“We have the opportunity to build a new city—and that happens rarely in someone’s lifetime,” says Chase Boone Saunders, a Charlotte native and fifth generation North Carolinian talking about Charlotte’s resurgent destiny as a crossroads of commerce.
“Charlotte is a work-in-progress, an Information Age City ever creating its future by coupling a mid-East location astride pre-Columbian, Indian trade routes to the energy of her people.”
Charlotte is on the threshold of another economic wave driven by its strength and location at the center of the Carolinas and the East Coast. With over 900 foreign-owned firms, its primary economic sectors include energy, banking, health care, manufacturing and logistics.
For the past two decades, businesses have been relocating around the globe for less expensive labor. As those labor costs push toward an equilibrium, businesses—especially manufacturing entities—are working to reduce their next most expensive costs of doing business…shipping and delivery.
Combined Logistical Assets Offer New Opportunities
In order to reduce those costs, advanced manufacturing, adaptive manufacturing and distribution firms will locate their facilities close to global hubs for domestic and international commerce. With the Charlotte Douglas International Airport providing non-stop flights to most major domestic population centers with over 44 million passengers a year, and the Norfolk Southern Intermodal Center with its potential capacity of nearly 600,000 containers a year, the Charlotte region provides a premier location for global businesses.
What makes Charlotte unique is its combined access to great air service as well as great highways and railways. From Charlotte, businesses can choose to move their freight/goods through any of the four major deep-water ports of Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington and Norfolk. Having so many proximate choices will drive costs down as truckers, railroads, ports and shipping companies compete for their business.
Norfolk Southern Intermodal Center
One year ago, in December 2013, Norfolk Southern moved into the new Intermodal Center between runways at the south end of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CDIA). The new facility is located on 170 acres with 3 pad tracks totaling 13,225 feet and 8 support tracks totaling 24,810 feet; 1,328 parking spots on site; a present capacity of 200,000 lift containers; all within easy access to major interstates I-485, I-85 and I-77.
Norfolk Southern (NS) leased this land from CDIA with the option to purchase it and adjacent land for expanding intermodal activities from domestic as well as international trade.
Crescent Corridor Initiative
NS has targeted major resources toward a Crescent Corridor Initiative serving manufactured freight along the I-85, I-77, I-485, I-40 and I-81 corridors from Pennsylvania to Alabama. The Crescent Corridor, stretching along highways from Richmond, Va., to Birmingham, Ala., is a concentrated manufacturing region that produces over $1.3 trillion of our GDP each year.
This manufacturing output is expected to double or even triple in the next 50 years. More specifically, experts expect roughly 40 percent of initial containers transiting through our intermodal center will be from international trade, while the remaining 60 percent will result from its Crescent Corridor Initiative.
Location, Location, Location
According to Brookings researcher Adie Tomer, “Along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, there is a veritable arms race between ports to dredge their harbors, roll out new cranes and obtain a bigger slice of American logistics business. Ports from Miami to Boston are making major bets—often involving upwards of a billion dollars—that they’ll be winners in the new Panamax world.”
The inland port of Charlotte, with its combined assets of CDIA and the NS Intermodal Center, offer this region a huge opportunity. NS and CSX rails provide service to each of the four major southeast ports.
To make the most of its location at the logistical center of the Carolinas along the East Coast, Charlotte must step up its game with a masterplan to not just compete, but to become the premier inland port. Unfortunately, political battles have left its significant assets sitting in limbo without the benefit of local planning for competitive development while other cities successfully move forward to service the same traffic.
Charlotte is only 644 miles south of New York City,730 miles north of Miami, 756 miles southeast of Chicago, and 714 miles northeast of New Orleans. Charlotte also happens to be at the logistical center of the southeast ports: Wilmington (198 miles), Charleston (208 miles), Savannah (252 miles), and Norfolk (323 miles).
By locating in Charlotte, businesses can reach over 60 percent of the population of the United States and more than 60 percent of the nation’s industrial base within two hours’ flight time or one day’s delivery by motor freight, and still have easy access to shipping options in major deep-water southeast ports.
The Need for an Integrated Strategy
CDIA and the city of Charlotte have begun planning for development of nearly 6,500 acres surrounding the airport and intermodal center building water lines, sewers and roads in the area known as Dixie Berryhill at a cost of roughly $45 million as part of the city’s $816 million capital improvement plan paid for by the 7.25 percent property tax increase.
In addition, the area needs expanded electrical service and other utilities. An additional 6,000 acres adjacent to the airport property is also largely undeveloped and could be improved. CDIA should also seek to expand air freight traffic. Ranked 33rd in air cargo among U.S. airports, the city can’t act soon enough.
