Around the region: Raleigh, Charlotte among ‘next big boom towns’ in U.S.

Published 11:20 am Friday, July 22, 2011

North Carolina may have two of the country’s next big boom towns, according to “Forbes Magazine.” After reviewing a range of factors, including population and job growth, the financial magazine ranked Raleigh number two and Charlotte number eight on its list of the “Next Big Boom Towns.”
“Forbes” said Raleigh, “a magnet for technology companies fleeing the more expensive, congested and highly regulated northeast corridor,” ranked high in several categories with high rates of immigration and migration of educated workers. The city has seen a rapid increase in its overall population and in family formation, as indicated by the percentage growth in the number of children ages 5 to 17. All of the measurements, “Forbes” said, indicate Raleigh is a top spot for people to “settle, make money and start businesses.”
Charlotte ranked high in some of the same categories, as well as mild climate and smaller scale. Forbes said cities such as Charlotte “do not suffer the persistent transportation bottlenecks that strangle the older growth hubs,” such as Atlanta. The magazine adds that Charlotte is investing in its transportation infrastructure, and it has a busy airport, serving major national and international routes.
The “Forbes” ranking analyzed the country’s 52 largest metro areas, which all have populations exceeding one million. Raleigh followed Austin, Texas, in the top spot of the “Forbes” ranking, and was joined by Nashville, San Antonio and Houston in the top five.
The Washington D.C. area was number six, Dallas was number seven, and Phoenix and Orlando followed Charlotte to complete the top 10.
Traffic in Charlotte and Raleigh may not be as congested as in some larger metro areas, but North Carolina’s largest cities have two of the most congested routes in the country, according to GPS data. The Daily Beast ranked a 5.3-mile stretch of I-485 in Charlotte as number 31 on its list of the 50 most tormenting commutes in the country. A 6.9-mile portion of I-40 in Raleigh came in at number 47.
The ranking was based on data compiled from GPS devices and smart phones in approximately four million vehicles. The congested section of I-485 in Charlotte runs eastbound from Tryon Street/Exit 1 to N.C.-51/Exit 64, where drivers on average need 2.14 minutes to go one mile.
In Raleigh, the busiest portion of I-40 extends from Airport Blvd/Exit 284 to N.C.-54/Exit 290, where it takes on average 1.66 minutes to go one mile.
More jobs will be coming to Charlotte when Time Warner Cable, Inc. expands operations and builds a national data center on its Charlotte campus.
The company announced plans to create 225 jobs over the next three years and invest $101 million in capital in its 33-acre Charlotte Corporate Campus.
Time Warner, which employs more than 5,000 people in North Carolina, plans to offer an overall average wage for the new jobs of $61,044 a year, not including benefits. That exceeds the average for Mecklenburg County of $51,584.
The state’s Economic Investment Committee awarded a Job Development Investment Grant to Time Warner for the project. The grant could yield $2.9 million in maximum benefits for the company if it meets its job and investment targets.
Matt Conrad, the operator of a children’s train ride that crashed at a Spartanburg park earlier this year, killing a 6-year-old boy, will not face criminal charges.
A report by Spartanburg County officials attributed the cause of the crash to excessive speed, noting that the train was going 22 miles per hour, nearly three times the recommended speed, when it rolled off the tracks and into a ditch.
However, Charleston Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who was asked to review the case because of a conflict in the local prosecutor’s office, ruled that Conrad had no intention of causing the crash and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Conrad’s lawyer said Conrad was pleased to hear that he will not face charges and he hopes new regulations will prevent such accidents in the future.
Since the crash, government officials have been working on new regulations regarding miniature train rides. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require a speedometer on the trains and a device to limit speed. Labor officials also have announced a new system for inspecting trains that will use licensed outside contractors instead of state employees.
The state labor department fired inspector Donnie Carrigan for falsifying records pertaining to the train that crashed at Spartanburg’s Cleveland Park. Carrigan admitted he cleared the train for use even though he had not taken a test run on the train because the battery was dead. The train crashed on its first day of operation in a new ride season, injuring 28 and killing 6-year-old Benji Easler.
Pastor Dwight Easler said Easler’s family had been told that no charges will be filed, and Nathan Ellis, a spokesman for the church, said the church is at peace with the decision.
“Charges wouldn’t have changed the outcome,” said Ellis.
Henderson County commissioners have agreed to hold a referendum next May to determine whether alcohol sales will be permitted outside the incorporated areas of the county. The referendum will give residents their first chance to be heard on the matter since county voters decided in 1955 to make the county dry.
County commissioners also voted this week to allow a proposed new ABC store on Upward Road. Commissioners reversed their position on the new store after hearing a presentation from the Henderson Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The board said a third store will generate significant revenue for the county, the city of Hendersonville and schools.
Broadband Internet capacity continues to grow around Asheville and the rest of Western North Carolina. The 2009 federal stimulus package included $7 billion for projects that will expand high-speed Internet access, including a project to install 25 miles of new fiber around Asheville.
Private companies in the region also are moving forward with infrastructure improvements and the non-profit Mountain Area Information Network recently was awarded an FCC license to explore the use of unused portion of the TV broadcasting spectrum for high-speed Internet access.
A National Broadband Plan issued by Congress last year noted the importance of high-speed Internet access.
“Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life,” said the plan.
The report also noted that broadband Internet access in rural areas is much less developed than in urban areas, leaving more than 20 million Americans without access to broadband.
The Center for Rural Strategies said last month in a study of rural broadband availability that North Carolina is behind national standards. The FCC established a standard of 4 megabits per second (mbps) download time and 1 mbps upload time, but approximately 57 percent of households in North Carolina have Internet speeds below those minimum standards. The FCC has set a standard for 2015 of 50 mbps download and 20 mbps upload.
AT&T announced last month that it plans to expand high speed Internet access to Leicester, N.C., after receiving a request from a resident. The resident contacted e-NC Authority, an organization created by the N.C. General Assembly in 2000 to help Internet service providers better serve rural areas.
Charter Communications has announced it will provide an option for Asheville residential customers to obtain speeds up to 60 mbps, and it now provides commercial customers with speeds up to 100 mbps. The company said such services will support business growth and development in the area.
Western North Carolina has seen a significant increase in the number of multigenerational households over the past 10 years, according to recently released census data.
The number of households with grandparents and grandchildren cohabitating has nearly doubled in some counties, while the number of “nonfamily households,” where separate families are joining together under one roof to save money, has also increased.
In Buncombe County, the number of nonfamily households rose from 644 in 2000 to 1,226 in 2010.
County officials said people have been coming together to get through tough economic times.
Matt Kirk, a 30-year-old science teacher from Marion, recently finished the 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail in record time. Kirk needed just 24 days, three hours, and 50 minutes to go from Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge Start Park on the Outer Banks.
Kate Dixon, executive director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, said it takes most hikers two to three months to complete the trail. She said Kirk, who averaged 38 miles a day, is the 23rd person to complete a through-hike on the trail.
Allen de Hart and Alan Householder, two originators of the trail concept, were the first to make the journey in 1997.
Kirk has taken on other distance challenges in the past, including the 40-mile Mount Mitchell Challenge and other ultra-marathon trail runs. He broke the record for the SB6K, traversing all peaks higher than 6,000 feet elevation in WNC in four days and 14 hours and he “fast-packed” the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail in 48 days.

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