ professional apex, when the eyes of the golf world will turn to view the fruits of his labor. Yet on this day, Jones appears remarkably calm.

Jones is managing director of the United States Open Championship for the U.S. Golf Association, the game’s ruling body in America. On the men’s side, the U.S. Open is one of four “major championships” and is contested annually in mid-June.

Jones oversees every logistical detail, including parking, spectator transportation, merchandise and concession venues, grandstands, sponsorships, volunteers and nearly everything else.While the world’s best golfers battle to capture the national championship inside the ropes, Jones’ job is to ensure that everyone else, hanging around outside those ropes, is happy.

After overseeing U.S. Open tourneys in Los Angeles and Boston over the past two years, this year’s 124th U.S. Open will be what he calls “a home game.” It will be held from June 13-16 at the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s historic No. 2 course. It marks the fourth U.S. Open and 11th USGA championship there.

That may explain his outwardly calm demeanor on a day when tent and flooring companies are arriving in Pinehurst with equipment and supplies. “At least I get to sleep in my own bed,” Jones says.

This year’s event falls on the 25th anniversary of Pinehurst’s U.S. Open debut, when Payne Stewart drained a 15-foot par putt on the 18th green to win his second U.S. Open. It was an iconic showing by one of golf’s most recognizable stars due to his signature knickers and tam-o’-shanter cap.

Stewart’s title in 1999 was rendered even more poignant by his untimely death in a plane crash just four months later. The golfer is immortalized near the 18th green by a bronze statue of his victorious fist pump and leg kick.

It also marked a turning point for Pinehurst. The USGA returned its premier men’s championship to the Sandhills in 2005 and again in 2014, when the U.S. Open and Women’s Open were conducted on No. 2 in historic back-to-back weeks.

“The great thing about coming back here for a fourth U.S. Open is that we’ve got a model,” says Jones. “We’ve got a plan that has worked out. It gives us the opportunity to focus on how we can make things better. And I think for us, a lot of that right now is around the fan experience.”

USGA executive Reg Jones preps for the U.S. Open’s return to Moore County

Better, not bigger

“Fan experience” is a frequent topic for Jones and his staff. In 1999, some 40,000 spectators came through the gates daily. Things got even bigger in 2005, when Pinehurst set a record for the mostattended U.S. Open ever.

“Our peak day (in 2005) was right at 60,000 people,” Jones says “The energy, the crowds were certainly amazing. But I’m not sure it was necessarily the best experience for our fans.”

Those events generated more than $140 million in visitor spending with a statewide economic impact of nearly $240 million, according to a study by N.C. State University, the USGA and the area’s tourism bureau. Overall, 26 counties benefited from spending on lodging, food, beverage, shopping, retail, construction, transportation and recreation.

This year, the USGA anticipates as many as 275,000 attending throughout the week, intentionally downshifting from the 325,000 who came in 2005. “We’ll have the rope lines a little closer to the action,” says John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s chief championships officer. “The lines of concessions are shorter, the lines in merchandise are shorter or hopefully non-existent. So, the overall experience will be better. We think it’s better for traffic, we think it’s better for the community, and it just creates a more premium experience for everybody.”

Golf’s fracture

This year’s event comes amid unprecedented off-the-course tumult in professional golf, which requires a little explanation. The USGA and its British peer, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, are considered golf’s blue-blood governing bodies. Both focus on administering rules, overseeing handicapping systems, conducting national championships and ensuring integrity.

The distinct PGA Tour oversees prestigious events such as The Players Championship and the FedExCup playoffs during its season. The tour operates as a nonprofit run by a board and executive leaders, and includes a player advisory board.

on the USGA investing as much as $36 million and hiring 50 people.

The Pinehurst Resort, which was founded in 1895, one year after the USGA, is now home to the 6-acre “Golf House Pinehurst” complex, which is nearing completion after nearly two years of construction. About 70 staffers are already occupying the Test Center and administrative building. Next door, the USGA Experience Building, including the World Golf Hall of Fame on the second floor, is scheduled to open on May 1.

Pinehurst roots

Jones, 55, started as an intern at Pinehurst Resort before the 1994 U.S. Senior Open, so the USGA’s move represents a cyclical transition. He was named operations manager of the Pinehurst championship office in late 1994, then director of operations in 1996. Following the 1999 U.S. Open Championship, Jones became championship director, a title he held until 2006 when he was hired by the USGA.

During his time at Pinehurst, the Womens’ Open was held at the nearby Pine Needles course in 1996 and 2001. He also worked on the U.S. Senior Open in Maryland in 2002 and the U.S. Clay Court Tennis Championships at Pinehurst in 1995-96.

Since 2006, Jones’ office in downtown Pinehurst, above the Villager Deli, grew to where it had “about 20 people stacked on top of each other.” The new offices provide more space and perspective. “When I first came here in 1994, I was an intern working in the basement of the

The PGA Tour is embroiled in a battle with Saudi Arabian-based LIV Golf Investments, which created a global golf league in 2021, paying lavishly to attract Phil Mickelson, Harold Varner III and other former PGA Tour stars. They can’t play in the Pinehurst tournament in June unless they have won a major tournament in recent years or excel in a spring U.S. Open qualifying event.

The two groups planned to unify by the end of 2023, but no deal has been reached.

Due to previous successful U.S. Opens in Pinehurst, the USGA said in 2020 that it would build a new center there to complement its headquarters in Liberty Corners, New Jersey. The decision followed an $18 million incentive package approved by state leaders, which hinged

members’ clubhouse,” he says. “Now I can look out of our new offices here and see that building. So, it’s come full circle.”

Reflecting its close relationship with the Sandhills and strong support from North Carolina’s business community, the USGA announced Pinehurst as its first “anchor site.” That means the No. 2 course is slated to host the organization’s men’s championships in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. In 2029, the U.S. Women’s Open will come to Pinehurst.

Over the 25-year period, these events are projected to have an economic impact of more than $1 billion.

The USGA has named two other anchor sites — Pebble Beach Golf Links near San Francisco and Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh.

51 APRIL 2024
PHOTO CREDIT JOHN GESSNER AND PINEHURST ▲ Iconic Pinehurst No. 2 is the host of the 2024 US Open. It opened in 1907..


“We felt that if we identified three iconic sites where the players most wanted to win their U.S. Open, men or women, and went back more frequently, then we could do a lot of things,” Bodenhamer says. “One, we could continuously improve that site with the right ownership who was willing to do it.” Pinehurst, Pebble Beach and Oakmont are private clubs.







5. SUSAN PIKITCH, CFO, $766,517


After earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Wake Forest University, Jones took an entry-level banking job but missed the golf industry. (He, his wife and oldest daughter are Wake Forest graduates, while his two younger daughters are current students.)

He took advice from his uncle, who said, “You’re still young. If there’s something that you want to try, now’s the time to do it.”





Source: form 990 filing with Internal Revenue Service

The USGA is installing underground water and electric lines, which are “things that we wouldn’t have contemplated if we weren’t coming back. But we know we’re coming back, and we can think about those things at all three sites,” Bodenhamer adds. “It’s different with an anchor site and going back more frequently and the familiarity and sinking roots deeper in the community with our offices there.”

The U.S. Open funds about 80% of the USGA’s annual revenue, enabling investments for its many other golf-related services. “So it has to succeed in order for us to do what we do for this game,” says Janeen Driscoll, USGA’s director of brand communications.

None of it, he says, could be done without Jones’ steady guidance. “He’s kind of the glue that holds the U.S. Open together,” he says. “Reg knows every aspect of our business. Everything from public safety to transportation and parking and player facilities, player dining, volunteer dining, volunteer facilities. I could go on and on … he does a magnificent job with it.”

“People don’t understand how enormous it is to bring the circus to town,” adds Driscoll. She cites Jones’ work with state and local leaders on a range of issues including safety and security, incentives and logistics. “Reg has built roads overnight. He’s reconstructed bleachers. He is just a miracle worker.”

Hooked on golf

Jones grew up two blocks from Henderson Country Club in Vance County, where the general manager and head golf professional at the time, Jimmy Gurkin, became like a second father. “We had a lot of events, so just to be a part of the inner workings of the golf operation there, I think sort of got me hooked on it, but it also taught me a lot about creatively addressing problems,” says Jones.

That’s when Gurkin hired Jones at the former Wilson Country Club, which is now Willow Springs Country Club. His job ran the gamut from pulling up the golf carts in the morning, cutting greens, opening and running the golf shop, then working in the dining room at night.

