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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Businesses Rethinking Air Travel Post Pandemic

airplane travel airline plane file stock unsplash
Suhyeon Choi
Some companies are debating whether they can cut down on business-related flights and other work travel once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

The airline industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic — especially when it comes to business travel. As more people get vaccinated and the end of the pandemic gets closer, companies are now weighing whether employees still need to travel or if online meetings will suffice as they have the past year. For more on that and other local news, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Marshall Terry: Tony, air travel for companies is a big expense.

Tony Mecia: It is a big expense, Marshall, and a lot of companies and a lot of these people who are used to flying a lot for work, they're sort of having to now look at whether that makes sense. We know that people are kind of returning to the air, returning to flying, as people who haven't been on vacations in a long time are really looking forward to those. But on business travel, it's a little bit different.

Companies are saying that maybe they can kind of get through without doing as much business travel as they had in the past — that Zoom can fill in perfectly fine in some occasions, particularly keeping up existing relationships with existing clients, that sort of thing. I mean, there have been a number of ... industry forecasts that say it's going to take years for business travel to get back to where it was — if it ever gets back to where it was — just because a lot of companies and individuals are kind of looking at that new reality. So, we talked to a bunch of them, and it's sort of a new world where people are trying to figure out, "How much do I need to be out there on the road, and how much can I deal with at home?"

Terry: Another area that the pandemic is hit hard is the arts because venues have not been allowed to hold events over the past year. The Ledger recently sat down with Opera Carolina's artistic director, who talked about the challenges his organization has faced and also plans for the future. What did he say?

Opera Carolina
Opera Carolina is one of many entertainment entities that's had to adapt to COVID-19. As the pandemic began to grip North Carolina, scenes like this would not have been safe to perform.

Mecia: Yeah, our managing editor, Cristina Bolling, talked with James Meena, the artistic director of Opera Carolina. And it turns out with Opera Carolina, like with a lot of arts groups, it was a little bit dicey at first. They had to cancel events they had planned: "Don Giovanni" and "Aida" — two big productions. (Meena) said it was a little bit touch and go over the summer, but that by the fall things maybe started to improve a little bit. They got a PPP loan. They received some grant funding from Foundation for the Carolinas, COVID-relief money administered through local governments.

Talking to James Meena, he said that they really feel like they've turned the corner. They're starting to play on some small-scale events. Really the main challenge is you have so many singers in these big productions and singing obviously spreads COVID. They're doing smaller-scale productions, planning some in person, some virtual, and they really feel as though the worst is behind them.

Terry: Tony, the CEO of Charlotte-based Sonic Automotive was recently indicted. What's he accused of?

Mecia: Sonic Automotive is a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Charlotte. Its offices are over in Cotswold. It owns a bunch of car dealerships nationwide. Bruton Smith, his family runs it. It's a publicly traded company. David Smith, the CEO, who is Bruton Smith's son, was charged in October with some domestic violence charges. And so those are sort of making their way through the courts. Last week, David Smith was indicted on those charges, including a felony count of attempted strangulation, along with he was charged with knocking a cellphone out of the victim's hand.

The victim is a 22-year-old who had described herself to police as his ex-fiancee. So, that case is working its way through the courts. I talked to David Smith's lawyer. He said Smith intends to plead not guilty when he gets to court in May. Sonic's board has backed David Smith. He told them that he was innocent, and they are backing him, so that's where that one stands.

Terry: Last week, we talked about the debate over Charlotte's 2040 plan, in particular over the proposal to eliminate single-family zoning. Since that conversation, you've reported on the residency of the city's lead advocates and the man in charge of the 2040 plan. And his residency is not even in Charlotte.

Mecia: That's right, Marshall. Taiwo Jaiyeoba is the city planning director and assistant city manager. He's really been the one behind this idea. It's a big, comprehensive plan. A lot of neighborhood advocates and developers have raised some objections to that in the last couple of weeks. The one that really came to the forefront was this idea, as you mentioned, that would allow duplexes and triplexes in single-family neighborhoods. We reported in the Ledger that Jaiyeoba doesn't live in Mecklenburg County.

He lives in Wesley Chapel in a gated community on a cul de sac. Now, some people say, "Why does it matter where he lives? As long as he's advancing good ideas, it doesn't matter." Other people, particularly those who have some objections to the 2040 plan, say, "Well, wait a minute, why is this guy who doesn't even live in the city advancing ideas that he doesn't really have any skin in the game?" So, it's sort of interesting. I don't know that it really affects the dynamics of the debate, but certainly, a lot of people found it interesting.

Bernie Almanzar
It turns out storage spaces make for pretty rockin' spots for band practice.

Terry: Finally, Matthews-based Morningstar Storage has hit on a new business, and it involves rock music. What's going on there?

Mecia: It sounds like an odd combination. One of the questions we get asked a lot is, "What's the deal with all these self-storage spaces? Why are they cropping up all over the place?" People use self-storage spaces for all kinds of things. Morningstar Storage picked up on a trend that they saw people renting self-storage space for band practice.

So, actually what they've done now is they've gone and developed what is essentially a coworking space for bands to get together and practice. It's called Jambox. That's off of South Boulevard. They have 12 rooms that you can rent out to rock out in, Marshall. And so they're seeing that as a viable business opportunity going forward.

Terry: All right, Tony, we'll leave it there this week. Thank you.

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