Economic developers call for cooperation, planning in Charlotte region

Two economic development experts said Wednesday that Charlotte needs to emphasize regional planning, logistics and advanced manufacturing to secure its future.

Speaking at the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club’s monthly meeting, Chase Saunders, a retired superior court judge and Charlotte attorney who promotes the region, said logistics and distribution will attract more business.

“What’s getting ready to happen is really exciting,” he told the group of business leaders. By using the Norfolk Southern truck-to-train rail yard (known as an “intermodal” yard) at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and emphasizing Charlotte’s rail connections to four major East Coast ports, Saunders said the region has the potential to be a major distribution hub.

He said the state could be a “Logistical Lamborghini” on the East Coast.

That could attract manufacturers, eager to import parts and export finished goods to the global market. But John Paul Galles, publisher of the Greater Charlotte Biz magazine, said local leaders need to take a more active role in planning for growth. He pointed to huge, planned distribution centers, such as Alliance Park in Fort Worth, Texas, and said similar planning is needed for land around Charlotte’s airport.

“We have no planning like that,” Galles said. “We ought to be more intentional. We can’t just let things happen.”

Galles said the long-running fight over whether the City Council or a new, independent regional commission should oversee the airport has hindered efforts to plan development in the thousands of acres surrounding Charlotte Douglas. “We have been in a state of limbo,” he said.

He also called for North and South Carolina to work together, rather than fight each other to attract companies and jobs. The two states have often vied for new jobs, and South Carolina in June lured two Charlotte companies, Lash Group and LPL Financial, across the state line along with about 2,200 jobs.

“Why do we fight with each other?” Galles said. Instead, he said the region needs a new, combined effort to promote the states together as “The Carolinas.”

Galles said the old standbys for driving economic growth can’t be relied upon in the future, especially as the world becomes ever more globalized.

“We can’t just build houses to make our economy rich,” he said. “We got to find ways to do business around the world.”