That variety has continued throughout his career. “I’ve been fortunate through my career to have been involved in nearly every aspect of running our championships, whether it’s ticketing, whether it’s operations, whether it’s volunteers, hospitality, sales, parking and transportation — I’ve certainly been involved in every aspect of it,” Jones says.

While Bodenhamer oversees hole and tee locations, “Reg knows every other aspect of the U.S. Open like nobody else at the USGA. And what I mean by that is ticket sales, how many we can get around the site, whether it’s Pinehurst or elsewhere, hospitality from anywhere from our partners like Lexus to Deloitte, to Rolex to Cisco, all of them.”

Each year presents unique challenges, Jones says. “It’s trying to figure out ways to present [the tournaments] in a way that reflects what’s special about them, but making it convenient for the players, the fans and the rest of our stakeholders.”

On March 11, 2020, Jones learned that the Players Championship had been canceled after the first round, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That year’s U.S. Open, scheduled for June at Winged Foot Country Club in a New York City suburb, was rescheduled to September.


USGA revenue: $235 million (2022)

USGA net assets: $630 million

PGA Tour revenue: $1.9 billion

PGA Tour net assets: $1.3 billion

The course was about a mile and a half from New Rochelle, which was a ground zero for COVID-19 in a highly restrictive states.

“The world of sports was dead shut down,” Bodenhamer says. “But Reg, to his credit, navigated all of that, the move from June to September. No fans, no volunteers, no media, none of that — talk about an abnormal U.S. Open.”

Jones’ contacts developed in previous tournaments helped him stay in touch with key New York state officials, who eventually allowed the event to take place. “Those are the sorts of things that Reg does that nobody knows but me and some of our leadership,” Bodenhamer says.

Now, Jones is looking forward to getting back for another home game, 25 years after the memorable ‘99 Open.

“It has taken a lot of support from a lot of great people — from the state, from our village here, the leadership at the resort, a lot of those people from years ago,” he says.

“It’s great to see some of that vision and some of that thinking that started back in the ‘90s come to fruition and to be what it is today. It really is a phenomenal story about the last 25 years and what’s happened here.” ■

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Fresh Start

Duke Energy’s coal-to-natural gas pleases Person County. Environmentalists say not so fast.

The Roxboro coal-fired plant has been a key power generator since 1966. It’s slated to close within a decade, forcing the utility to seek new energy sources.

Awindblown hill of coal ash on the shore of Person County’s Hyco Lake may seem like an odd place from which to survey North Carolina’s energy future. The view is a bit murky, clouded by the debate over what to do with the 58-year-old, 2,462-megawatt Roxboro power plant that sits across the way, belching steam from one of its four smokestacks.

It is Duke Energy’s largest such facility in the state, and one of the biggest in the country.

Roxboro runs on coal, a major source of greenhouse gasses, and the bête noir of environmentalists. But like the flora and fauna of the Carbonaceous Period from which it hails, the days of coal are numbered. Duke wants to replace its coal operation with two hydrogen-capable, natural gas-fired plants with slightly larger capacity, starting in 2028 and 2030. It’s part of a program to close its entire N.C. coal fleet by 2035. To date, the utility has retired 31 coal units, with 15 units remaining at six plants.

Duke is working to comply with a 2021 state law that requires a 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 (with 2005 as the baseline year), and carbon neutrality by 2050. Its newest gasfired plant opened in 2020 near Asheville, following the closing of a Buncombe County coal plant.

Proponents of this approach say the math is simple: swapping coal for natural gas has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about half. Since 2007, the peak year for CO2 generation in the U.S., emissions declined by 15% through 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Much of this was the result of coal-to-natural gas conversion, with the growing use of solar, wind and other renewables also contributing.

Advocates of natural gas view it as a “bridge” (of an indeterminate length) meant to allow the country to meet its electricity needs while transitioning to renewables. Critics believe this natural gas-powered interregnum is unnecessary. “Duke is using this idea of gas as a bridge fuel for closing coal plants that might have made sense 20 years ago,” says David Neal, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We have to move past that.” It’s one of the biggest plan to expand gas in the country, he adds.

Duke’s Person County plan “is tripling down on the coalto-gas transition, saddling customers with risky investments in new polluting power plants and failing to deliver the clean energy future called for under state law,” adds Will Scott, Southeast Climate and Clean Energy director for the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.

Duke says its three-pronged approach delivers on the state’s growing energy needs while meeting the mandate to be carbonneutral by 2050. In addition to coal-to-gas, the plan filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission, includes more generation from solar, wind and nuclear sources, and added battery storage. The commission is expected to rule later this year.

During the next 15 years, Duke plans to add 30.3 gigawatts of solar, wind, battery storage, and pumped hydro storage, compared with 8.9 gigawatts of natural gas capacity. That natural gas generation planned by 2038 will replace a similar amount of retired coal generation and enable the system to accommodate more than three times that amount of renewable energy and storage, according to Duke.

“Our focus is to deliver a path to clean energy, but we have to ensure reliability and affordability for our customers,” says Kendal Bowman, Duke’s N.C. president. “Given this big growth we’re seeing in North Carolina, we’re going to need all available resources.”

She notes that Duke expects to add about half as much capacity as it has built in North Carolina over the last 60 years, when coal and nuclear generation was dominant.

Meanwhile, the amount of electricity needed to fuel the state’s growth is a moving target. In January, Duke projected that peak-load demand growth over the next seven years will be 4.44 gigawatts, eight times the 0.55 gigawatt amount projected two years ago. (One gigawatt is enough to power 750,000 to 800,000 homes for a year, depending on usage.)

Projects cited as drivers of this growth include electric vehicle manufacturer VinFast and semiconductor maker Wolfspeed in Chatham County and Toyota’s battery plant in Randolph County. Irony alert: they are part of what Gov. Roy Cooper calls “an army of green companies coming to our state.” Other growth sources include data centers, EV parts companies, data centers, AI and the state’s growing population.

Going to the source

Opinions differ on whether renewables are up to the task of meeting growing demand for electricity.

Stephen Arbogast, director of the Kenan-Flagler Energy Center at UNC Chapel Hill, says that the idea that renewables at their present stage of development can carry the load on their own is “one of great fantasies of the left. You need natural gas to keep the lights on. Even the best battery storage won’t get you

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▲ Duke NC president, Kendal Bowman ▲ Environmental lawyer, David Neal

through the night. It would be more constructive if people saw natural gas as the necessary complement to renewables and then turned their attention down the road to de-carbonization.”

Brian Murray, the interim director of the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability at Duke University, is more optimistic. The utility has added 6,500 megawatts of solar power in North Carolina, “so adding another 2,600 megawatts by the end of this decade is certainly within the realm of possibility.”

Murray doesn’t think Duke needs to solely rely on solar for replacing the Roxboro coal plant. Offshore wind and small nuclear plants can provide substantial capacity, though probably not until at least 2030, he says.

Further construction of fossil fuel plants is a nonstarter when renewable options exist, some environmental group representatives say. “We think they (Duke) need to get more serious about taking full advantage of low-cost renewable energy resources, accelerating their adoption of solar, accelerate the transmission upgrades needed to accommodate larger amounts of solar and getting serious about developing offshore wind,” Neal says. North Carolina has “the best offshore wind potential on the East Coast,” he notes.

As of January, North Carolina ranked No. 3 in installed utility-scale solar capacity, according to the EIA, trailing only California and Texas. That ranking falls to No. 28 based on projected growth over the next five years. Looking at utilityscale alone, the state has about 8,428 megawatts of solar

generating capacity, according to the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association. The group’s executive director, Matt Abele, notes that utility scale solar grew rapidly in the state from 2013 to 2022 but has since leveled off.Duke Energy’s plans for adding renewables are consistent with the power industry’s shift from new natural gas plants. A December 2023 report from the EIA found that 96% of planned new U.S. grid capacity for 2024 would be carbon free. Solar is expected to account for 58%, with wind at 13%.

In that sense, the proposed Roxboro plant is an outlier. Duke says the plant will at some point run on hydrogen, dramatically decreasing harmful emissions. But Neal calls that “a fantasy.”

The energy needed to create the hydrogen to power the facilities would be “so costly and inefficient” that it doesn’t make sense, “a crime against thermodynamics,” as critics put it.

“If you look at a net zero 2050 target and you talk about building plants with a 30-year lifespan, we should be trying to satisfy as much of our needs as possible with clean energy,” the EDF’s Scott says.

