CHARLOTTE, N.C. It’s a bird, it’s a plane – or rather, it’s hundreds of planes.
Weather permitting, about 280 planes take off and land at Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International Airport every day. For North Carolina’s third-largest city, these flights hold much more than rolling suitcases and salted peanuts – they offer a path to economic prosperity.
The slowdown of the state’s traditional economic sectors left Greensboro in quite a lurch as the area underwent what Mayor Robbie Perkins describes as the transition from a large town to a big city.
“Textiles, tobacco and furniture were the life-blood of this area for a hundred years, and in 2000 a lot of those operations moved offshore,” said Perkins, who has lived in Greensboro for 33 years. “We’ve had to rebuild this economy with a variety of service-oriented businesses and of course the aviation cluster at the airport.”
The city’s “airtropolis” consists of FedEx, HondaJet and TIMCO, all of which have invested heavily in PTI.
Paired with the growing aviation program at Guilford Technical Community College and a potential package of airport upgrades worth as much as $350 million, it seems that these companies have placed Greensboro’s future in the sky.
But other factors also influence the city’s emergence as an economic-progressive southern city. The main source of Greensboro’s progress spreads beyond the aviation sector to fall under the larger umbrella of advanced manufacturing.
Doug Copeland, publisher at The Business Journal of the Greater Triad and a born-and-bred Greensborian, said he has seen the Triad begin to work as a region to attract advanced manufacturing businesses like the $426 million Caterpillar plant in Forsyth County.
“You don’t replace the 90,000 jobs we lost in the Triad with any single strategy,” Copeland said. “It’s very hard at this day and time to write about a city because in the era of Internet communications, you act as a city but you have to do that in the context of the greater region.”
This means that rather than working to benefit the 270,000 residents in Greensboro, Perkins and other elected officials must often consider how bringing businesses to High Point and Winston-Salem can also benefit their own city.
“We have more regional cooperation than we’ve ever seen, but it’s still an uphill battle,” Copeland said. “Sometimes regionalism is a hard sell because when the day is done you always want the jobs for your area and sometimes that means giving a little in the short run to win in the longer run.”
Sarah Glen is a senior at UNC Chapel Hill. She is from Greensboro, in Guilford County.
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