For the better part of the last decade, my beat for The Charlotte Observer has revolved around the community news of Cabarrus County and its 180,000-plus residents throughout Concord, Harrisburg, Kannapolis, Midland and Mount Pleasant.
My wife and I moved here from Philadelphia via Minnesota, mainly to escape northern winters. We knew little to nothing when we arrived: simply that taxes were relatively low and the schools were good. We’ve since had two kids.
In the past nine years, I’ve covered the creation and unveiling of the world’s largest HDTV at Charlotte Motor Speedway, visited one of the nation’s largest solar roof-top installations (Shoe Show Inc.’s, near Exit 55 on I-85), and have gotten to know the farmers behind our thriving local food scene, both in Concord and throughout the county. That just scratches the surface of what makes this community a home to us.
Cabarrus County offers one of the state’s most-visited tourist destinations: Concord Mills, a 200-store-plus outlet mall with a 24-screen theater and the new Sea Life Aquarium, a 36,000-square-foot facility with 5,000 sea creatures, from sharks to stingrays to jellyfish.
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More than 18 million people visit Concord each year and Charlotte Motor Speedway helps draw thousands to the area. Domestic tourism in Cabarrus County has generated more than $300 million in recent years, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. That money shaves off hundreds from the average annual tax bill.
The 20-year-old Concord Regional Airport services a large chunk of NASCAR teams, the majority of which are within 50 miles of the speedway. In October, Allegiant Airlines will begin offering multiple direct flights per week from there to four Florida destinations, including Orlando.
In Kannapolis, small-town charm meets groundbreaking biotechnology, agricultural and nutrition research at the North Carolina Research Campus. The 350-acre, $1.5 billion scientific and economic revitalization project took the place of the town’s 147-year-old textile industry and has created hundreds of jobs in recent years.
K-town also is home to the N.C. Music Hall of Fame, which hosts a public awards ceremony each fall. The historic Gem Theatre, which opened in 1936, is another must-experience: It only recently transitioned from 35-mm film projectors to digital projectors to show new releases and shows independent flicks during an annual film festival.
In Midland, there’s Reed Gold Mine, a National Historic Landmark, the site of the first documented discovery of gold in the United States.
The area’s local food movement continues to expand. It spawned the creation of the Peachtree Market in Concord a few years ago, selling local and regional produce, milk, meat and more. There are also the Piedmont Farmers Markets, including multiple locations in Concord and one in Harrisburg.
If you like the outdoors, Cabarrus County has plenty of parks and a growing network of greenways and blueways (for canoes and kayaks) as part of the Carolina Thread Trail, connecting pedestrians throughout the county and, eventually, the state.
The tagline in these parts is “Where racing lives” and, sure, you can watch – or drive – dragsters and stock cars here. But you can also slow down, and notice both the history preserved throughout the county, and the new ventures springing from old structures.