Costs to ratepayers

There is widespread agreement that adding renewables is good, but the upfront costs for such systems can be higher than a natural gas plant. Because the sun doesn’t always shine nor does the wind always blow, more generating capacity is needed for the same energy as from a combined cycle plant that uses natural gas and steam to generate electricity, Arbogast says.

“It takes 600 megawatts of installed solar to generate about 150 megawatt years of power over the course of 12 months,” he says. ”A 600-megawatt combined-cycle plant will generate about 510 megawatt years over the same period.”

Renewable energy also demands more storage, further increasing costs. Renewable-only advocates counter that the price and availability of natural gas can not be guaranteed over a plant’s lifetime. Moreover, generating sites are subject to unexpected shutdowns (Winter Storm Elliott in 2022 resulted in unprecedented rolling “service disruptions” for Duke), and ratepayers will bear the burden of rising gas prices as a result of the fuel rider, which allows the utility to adjust rates based on cost.

“Granted there are higher upfront costs, but over time they’re a better deal for ratepayers,” says SELC’s Neal. “A clean renewable grid is fuel free.”

In any case, there will be a cost to ratepayers. Duke’s plan

North Carolina has more solar-power generating capacity than all but a few states. ▲ Duke University professor, Brian Murray ▲ UNC Chapel Hill professor, Stephen Arbogast

The Roxboro plant and the state’s exhisting pipeline near Edan

projects an additional $54 per month for a typical 1,000-kilowatt N.C. customer after a decade. This amounts to a 3.6% annual increase (compounded) and includes all phases of the build-out — natural gas, solar, wind, storage and nuclear.

Duke Energy spokesperson Bill Norton says, “The energy transition has a cost that will impact all utilities nationwide – and all utility customers. We’re in a stronger position than most because our rates are far below the national average –our low rates are a key competitive edge for North Carolina. We’re doing everything we can to ensure that remains the case, including taking full advantage of federal funding to help offset the costs of the energy transition for our customers.”

The Utilities Commission approved a 15%, three-year rate hike in December, prompting an appeal from North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, now the Democratic candidate for governor. A commission ruling is pending.

Not to be overlooked, The disposition of the Roxboro facility will have a major impact on Person County, where the population of nearly 40,000 has barely budged despite its proximity to the Triangle. The plant employs about 150 people and pays $7 million in annual taxes, the largest in the county, which has an annual budget of about $94 million. The proposed build is expected to bring hundreds of new construction jobs, and about 60 permanent positions. It will use existing transmission lines. Another benefit: the mountain of coal ash would stop growing.

“We’re emphasizing ‘retire and replace,’” says Bowman. “Our power plants where we’ve been in these local communities for years help with the tax base and generating jobs. We want to focus on reinvesting there.”

Bowman notes that Person County commissioners recently issued a resolution supporting Duke’s efforts, including exploring options for small nuclear reactors

Getting it there

Natural gas plants require pipelines, which is another issue raised by project critics, who cite potential methane gas leaks

and damage to waterways. In Roxboro, Duke Energy has contracted with Dominion Energy to build a 45-mile pipeline to deliver natural gas to the facility. It would connect with the Transco Pipeline, the state’s sole source of natural gas. It may eventually link to the proposed MVP Southgate pipeline, which would deliver gas originating in West Virginia.

Dominion is building on an existing pipeline corridor and expects the project to be completed by 2027, in time for the planned opening of the first Duke plant. It also is considering a liquid natural gas storage facility in Person County, separate from the Duke Energy project. That project has also generated some opposition.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, represents about 10% of U.S. greenhouse emissions, according to a 2022 Biden Administration report. The oil and gas sector accounts for about one-third of the emissions, while agriculture and natural decomposition of organic materials are other major contributors. Duke Energy says methane makes up less than two-tenths of one percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.

There are significant assumptions being made by all parties about reliability, technology advances and permitting for pipelines, transmission lines and offshore and onshore wind farms. But, history shows that large-scale energy build-outs rarely run smoothly.

Still, the need for energy is growing, and affordable, reliable electricity is one of North Carolina’s key selling points as it competes for new industries. Quickly, or more slowly, North Carolina is moving toward a carbon-neutral future.

John Szoka, a former Cumberland County state representative, and now the head of the Conservative Energy Network, puts it this way: “I love solar. I love wind. But I truly believe that we need all of the above to keep the cost for ratepayers as low as possible. … Each form of energy generation has its own benefits and its own liabilities.” ■

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Ruffin Compressor Station Eden Duke Roxboro Plant Durham Greensboro Rockingham County Person County
Virginia Line


OrthoCarolina’s new leader merges business acumen with a surgical background.

When Charlotte spine surgeon Leo Spector returned to the classroom more than four years ago, his fellow students in the Duke University Executive MBA program peppered him with questions. A disconnect existed, he says, about the business of healthcare and his classmates’ familiarity with nonmedical corporations.

“Running a factory is not the same as running an operating room, although you can apply some of the same principles,” says Spector, who earned his MBA from Duke in 2020 and became CEO at Charlotte-based OrthoCarolina in January.

Spector, the son of a general orthopedic surgeon in Boston, started working at OrthoCarolina during a fellowship at its spine center 18 years ago. Around the same time, about 45 doctors who had been with Charlotte Orthopedic Specialists and Miller Orthopaedic Clinic formed the physician-owned practice in 2005.

Under previous CEOs Dr. Dan Murrey and Dr. Bruce Cohen, both surgeons like Spector, the practice has grown to about 112 physician shareholders, 472 medical providers and 1,700 employees. It has more than 30 orthopedic practices from Boone to Bennettsville, South Carolina, and as far west as Shelby.

Spine surgeon Murrey le in 2016 and is now chief physician executive for a large specialty care division owned by United Healthcare Group. Cohen, who is a foot and ankle surgeon, has returned to his general practice at OrthoCarolina.

While interviewing him for the job, Spector’s colleagues took note of his degree from Duke, which ranked as the h-best Executive MBA program last year, according to U.S. News & World Report. “I think sort of tongue-in-cheek, they said, ‘OK, now that you’ve got your MBA, you’re ready to be the CEO, right?

“And I said, ‘I’m as ready to be the CEO with my MBA as I was ready to be a doctor with my MD,’ meaning, yeah, you’ve got the schoolwork, but you also have to get the actual practical experience,” says Spector.

Pursuing an MBA was a personal choice, supported by his wife and two children, who were 10 and 14 when he started the 18-month program. He says he had grown con dent in his skill as a spine surgeon, a responsibility that terri ed him when he was starting his practice. He knew his competency as a spine surgeon had grown when repairing a broken ankle caused him more anxiety than cutting into someone’s back, he notes.

constant growth

Spector has always been interested in the business of medicine, which led him to leadership positions within OrthoCarolina, including chief quality o cer and chair of the Quality/Value Committee.

“I felt if I wanted to grow as an administrator, I should go back and get the formal education,” he says. “Life is all about learning and growing and constantly developing,” he adds. “Once you stop doing that, what’s the point?”

Spector and his wife, who have been married for 24 years, discussed the MBA’s cost and time commitment. Both agreed that if he didn’t pursue his goal, they’d regret the decision in 10 years. He isn’t sure if the degree factored into him getting the CEO position but counts that as a side bene t.

Leo Spector, OrthoCarolina

“I recommend business school to anybody. I really did love that 18-month period of time learning,” he says. “Business school is one of those places where every class is so applicable to life. Like, I took my negotiation class, and my wife didn’t like that because now I can negotiate with her on everything.”

He continued his medical practice during his MBA work and he’s still practicing two days a week. e program required him to spend one weekend a month at the Durham campus, with other coursework completed at night and on weekends. Approximately 20% of his class worked in the healthcare industry, and about half of those were physicians.

Nowadays, he spends a day per week seeing patients in a clinic setting, with a second day focused on surgeries. Keeping his hand in the practice of medicine remains important.

“ ere’s obviously high stakes involved with spinal surgery, but like anything in life where there’s high risk there’s also high rewards,” he says. “ ere’s a great opportunity to really make a high impact in improving someone’s life and that’s what I love about the job.”

In the medical hierarchy, surgeons rank toward the top in pay. In 2022, orthopedic surgeons had the second-highest average annual compensation ($573,000) for specialists, behind plastic surgeons ($619,000), according to a report by Medscape news service.

“Every surgeon thinks they’re a rock star. You have to have a certain ego to think you should be able to cut open a human body and make it better,” he says. “No matter how big the ego is, they all learn that surgery is a very humbling experience. Typically, when your ego gets a little too big, it’s about to get de ated a little bit because unfortunately surgery doesn’t always go exactly the way we want it to despite the best e orts from the team and the surgeon. ose kinds of things help keep the ego in check.”

