BizWorthy: These Were Charlotte's Biggest Business Stories Of 2020
It’s the last day of the year. Most are ready to forget 2020 and not look back. But for the next few minutes, we are going to look back, specifically at the year in Charlotte business news.
Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter is here to help us sort it out.
Marshall Terry: Tony, happy New Year.
Tony Mecia: Same to you, Marshall.
Terry: So, obviously, most of our conversations this past year have focused on the challenges businesses have faced because of the pandemic. But let's start with some of the big business news unrelated to the pandemic in 2020. What comes to mind?
Mecia: Well, that's a great question, Marshall. I mean, it's such an all-consuming event. I mean, COVID is just a big black swan event, affects so many things, affects every person, every business. The question is really sort of ... along the lines of, "Other than that, how is the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" But there are a few that come to mind.
The biggest one is the announcement in July that Centene, a health care provider, is opening up its East Coast headquarters, building a big complex in the University City area and (there are) going to be, they say, maybe more than 6,000 jobs — the biggest jobs announcement in North Carolina history. That's a huge one. Other non-COVID ones: I've been racking my brain, trying to think about this, Marshall, and COVID just reaches into so many things.
I was thinking back into what was the big news from January and February when you had things like Earth Fare closing all of its stores, you had McClatchy, the parent of the (Charlotte) Observer, filing for bankruptcy. You had a few things like that, but all those seem kind of small potatoes given everything we've gone through this year.
Terry: I totally forgot about McClatchy and Earth Fare. It was so long ago.
Mecia: Right. I mean, it seems like years and years ago, right? But that was still 2020.
Terry: Charlotte's largest carrier, American Airlines, has started bringing back some of the workers it laid off earlier this year due to the pandemic. So, does that mean that we'll see the airline industry rebound next year?
Mecia: Well, the airlines are certainly hoping so. I mean, bringing back some of the workers alone that has more to do with the president's signing of the COVID-relief bill in Washington, which provides some assistance to keep airline workers on the payrolls. But I mean and certainly this month, Marshall, you've seen increases in air travel around the holidays — probably expected.
Air travel is still about half of where it was a year ago, so there's still a lot of room to make up. And the really big question is what happens to business travelers? That's where airlines make a lot of their money. But I think a lot of businesses are finding maybe they don't need to fly people all over the country anymore. Maybe they can get by with Zoom and some other alternatives. So, yes, I think it will come back, but it's a question of how much and how quickly.
Terry: Well, it wouldn't be a look back at the year that was without a top 10 list. You've actually compiled your own for this year.
Mecia: Marshall, the Ledger was going to compile the top Marshall Terry soundbites of 2020, but we went a different direction. Don't worry, it's OK. We went a different direction. We instead did something even more interesting, which was the top rezonings in Charlotte of the year. And it's sort of a joke because, in a sense, rezoning when you start talking about it sounds kind of boring, but actually there's a lot of human drama inside these that give a window into Charlotte's growth. You see what developers are planning around the city.
Some of the ones that made the list were obviously the Eastland Mall rezoning, Atrium Health's campus at Carolinas Medical Center. And then the top two, — we talked to the city's planning director, the head of the planning commission — the top two were Grubb Properties' plans to build a car-free apartment complex just north of uptown. That was sort of seen as a big potential change, a new way to develop apartments.
And then the Ballantyne reimagined that was approved this summer: 450 or so acres rezoned in Ballantyne, demolishing part of the golf course to make it into a huge hub of activity. So, there was a lot going on in rezoning and commercial real estate development. That has been steady throughout the year, even the pandemic.
Terry: Finally, Tony, you found that Charlotte appears to be one of the top cities in the country for attracting new residents since the start of the pandemic. What numbers were you looking at there?
Mecia: I mean, you know, the best numbers to look at are census numbers, but they tend to lag by a number of months or years. But we have all these other indicators that are showing that Charlotte is still really picking up a lot of people. There has been a lot written that other cities — New York, San Francisco, some of these bigger cities — we've had people leaving there for some time. Some of been exacerbated by COVID, but if you look at the numbers of how Charlotte is picking people up, you see things like LinkedIn said that the number of people who have changed their ZIP code on LinkedIn to a Charlotte ZIP code. Charlotte's the sixth in the country for that over the last several months.
And then you have data from moving companies. United Van Lines looked at the number of one-way truck rentals, and the Charlotte area is No. 3 in the country in the last few months.
So, we have all these indicators showing us that that the Charlotte area is really growing a lot. And so that helps explain why we're still seeing this big boom in the housing market — both in single-family houses, apartment developments, townhouses, that sort of thing — that's still taking off because people are still coming here, even during COVID.
Terry: All right, Tony, thank you. I will see you next year.
Mecia: Thanks, Marshall. Happy New Year.