We Need to Learn from Other Communities
When considering options for further development around CDIA and the NS Intermodal Center, there are prime examples of similar developments that ought to be studied. Three such models for development are the Alliance Global Logistics Hub in Fort Worth, Tex., the Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park in Columbus, Ohio, and the CenterPoint Intermodal Center just outside Chicago in Joliet/Elwood, Ill.
Alliance Global Logistics Park has been developed just west of Dallas by H. Ross Perot and BNSF Railroad. It operates with a capacity of 600,000 containers per year with projected growth to nearly 1,000,000 lifts serving domestic and international trade. This facility serves both BNSF and Union Pacific rail lines.
Its highway connections lead to both Mexico and Canada. It was built adjacent to the Fort Worth Airport and supports air freight for corporate as well as military needs. It operates a free trade zone with on-site customs and border protection within its 17,000-acre development.
Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park encompasses 1,576 acres surrounding the Rickenbacker International Airport and a NS Intermodal Center. Located 12 miles southeast of downtown Columbus, it has easy access to I-270, I-70, and Highways 23 and 33. It handles more than 300,000 containers per year along with its free trade zone. It provides direct double-stack service as well as next-day rail service to and from the Norfolk port.
CenterPoint Intermodal Center is North America’s largest inland port just south of Chicago. Its master-planned facilities operate on about 6,500 acres at the center of I-55, I-80 and the rail facilities of BNSF and Union Pacific. It provides readily available and flexible space solutions, plus thousands of additional acres for development.
The land around CDIA and the NS Intermodal Center can be developed into the best inland port in the United States with the proper planning and execution. While primarily undeveloped, this region can learn from the experience of other parks and build a plan to develop this acreage to fill the growing needs of cargo and trade to domestic and international markets.
Leadership in a Changing World
Gaining competitive advantage is so incredibly difficult in this age of disruption, when business survival trumps business growth. But it makes it that much more important to take full advantage of our assets and to be prepared for and take advantage of any opportunities as they arise.
Disruption has shown us, if nothing else, that where one entity does not step up, there are many others that will. What are we doing with our assets?
We benefited mightily from business leaders in the Charlotte community who recognized early on, in 1999, the potential advantages of co-locating rail and air facilities for future prosperity. Their Advantage Carolinas plan was roundly lauded and integral to the establishment of the NS Intermodal Center.
Although the region’s corporate citizens and leadership may have changed complexion, economic experts continue to believe that the true path to economic enrichment for any community—the way to raise the productivity and prosperity for all—continues to be providing access to and promoting manufacturing and those commercial flows that stimulate economic activity.
Global Vision Leaders Group
In the absence of leadership from other sectors, a grass roots group of business leaders has come together under the leadership of Tony Zeiss, Chase Saunders, Michael Gallis, and John Galles to form the Global Vision Leaders Group which has already held four major global summit meetings as well as conducted its own research and findings from meetings with each of the southeast ports and representatives of the N.C. and S.C. Departments of Commerce.
Two expert analyses in the economic development arena were also drawn upon: The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, and The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton.
South Carolina is wooing substantial business to its port and to its real estate along I-85, most notably, the BMW plant in Greenville and Boeing in Charleston. Governor Nikki Haley is all about economic development leading the state’s charge in one unified vision to develop the state as an economic powerhouse. South Carolina wants CDIA and intermodal centers to be major players in this strategy.
Even the Port of Savannah in Georgia has a strong mission that very purposefully includes a relationship with the intermodal center and CDIA. This region is capable of becoming one of the most important hubs for global trade and commerce, yet local officials are not moving with all deliberate haste.
Hopefully, as the new Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina gets established, they will also be engaged with Charlotte and surrounding regions, even those across state lines.
Collectively, the Carolinas can become a major relocation region for three targeted groups that should be recruited: (1) Advanced and Adaptive Manufacturing that will seek to operate closer to major distribution centers; (2) International companies seeking to establish operations inside the domestic markets in the U.S.; and (3) Re-shoring companies that will return to the U.S. as wages reach a great equilibrium and as fewer workers are required.
We have the opportunity and the responsibility to exhibit a NEW Advantage Carolinas plan for businesses seeking the best location near a logistical center with great distribution capacities.
That plan can be even more successful if developed for the entire Carolinas region—one that is inclusive and integrates assets with manufacturing facilities in addition to grain, livestock and raw materials—and fully utilizes the region’s assets in a truly integrated fashion for the benefit and prosperity of all.