OrthoCarolina considers it important that a physician lead the practice. “Part of the desire to have an MD/CEO at OrthoCarolina is to have someone who is trained to take care of the patients every single day and sees the challenges that the providers (of care) face and the patient’s face,” says Spector.

He also sees the bene t of doing both. “When I’m working as an administrator, as the CEO, I can have that direct understanding of one-on-one with the tree (patient) and also that 10,000-foot view of the forest (practice.)”


Early into his CEO role, Spector says he’s learning about the roles and challenges of his di erent duties.

“As a surgeon, we’re very much used to being in charge,” he says. “As CEO, I can’t do everyone’s job at OrthoCarolina.” One job requires making quick decisions, the other listening, making sure di erent perspectives are heard. His Duke training helped him understand he didn’t need to be an expert in nance, marketing or business operations to be a successful CEO.

“My job as CEO is not to do everybody else’s job, it’s to make sure we have a great team and that we’re all pulling in the same direction, which is making sure we’re doing a great job of taking care of patients.”

OrthoCarolina is focused on improving access to care and trying to contain healthcare costs, he says. e enterprise is largely content with its existing markets, which bene t from the region’s strong population growth. e most recent clinic opening was in Fort Mill, South Carolina, one of the fastest-growing Charlotte suburbs.

OrthoCarolina and Durham-based EmergeOrtho employ about 50% of North Carolina’s orthopedic surgeons and account for about half of the musculoskeletal spending, says Spector. Emerge is larger, with about 270 physicians and specialists and 45 o ces ranging from Beaufort to Waynesville. e two practices don’t compete in the same cities, except for Hickory, re ecting a conviction that direct competition wouldn’t serve anyone’s best interest, he says.

Last year, the two practices partnered with Optum Healthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, to help both practices control costs and improve outcomes. at partnership, called Health Innovation Value Enterprise, could grow into a “good model to other regions or states” to replicate, he says.

“ ere’s enough waste in the health care system — as in any industry — if we can help get that out of the system, there’s plenty of savings to go around for patients to the government to doctors,” he says. Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth is the largest U.S. health insurer.

Both OrthoCarolina and EmergeOrtho have resisted the trend in medicine to sell ownership stakes to private-equity companies. At least 15 PE-backed management companies own practices nationally, with dozens of sales occurring since 2017, KFF Health News reported last year.

OrthoCarolna’s leadership in its eld in the Charlotte region means it works closely with the two dominant hospital systems, Atrium Health and Novant Health. Having both institutions bene ts the region and physicians, Spector says. “Monopolies from a business standpoint are typically not the best,” he says. “So having some competition pushes both of them to be better and provide better service to the customer.”

In most cases, OrthoCarolina surgeons consider a patient’s primary healthcare provider and then schedule a procedure at the corresponding hospital. at provides easier access to patient medical records and coordination with primary doctors.

Spector says his life changed when he came to Charlotte for a fellowship at OrthoCarolina Spine Center. He planned to return to the Boston area, where he attended the University of Massachusetts Medical School and did a residency, and join his father’s medical practice. But his wife, whom he met while an undergrad at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, fell in love with the area and its climate. eir oldest daughter was then 6 months old; she's now a high school junior.

“Life takes interesting turns,” he says. “You just have to be open to where they take you.” e decision made a big di erence in his career, he adds. “I don’t think I could have done what I do here if I were in Boston just because it’s so entrenched and not open to di erent people coming in.”

Spector says he has no timetable for how long he’ll remain in the dual roles. at decision will be balanced with his professional life, his medical practice and his family, he says. .

59 APRIL 2024

11 years and waiting

Travelers through Cleveland County know Shelby for its tra c logjam, not its small-town charm.

Shelby is home to Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge, a favorite location for quality smoked pig. Earl Scruggs lived here before his three- ngered banjo-playing style revolutionized bluegrass music and introduced TV watchers to the Clampett family in “ e Beverly Hillbillies.” e Don Gibson eater, a downtown concert hall, pays homage to the native son who wrote country music hits such as “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Oh, Lonesome Me.”

Even with Shelby’s abundant small-town charm, out-of-towners greeting Mayor Stan Anthony mostly want to talk about the town’s troublesome tra c. “I run into people from Charlotte all the time who say, ‘I know where Shelby is. It’s that place between Charlotte and Asheville with 13 stoplights,’” he says. “Everybody complains about it, and rightfully so. It’s just a tra c jam with a lot of stoplights.”

e Shelby native and retired architect was elected mayor in 2011. Less than two years later, in 2013, Ohio-based contractor E.S. Wagner began construction on the 18.5-mile Shelby Bypass, meant to alleviate tra c on the road, which is known as Dixon Boulevard inside the city limits and U.S. 74 to those passing through.

More than a decade later, less than half (6.5 miles) of the length of the four-lane highway has been nished. In June, another 5.3-mile stretch is scheduled to open, making it about two-thirds complete.

“ ey’ve been talking about this road for at least 35 years,” says Anthony. “ ese things just take a long time.”

Work on the nal 6.7 miles of the project started last year, with the expectation of having the entire route open to tra c in November 2028. Burnsville, Minnesota-based Ames Construction has the contract. It’s the same company handling site development for the 1,000-acre Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, where Toyota is investing $13.9 billion to make batteries for electric vehicles.

Now here’s the surprise: If the Shelby Bypass opens in 2028, that will be about 15 years worth of construction — and almost two years ahead of schedule. Yes, two years earlier than originally promised. Anthony says he recalls that in 2011, the N.C. Department of Transportation projected a 2030 nish date. News stories from e (Shelby) Star in 2014 backup Anthony’s memory.

“ at’s absolutely ridiculous,” says House Speaker Tim Moore, the Kings Mountain lawyer who has held his powerful post since 2015. He blames the DOT construction process for taking so long to nish the project. “ e money is there,” says Moore, the 2024 GOP nominee for a U.S. House seat in a heavily Republican-leaning district. “It’s really been a DOT issue as far as them getting the construction done.”

He adds, “ rowing more money at the project would not have helped.”

Initial construction was delayed for several years, Anthony says, as state and local governments debated whether the bypass should take a northern or southern route around Shelby. e northern route won.

e state then had to buy private land, o en through eminent domain, which allows the government to acquire private land for public use even if the landowner objects. Land sales via eminent domain put transactions into the court system.

e state broke the bypass project into seven di erent sections for funding purposes. at combined to make the project a lengthy one but not unreasonably drawn-out, says Mark Sta ord, an N.C. DOT division engineer assigned to Shelby.

“Although it seems like a long time, in transportation time and the way we do projects and the way projects have to be staged for funding, a project like this would not be considered an exorbitant amount of time,” says Sta ord.


Most folks in Shelby doubted the bypass would ever be built, the DOT o cial says. Now they see an end in sight. “It’s like most of our transportation projects. People are anxiously awaiting for them to be open,” says Sta ord. “It’s been a long time coming from the early planning stages, but now obviously they know it’s coming and it’s going to be nished.”

Moore shares that optimism. “ ey’re moving in the right direction now,” he says.

e project’s original price tag of $194 million in 2012 is now $313 million, a roughly 70% increase. Sharp construction cost increases in recent years are to blame, the DOT says. ese costs do not include preliminary engineering or right of way expenses.

No stoplights

About 40,000 vehicles travel on U.S. 74 in Shelby every day, in a stopand-go fashion through more than a dozen stoplights. Some stoplights are at the intersection of crossroads and others to businesses ranging from a shopping mall, a Walmart, a Chick- l-A and dozens of others.

e DOT estimates the bypass from near Interstate 85 and Kings Mountain to the east and near Mooresboro to the west will divert about three-fourths of the daily tra c away, or 30,000 vehicles a day, says Sta ord. Once complete, it will allow travelers to pass through Shelby at 65 mph on a limited-access highway, with no stoplights. Exit ramps will lead to roads where businesses can locate, he notes.

Shelby has approved zoning steps, called small-area plans, to assure that the interchanges are attractive to travelers. e bypass should be an economic driver for the city, with new hotels, restaurants and industries locating near interchanges.

“We’ve done some work there to make sure we don't have the same situation” as U.S. 74, where o cials essentially let unbridled development, says Anthony. at ine ective planning has made the main thoroughfare “not the best side of Shelby,” he says. “I know it’s an aggravation for travelers. It’s a pain.”

When Cleveland County and the city of Shelby partnered on building a 108,500-square-foot speculative building to attract business, they made sure to put it close to an interchange at a completed section of the bypass, says Brandon Ruppe, associate executive director of the county’s Economic Development Partnership.

e bypass should eventually cut the driving time from that site to the Charlotte airport by about 15 minutes, he says. e trip now takes about an hour.

“It’s de nitely part of our marketing strategy for recruiting new industry,” says Ruppe. Some businesses, like a Walmart distribution center, already have located near the bypass, he adds.

Shelby bypass timeline


Work begins on two separate sections totaling 4.5

For now, few people use the small completed section of the bypass because it doesn’t o er a destination, says Anthony. Once the new section opens in June, some tra c from Hickory and Burke County, north of Cleveland County, may nd it bene cial. But he doesn’t think the bypass will serve much purpose until it routes tra c completely around Shelby.

Watching the bypass

Jolly Horn has a unique vantage point as the bypass emerges. Standing near the edge of her 48-acre farm, she sees where the new section will open in June. When Horn looks west, she sees a few vehicles using the bypass, and points to a car traveling under an overpass to show where her home once stood.

Horn’s home, built in the 1830s, was bought by the state in 2007 via eminent domain. It’s about a mile north of U.S. 74, close enough to town to hear the sounds of Friday night football at Shelby High School.

e state also bought the homes of her parents, and aunts and uncles, and then tore them down to make way for the bypass.

“ is highway took all of our homes. is is what’s le of our land,” she says. Construction on the bypass cut o Horn’s access for about 10 years to the farm where her late parents and grandparents once grew cotton and soybeans and raised cattle. A few years ago, the state added an approximate quarter-mile frontage road — Winding River Way — that leads just to her property, which includes the First Broad River.

Horn now works as a massage therapist in Shelby, where she rents a home. She doesn’t quarrel with the price paid by the state for her home, she says. She hopes the bypass will bring travelers past the family farm, which she and her adult son, Coleman Putnam, are planning to turn into an agritourism site with owers, pecan trees, chickens and glamping sites.

“We’re just fourth- and h-generation farmers trying to keep the family farm,” says Horn. “It's open land and everything’s being developed around it.”

She hopes to open her new business, Winding River Farmstead, this month. She’s already met with a prospective home builder and will eventually move onto the property.

“We want to share this beautiful land. What’s le of it,” she says. Some glamping sites will be placed near the banks of the First Broad River, and she foresees a live music venue with beer and wine o ered. And some massage therapy.

“It’s going to be a whole scene,” she says. ■

Work begins on a 5.3-mile stretch. This section is expected to open in June 2024, completing 11.8

Work began on two final sections, totaling 6.7 miles. 2028 Entire

the western side of the project. That 2-mile stretch opened to traffic in September 2016.
miles. Construction completed in April 2018.
miles of bypass. 2023
bypass expected to
open to traffic in November 2028.
Source: N.C. Department of Transportation
N.C. Department of Transportation has been working on an 18.5-mile, four-lane highway
11 years.
to traffic in 2028. 61 APRIL 2024
to bypass U.S.
through Shelby for
is expected to open


Southeastern N.C. boasts mountains and beaches — and a network of industrial settings.

Southeastern North Carolina’s 20-county region stretches from picturesque trails and lakes of the Uwharrie Mountains to more than 100 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline, a panorama of open land, energetic cities, agriculture and historic small towns.

Sprinkled in are 16 technical and community colleges and seven interstates, a perk for the locale halfway between New York and Miami.

“We like to think it’s the ideal setting. That’s how we market it,” says Steve Yost, president of North Carolina’s Southeast, a public-private partnership in Elizabethtown that works with business and government leaders to boost economic growth. “From a quality-of-life perspective, we have a lot of diversity. If someone wants a coastal environment, we have those towns and beaches. Then there’s a lot of ambiance in our rural areas, and off to the very west, you have the oldest mountain chain in North America.”

The counties have 1.85 million residents and a labor force of 904,000.

They also have a common investment.

The counties are linked by 137 business

and industrial parks, several benefitting from a from a $5 million appropriation in 2021 from the N.C. General Assembly. Twenty-three applications to North Carolina’s Southeast’s Project Development Fund were approved, giving sites in 18 counties money for design, construction, road access and water-sewer, further enhancing a site trail landscape that already includes 30 Fortune 500 companies and more than 60 with international roots.

The counties

viable industrial sites. We think about 15 or 20 have strong potential to become bona fide shovel-ready sites over time.”

That step, he says, is up to the sites’ local organizations.

“It’s our mission to help create opportunities for our counties to gain new jobs, new private investment,” Yost says. “There’s a lot that goes into that. Our main ingredient in regards to our success and capabilities is collaboration, and we have many moving parts to make our

Anson, Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Hoke, Jones, Lenoir, Montgomery, Moore, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland and Wayne — have 1.85 million residents and a labor force of 904,000

A portion of the $5 million also went toward “large site identification analysis.”

“What we did is scour all the counties in our region for land tracts that might have potential, and we hired an engineering firm to do that, and it was completed 30 days ago,” Yost says, “and it identified 56 potential sites of land tracts across the region that have promise of

organization work, many partners in the public and private sectors.”

An additional $28 million has come from local governments, private funding, Golden LEAF and elsewhere. “Those funds are being leveraged to the individual projects, by the local economic development commissions, and we’ve been tracking the progress

63 APRIL 2024
Sun Path in Hoke County makes skydiving harnesses for recreational and military use. Family-owned Southern Fab in Polkton provides custom welding services.

and status.” Yost says. Ten of the 23 projects are complete. Seven involved development of shell buildings, while projects in Anson and Sampson counties are planning for new industrial sites and parks.

In Scotland County, a 50,000-square-foot shell building was finished in January and has received interest from a wood products manufacturer and agricultural processing company. In Onslow County, Project Frontier is the code for a new industrial park in Jacksonville on 50-plus acres.

With grants from N.C.’s Southeast, Golden LEAF and the state’s Electric Membership Cooperatives, the Onslow project was designed, permitted and built in about a year, says Mark Sutherland, executive director of Jacksonville Onslow Economic Development. Before it was

completed, the group had a letter of intent from a light-industrial company that plans to buy the entire project, “As far as economic development projects go, this one was among the fastest and most successful,” he says.

Other completed or near-completed projects include: Brunswick County (MidAtlantic Rail Park), Wayne (shell building), Craven (industrial park infrastructure development), Pender (water and sewer expansion), Moore (infrastructure and due diligence planning), Columbus (site identification analysis) and Duplin (industrial park master plans).

Target industries in the 20 counties are advanced textiles, agribusiness and food processing, aerospace and defense, metalworking and distribution and logistics, the latter offering visual proof of success in the enormous container ships

that enter and exit the Port of Wilmington.

“The Port of Wilmington is certainly a differentiator for us in our market,” says Scott Satterfield, CEO of Wilmington Business Development. “The investment and commitment the state of North Carolina continues to show to that asset is a true selling point for us as we push the near-port model — warehouse, distribution, advanced manufacturing with an import/export component located within 15 miles of the port.”

“The port was a key factor in the location of (India-based) Epsilon, because of the need to import materials into the plant,” Yost says of the recent addition to Mid-Atlantic Park in Leland, in Brunswick County. Epsilon manufactures graphite material that goes into EV batteries. It’s Epsilon’s first U.S. facility.

Transportation assets also include the Department of Defense port, Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point; rail lines through CSX, Norfolk Southern and North Carolina Railroad; commercial airports in Wilmington, Fayetteville, New Bern and Jacksonville; and interstates 1-40, I-95, I-74, I-295, I-275 and the future I-42.

Twelve counties are certified Work Ready Communities, and NCWorks helps with customized training, pre-employment assistance, facilities for equipment training and business incentives. As a region, the 20 counties have seven military installations, $3.4 billion in annual spending by the Department of Defense and 135,000 active duty, reserve and Guard soldiers, making it the largest military presence on the East Coast.


Fayetteville: Gross domestic product – $24.2 billion. The Fayetteville Metropolitan Statistical Area was Cumberland and Hoke counties but expanded in 2020 to include Harnett, which borders Cumberland to the north. According to the Census Bureau, this is the 108th-largest MSA in the country. “What they’ve done is leverage up I-95 and some other assets, and the military, to really build up product development,” Yost says, “and the private sector has noticed. They had some shell and spec buildings

PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA’S SOUTHEAST In its 40,000-square-foot Burgaw facility, Mojotone builds amps, sound-system cabinetry and components for electric guitars.

fully developed by private developers, and that’s the ideal way to do it. When the private sector sees opportunity and comes in and does the investment.”

Fayetteville Technical Community College, Fayetteville State University and Methodist University specialize in workforce development with trades and industries that contribute to transitioning soldiers. Methodist plans a medical school, in conjunction with Cape Fear Valley Hospital, to open in 2026. Combined with expanded training at Fayetteville Tech and Fayetteville State, “It will play a pivotal role in addressing the escalating demand for healthcare in our area while opening up new career opportunities for the local workforce,” says Robert Van Geons, president and CEO of Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development.

He says 112 projects were added in the Fayetteville area in 2023, and his EDC had 55 additional visits and also is focusing on international recruitment.

“Our team is working with a wide range of companies, including clients that work in advanced manufacturing, particularly those in the energy storage and electric vehicle space,” he says. Companies in logistics, defense, food processing, textiles and cybersecurity also have interest.

Fayetteville/Cumberland lists 54 industrial/commercial/ business sites.

The EDC was awarded $262,000 from the N.C.’s Southeast Regional Partnership in 2022, plus $937,000 to the county from Golden LEAF, to improve its 159acre Sand Hill Road site between I-95 and N.C. 87. “Clearing and grading of 40 acres is nearly complete, and the property is being actively marketed,” Van Geons says. “Also included was the rough grading of an access road that connects Sandhill Road to Production Drive to improve site accessibility.” The site is designated shovel-ready.

Last December, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded $8.2 billion toward extending the Piedmont Corridor

between Raleigh and Richmond, Virginia. “We’re excited that a route from Fayetteville to Raleigh, with intermediary stops in Lillington and Fuquay-Varina is one of the seven intercity rails being studied,” Van Geons says, noting the rail line would aid those who commute for employment or housing. “The preparation of a scope, schedule and total cost estimate of the FayettevilleRaleigh corridor is being launched with a $500,00 federal grant.”

Goldsboro: GDP – $5.7 billion. Wayne County also includes Mount Olive, which crosses into Duplin County. It’s home to the University of Mount Olive and the Mount Olive pickle company.

Wayne also is home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Wayne Community College, which offers customized training through its Business & Industry Center.

The 2,500-acre Global TransPark site in Kinston that facilitates air, rail and

65 APRIL 2024

Wilmington: GDP – $18.2 billion.

Brunswick County was removed from this area in 2010 and placed with Myrtle Beach-area towns by the Office of Management and Budget but returned in 2023 to join New Hanover and Pender counties. Leland, in Brunswick County, had a 2010 population of 13,527 but has grown to 33,251 in 2023 and is listed as the fastest-growing city in the state.

“We are a region with many natural advantages,” says Satterfield, whose organization contracts with New Hanover and Pender counties, “but it is our businesssavvy leadership that sets us apart from competing business destinations.”

road transportation to support business needs is next door in Lenoir County and received $400 million in state funding last September for construction of an aircraft maintenance facility.

Mark Pope, former president of the Wayne County Development Alliance, is president of the N.C. Global TransPark Economic Development Region. “Our biggest site is ParkEast, in Goldsboro, with two shells going up,” he says.

The Wayne County Development Alliance’s new five-year strategic plan begins this year to assist economic development, and marketing, Pope says. The group “is what pulls everyone together. That’s their mission. They’re very valuable in each community, with helping things move faster.”

Jacksonville: GDP – $9.9 billion. The MSA covers Onslow County, which had a 2020 population of 204,576. Because of the military — Camp Lejeune, New River Air Station Jacksonville is the youngest city in the U.S., with an average age of 22.8. The Jacksonville/Onslow area is predicted to be a high-growth corridor over the next 20 years, Yost says.

Sutherland agrees, noting the corridor has been developing at an above-average pace for 20 years after major improvements to N.C. 17 were

made. “Second, job growth in both New Hanover and Onslow counties has fueled growth in the ‘commuter-shed,’ that is the corridor connecting the two markets. Third, industrial sites are developing not just in response to increasing demand for that product in the marketplace, but the juxtaposition of the Hampstead Bypass in relation to the corridor.”

New Bern: GDP – $6.4 billion. The Inner Banks area of Craven and Jones counties also adds Pamlico to the MSA. New Bern and Havelock are principal cities. “This is very much a growing area and has had successful wins in economic development the last few years,” Yost says. “There’s going to be a very large site, and with Highway 70 to New Bern being named as Future I-42, there certainly is a lot of potential there.”

Craven received $370,000 in an N.C. Department of Commerce grant and $25,000 from Duke Energy that, added with county investment funds, totals $500,000 for infrastructure at Craven County Industrial Park, which counts 16 tenants. Carolina GSE recently purchased the Craven 100 Alliance shell building, an investment of $2 million. Private developer Bayfront Development is under contract for six acres to build a 20,000-square-foot shell, which will be marketed as warehouse space.

Satterfield cites the Pender Commerce Park on the U.S. 421 industrial corridor, a few miles north of Wilmington, which received $492,000 to enhance infrastructure. It draws workers from a five-county area, including Bladen and Columbus, for its more than 1,000 jobs and $500 million of capital investment in 1 million square feet of space.

“There’s nearly a 20-year legacy of economic development activity at the park,” he says. “After years of due diligence and marketing, in 2014, New York-based Acme Smoked Fish became the park’s first tenant, opening a major East Coast food processing facility. Acme’s move brought with it state-of-the-art infrastructure — industrialquality power, water, sewer and telecommunications for the entire 350-acre park. It quickly drew attention from logistics and distribution operations, attracting companies like Empire Distributors, FedEx Freight, Coastal Beverage, Polyhose, Amazon, Maersk and Home Depot, among others, in quick succession from 2015 to 2023.”

Grant money also went to Wilmington International Airport’s business park to extend water and wastewater utilities for its Phase II.

“These strategic investments better position our important properties for economic development projects,” Satterfield says. “Both parks are building on a legacy of positive results, and we expect the momentum to continue. Infrastructure investments aren’t a one-

FedEx Freight, a lessthan-truckload carrier, is also located in the Pender Commerce Park. Coastal Beverage has a home in the Pender Commerce Park.

and-done need. Our leaders understand we’ve got to continuously invest in the physical assets and human capacity necessary to accommodate forwardlooking, globally-minded companies.”


Overall, Southeastern N.C. is second in the U.S. in food manufacturing and processing, with seven Department of Agriculture research stations, more than 130 food processing companies with 26,000 employees, and more than 12,000 working in agriculture and farming.

There also are three community valueadded processing centers.

Wayne County has approximately 1,750 farms on 242,000 acres, about 48% of the county’s total land, according to N.C. State Extension. The county ranks third in the state in agriculture income with its diverse offerings of cattle, swine, poultry, cotton, tobacco, corn, soybeans, wheat and assorted vegetables.

Last December, it was announced that Wayne’s Coker Feed Mill will receive $75,000 from the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority to expand its business. The money is part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s $2 million in funding statewide, part of 10 grants to rural communities. The expansion should create nine jobs and bring private investment of $614,300.

Food companies represented in the region include Butterball, Campbell’s, Mt. Olive, Smithfield, Perdue Farms, Goldsboro Milling Company, House of Raeford, Case Farms, Mission, Prestage Farms, Sanderson Farms, Villari, SRO Originals and Valley Proteins.

“The economic impact of the agricultural industry is so important to us,” Pope says. “We have to support those farms and what they do. If we don’t have farms, we all suffer in time, so it’s a huge cluster we make sure we’re attentive to.”

Adds Satterfield, “New Hanover and Pender counties accommodate a wide variety of both emerging and legacy industries – from fiber optics

and aircraft engines to consumer foods, pharmaceutical testing and plastics.”

He says the coastal area’s success stems from investments made 10 or more years ago. “They yield a return that will be noticeable 20 to 30 years into the future, maybe more,” he says. “WBD will continue to advocate for ongoing readiness of well-positioned business properties served by the most modern infrastructure and amenities.”

Van Geons is equally enthused about his market. “Fayetteville and Cumberland County have everything you’d expect in a dynamic city — quality education, employment, professional sports, worldrenowned museums, award-winning arts, international cuisine and varied entertainment options. The biggest asset in our ‘Can Do Carolina’ community is our people. We always find a way, we care for one another, we protect the world and we always go further.” ■

— Kathy Blake is a writer from eastern North Carolina.

69 APRIL 2024


Aerospace Corridor unites aviation, military and education with economic strength.

In 2014, a few retired military pilots, an engineer and a doctor turned their fondness for aviation into a Christian mission of serving active and transitioning military whose lives, professionally or through personal need, are touched by flight.

They bought a Piper Cherokee 6 to use for humanitarian work, transporting wounded warriors to and from appointments at Walter Reed and Bethesda medical centers to avoid the crowded confusion of public airports.

“Most have to deal with PTSD, and they don’t do well with noise and confined spaces,” says Ken Hadaway. “Most of the vets have been downrange (deployed in a war zone), and they’re having to re-acclimate back to civilian life. And in their stories, the story of Christ always comes up. Every vet is like, ‘I saw Christ in this, because I’m here to tell my story.’”

In 2021, the Christian mission became Sovereign Aerospace, a 501(c)(3) with a flight school, repair and maintenance division and 25 employees with 16 aircraft. Hadaway is its COO. Its concept a decade ago foreshadowed a metamorphosis of

eastern North Carolina’s growing presence of aviation, aerospace and military blended into what is labeled as the Aerospace Corridor.

Sovereign is among more than 280 aerospace-related companies and 450-plus aerospace suppliers rooted in a landscape that began, officially, in 2017 with a signed proclamation identifying U.S. 70’s route through Wayne, Lenoir and Craven counties as a place “to support and enhance the long-term prosperity of the Eastern Region and The State of NC.”

Sovereign Aerospace’s flight school trains civilians and veterans in Carthage, in Moore County, and Elizabethtown, in Bladen. It provides medical transport and aviation services in Pinehurst, trains drone pilots and helps veterans with entrepreneurial efforts, “to get their dreams off the ground.”

“Several veterans are trying to cope with life in general. Guys are so used to being told where to be, what to do, what gear to have, and they wake up one day and no one’s telling them,” says Hadaway. “So they turn to drugs or alcohol because they’ve lost their network. They’ve lost their ability to

adapt. We create that community where we can relate. We’ve been there. And it’s all God-centered.”

Seven major Air Force, Marine and Army installations are within the Aerospace Corridor and its vicinity. The corridor’s original boundaries have expanded to encompass four regional and two international airports, the 2,500-acre Global TransPark multimodal transportation complex in Kinston, and a workforce of 1.4 million in a 60-mile radius.

Craven Community College’s Havelock campus has courses in eight aviation-maintenance career paths. Sovereign Aerospace is partnering with Bladen Community College for an apprenticeship curriculum beginning this fall. The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina counts 2,600 aerospace-related degrees awarded in the state annually.

“Aerospace is critical, and the beautiful thing about North Carolina, and especially down east, is there’s a lot of space,” says Hadaway. “You’re not dealing with limited airspace like you’d get around Raleigh, Greensboro or Wilmington.”


Twenty-nine major flight companies have addresses in the corridor, including Boeing, GE Aviation, Honeywell Aviation and Pratt & Whitney.

“Back when it was just three counties, we were trying to tell our story,” says Mark Pope, president of the Global TransPark Economic Development Region. “That’s how it started out, as a way to take rural North Carolina along Highway 70 and market it. And we have a big impact with the military bases. The economic impact is huge. We say this is our automotive industry east of I-95.”

The military presence includes Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Wayne County (5,000 personnel); Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Craven (6,800 active military); Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps Air Station in New River, Fort Liberty in Fayetteville, Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point and Pope Army Airfield in Cumberland County. Cherry Point has Fleet Readiness Center East, the Naval air maintenance and repair depot, which employs 3,500 civilians including 600 engineers.

Including family members, it’s about 38,000 people, Pope says.

The original three counties have four airports in Pikeville, Kinston, Mount Olive and New Bern.

“We frequently tout eastern North Carolina’s defense and aerospace cluster in our outreach,” says Mark Sutherland, executive director of Jacksonville Onslow Economic Development.

Marine Corps Air Station New River is 4 miles south of downtown Jacksonville and has more than 6,300 active-duty military.

“The region is not only home to a myriad of aviation assets and entities — commercial, military and general — but ripe with workforce development infrastructure, a skilled workforce, engineering prowess and industrial capacity for expansion,” Sutherland says. The Marine Corps base has been the county’s primary economic engine since 1941, remaining its largest employer.

Fort Liberty plays the same role in Cumberland County, with more than 47,000 military personnel and about 20,000 Department of Defense civilian and contract employees. Fort Liberty provides a local economic impact of over $8.8 billion annually.

Pope sees the Aerospace Corridor edging west, along future Interstate 42 toward Johnston County. “It will create more opportunities for industry, retail, food and to make sure we all have the right marketing pieces to move products down the interstates to our ports, so those interstates are so valuable to us.”

The Global TransPark in Kinston, in Lenoir County, supports aerospace and aviation, advanced manufacturing, logistics and exporting, defense and security and emergency response. The TransPark is home to Spirit AeroSystems’ Composite Center of Excellence, a 33,000-square-foot training center with a composites training lab, operated by Lenoir Community College. A $30 million flight training and corporate office facility was approved by state lawmakers last year.

“We create jobs,” Pope says of the GTP. “The MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) salary is two-and-a-half to three times the average wage in these counties, $80,000 to $90,000 a year or more. People sometimes want to graduate high school and say they’re going to Raleigh for jobs, but they can make a darn good living in eastern North Carolina, where the cost of living is less.”

He cites defense contractor Draken International, which trains its staff and has 21 fighter jets at Global TransPark. The Texas-based company owns the world’s largest commercial fleet of privately owned tactical aircraft.

In February, Sovereign Aerospace said it would assemble the Vulcanair V1.0 aircraft in Bladen County. Its presence at the Elizabethtown Aerospace Industrial Park and Curtis L. Brown Jr. Airport will add 33 manufacturing jobs.

Bladen officials had approached Sovereign at its Moore County office

in December 2022. During a visit to Bladen, Hadaway says the friendly nature of local folks impressed him. “Our company decision-making relied on prayer. We diligently spent 45 to 60 days praying over this, and we closed April 7 last year.”

The jobs it creates in Bladen are a small speck in an industry that needs workers, Hadaway says.

“Right now, the mechanic schools across North Carolina are only growing by 2%, so Sovereign Aerospace is coordinating efforts to fill that as well as people who want to branch off into airport management. Military, and civilians, who have great leadership skills can change that economic footprint for their future.

“We have several guys who were shot, or had surgery or have PTSD, and we can relate to their stories and apply things we’ve learned.” ■

— Kathy Blake is a writer from eastern North Carolina.

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Spirit AeroSystems operates a 33,000-square-foot training center in Kinston.


Megasites for industrial development have the power to transform local communities and entire regions across the state.

Significant landmass for industry is in high demand but in low supply, and that’s why the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina is forging new frontiers in megasite development.

The North Carolina General Assembly boosted the Partnership’s efforts two years ago with a $1 million allocation to establish a Megasite Readiness Program.

The EDPNC has put the money to good use, says Garrett Wyckoff, product development manager at the Partnership.

“What we had been hearing from site consultants was the lack of decent industrial sites, not just in North Carolina but across the southeast,” he says. “So that laid the groundwork for us to respond to that demand, and when we received that allocation from the General Assembly in 2022, we put out RFPs and hired JLL, a site consultant we had worked with in the past.”

The site consultant identified seven locations with the potential to become the state’s next “hot spots” for large industrial development.

At the top of the list is the 2,187-acre Kingsboro Business Park in Edgecombe County outside Rocky Mount.

Six years ago, the Kingsboro site was preparing to welcome Chinese tire manufacturer Triangle Tyre, but in 2022 the company withdrew its plans and returned the site to the county. Today, Kingsboro is the only shovel-ready megasite available in the state.

The other six potential sites are in Brunswick, Wilson, Pitt, Nash, Cumberland, and Rowan counties. All are close to major highway systems with access to railroads and ports.

Last year, the state allocated an additional $10 million to conduct due diligence on the sites and determine if they are viable candidates to add to the economic development inventory.

Generally defined as 1,000 acres of contiguous landmass, North Carolina’s

megasites have attracted the types of large-scale projects economic developers dream about and they have become home to some major players in the manufacturing world in recent years.

North Carolina is already reaping benefits from its latest industrial residents.

VinFast, the electric car manufacturer in Randolph County, and the Toyota battery plant and Wolfspeed in Chatham County are situated along the Highway 64 corridor stretching from the Triangle to the Triad. In addition to that line-up of major technology companies, the U.S. 1 highway is home to a quickly expanding cluster of biotechnology and life sciences companies such as Novo Nordisk, Fujifilm Diosynth, Amgen and others.

Although the appropriations, hard work and due diligence are a step in the right direction, North Carolina won’t be able to refill its megasite stock overnight, Wyckoff says. It typically takes five to 15 years from the moment a site is identified to the day it welcomes its first new company.

The Kingsboro megasite in Edgecomb county is a “shovel-ready” acreage 10 miles east of Rocky Mount.
“This is just the reality,” he said.

“The legislature

gave us money for this

program in 2023,

but that doesn’t mean we are going to have megasites we can market in a year or two.”

Select sites

In addition to funding megasite development, the legislature also allocated $10 million during its 2024-25 fiscal year to fund a Select Site Program and asked the EDPNC to identify 15 other, smaller locations with development potential.

“Our economic development community routinely receives requests for site information from companies that

don’t need a thousand acres,” Wyckoff says. “Just like we did for our megasite selection process, we contracted with a consulting group and an engineering firm to identify those select sites.”

The process started by submitting requests for site suggestions to all 100 counties and a variety of economic development partners. EDPNC narrowed the list to 60 potential sites for further assessment. Those assessment reports are due on May 17.

“From there we will further cull the list and then put boots on the ground to make site visits and provide a report to the General Assembly in time for summer budget negotiations,” Wyckoff says.

As Wyckoff sees it, there’s no time to waste. In recent years — even during the Covid pandemic — requests for information about potential industrial sites have gone through the roof. He

attributes the increased activity to the state’s business friendly climate and other factors that have led CNBC to name North Carolina as the best state for business two years in a row.

For all the state’s popularity, Wycoff identifies one challenge, and that’s an available workforce. Despite North Carolina’s reputation for a strong university and community college system, areas outside the major metropolitan regions are sparsely populated.

“If workforce is not the No. 1 asset industries ask for in their requests for information, then it’s at least No. 2,” he says. “They want to make sure the area they select has a big enough population for potential employees.”

Often site evaluators examine populations within a 30- or 45-minute driving radius when. Wyckoff says if the


company is thriving, paying well, and offering generous benefits, workers will be willing to make the commute.

For its megasite program, the EDPNC has conducted meetings in the communities where the top seven potential sites are located. An additional appropriation of $97.5 million for the next fiscal year will go toward site development. It’s a long laborious process, but Wyckoff says it will be worth it in the end.

“If we want to continue to create jobs and investment for the state, we need more products available and we need to continue giving industries a reason to call North Carolina home,” he says ■

— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer from Raleigh.

Toyota megasite in Liberty welcomes Fujihatsu & Toyotsu Battery Components (FTBC) left; Kingboro megasite, top right; and Garrett Wyckoff, EDPNC Product Development Manager.


The state’s business climate rankings stem from solid analysis, leaders insist.

Morning shadows shorten as the sun dries the dewy lawn. Scott Cohn fidgets with his tie and cocks his eyebrows, glancing over his shoulder at the Biltmore Estate mansion behind him, familiar to millions who visit the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Asheville every year.

He’s no casual visitor, though. “Two-hundred-fifty bathrooms,” he marvels, as his camera crew zooms in on his gray, chopped hair. “Would you look at that!”

Cohn, CNBC’s senior business reporter, is not here for the sights. For a moment, he segues into a boring recitation. “We put states through their paces,” he intones. “Eighty-six metrics in 10 categories of competitiveness.” That’s followed by throw-away celebrity remarks from Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski, former UNC and Duke basketball coaches.

In less than 30 seconds, Cohn zeroes in on his point. “We’re here to reveal which state is the nation’s best for business,” he says. “It’s North Carolina, the Tar Heel state, for the second year in a row.”

Some don’t put much stock in his pronouncement. “We prefer to do our own homework,” says Mark Williams, president of Strategic Development Group in Greenville, South Carolina, a site consultant whose clients have included the $180 million Bridgestone America tire plant in Wilson, among others in North Carolina. “We’ve got our own staff and if we’re going to do a billion-dollar project, it’s going to be our recommendation.”

Adds Adam Bruns, managing editor of Site Selection magazine, “Consultants have developed amazingly deep analytical databases and earn their money doing a job for their clients.” The Georgia-

based magazine shares with CNBC the reputation as the most highly regarded source of rankings. “What the Bible is to a preacher, Site Selection is to a site consultant,” one industry expert told him recently.

In the realm of economic recruiting, however, Williams’ skepticism of rankings is rarely shared by boastful politicians, industry hunters or the ones who matter most — decision makers at the nation’s large corporations.

Sources like CNBC, Site Selection, Forbes, Business Facilities, the nonprofit Tax Foundation and dozens of others make up a miniindustry within economic development and their rankings. They can indeed decide whether a top state such as North Carolina or at the other extreme, New Mexico, Alaska, Mississippi,and Hawaii — which often rate at the bottom of many lists — prosper or languish in the mega-billion-dollar business recruitment sweepstakes.

“If you’re the decision maker for your company and you’re standing in front of your board of directors, are you going to try to justify putting your half-a-billion dollar project in a state that’s ranked 25th for business when CNBC has North Carolina ranked No. 1?” asks Chris Chung, CEO of the N.C. Economic Development Partnership. It’s the state’s chief industry recruiter.

Digging deeper into the realm of rankings reveals the expected and unexpected.

For one thing, collectively, it’s a largely unseen but massive undertaking that employs hundreds of researchers, editors and others, throughout the nation, many for sources that non-business people have never heard of. North Carolina’s an example.

PROJECT PLANS ››› Insights
on the

State industry recruiters rattle off more than two-dozen top-10 Tar Heel rankings from 15 or more publications and other sources. They cover a surprising spectrum. Best state for women business owners? Wells Fargo does its own research and ranks North Carolina first. Tops for aerospace and defense industries? Business Facilities magazine makes that pick. It also determines the best states for food processing, solar power and other sectors. The U.S. Census Bureau is the source of more mundane data, noting the state ranks as the third-fastest growing. Various others include life sciences, semiconductor manufacturing and the best state in which to start a business.

One category was a walk off. Business Facilities chose Toyota’s $8 billion battery-plant expansion in Randolph Country as the deal of the year. The total investment will be $13.9 billion and more than 5,000 jobs are expected.

North Carolina’s workforce ranks tops among many rankings. “Our talented, educated workers are really the secret of our success and educated workers are flocking to our area,” says Gov. Roy Cooper, though lamenting that political partisanship threatens the state’s reputation. While he’s attacked some social-issue actions by the state’s GOP legislative majority, he’s also praised strong bipartisan cooperation in economic development.

CNBC and Site Selection are case studies in how rankings are compiled. Cohn’s reference to CNBC’s use of 86 different metrics that gauge various categories of competitiveness doesn’t include the fact that each might also use dozens of individual factors such as state-tax rates. As a result, some 7,000 factors influence a state’s standing. Similarly, Bruns says Site Selection has a proprietary database that evaluates a state’s ranking based on three overarching criteria: projects must have a minimum capital investment of $1 million, create at least 20 jobs or 20,000 square feet of floor space.

Then its researchers dissect projects in each of those broad areas for matters such as worker availability and training, which is an area in which North Carolina is often praised. The result is potentially thousands of individual markers.

Chung, North Carolina’s chief industry hunter, says the studies produce remarkably accurate depictions of how a state treats business and industry. North Carolina and other states never hear from the ranking sources or know their standings until revealed publicly.















“They have no reason to contact the state,” he says. “The state can’t lobby them. They are pulling data from objective third-party sources and besides if you want to seem credible you don’t want to be seen as influencing them. Most use things like federal databases and it would probably be illegal to try to break into them to make your ranking better. That’s why we figure CNBC is about the best, the highest profile.”

Though Chung and list compilers insist states can’t game the ratings, that doesn’t mean they won’t change because they were awarded dunce caps instead of laurel wreaths. To the contrary, Chung is among those who say many states take their rankings to heart because the data on which they are based is better than their own.

“If the state wants to move up over the long term,” he says, “rankings can be a roadmap to where there is room for improvement.”

He doesn’t gloat but he might. “There are a tremendous lot of rankings, and I’d like to be first in every one. That’s not going to happen but on average, in most rankings, even if we’re not first, we’re in the upper quintile. We never find ourselves in categories with states that are in the bottom half.”

To do that, he adds, “You have to have a good reputation as a place to do business.” ■

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