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Regional Business Reports

Low-Cost Carrier Lands at Charlotte-Douglas
Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, which as a USAirways regional hub has a reputation for commanding some of the highest airfares in the country, is getting its first low-fare airline in more than five years. American Trans Air Inc. will begin providing service to about 40 cities via its Chicago-Midway hub starting July 18. Introductory one-way fares to Chicago are $69, to 11 Midwest cities the fare is $89 and to western destinations the one-way cost is $109.

The arrival of Indianapolis-based ATA has been welcomed by some in the business community who complained of high airfares being charged by USAirways. Two years ago the city established a committee to actively recruit a low-cost airline to the city-owned airport. Though it’s a relatively low-profile company, ATA is the nation’s 10th largest carrier with a 29-year history in the business. It was the only airline besides Southwest Airlines to report a profit in the first quarter of 2002.

Given USAirways ongoing financial losses, Peter Schwarz, professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, predicts that American Trans Air may be able to establish a stronghold in the Charlotte market. So far, USAirways has responded to ATA’s arrival by matching fares. But Schwarz says that practice of offering fares for which it cannot cover its costs may be difficult for USAirways to maintain as it struggles to win approval for federal loans.

“American Trans Air may find that USAirways can’t fend them off on all routes,” Schwarz says, adding that ATA may have factored in losing money at first in Charlotte, but gaining ground as USAirways loses its ability to keep pace.

Schwarz says ATA’s arrival presents a dilemma for Charlotte, which covets its standing as a USAirways hub, but at the same time resents the high airfares. As low-fare carriers gain a foothold, the city risks losing the USAirways hub, which accounts for 8,600 local jobs, making it the region’s fifth-largest employer.

“USAirways will have a harder time surviving as ATA is successful,” Schwarz says. “Would Charlotte rather be a hub and have expensive airfares, or have lower fares but see those jobs go?”— Laura Williams-Tracy

Standard Commercial Grant Encourages Teachers to Excel
The latest evidence that big business cares about education can be found in Wilson, where Standard Commercial Corp. has pledged $195,000 to Daniels Elementary School to help attract and retain teachers. More specifically, the grant will extend the bonus period for teachers. Currently, bonuses paid by the state are based on student performance on the annual end-of-grade (EOG) testing, which is administered at the end of the 180-day school year. The grant from Standard Commercial, a company that has operated in Wilson for more than 20 years, will extend the time in which teachers can receive bonuses.

Standard Commercial President and CEO Robert E. Harrison notes that the grant is important not only because it enables the schools to recruit the best teachers but it also allows them “to keep and reward the best teachers, so that our community is, in turn, rewarded with a future of bright young leaders.” -- Rachel Suls

NASCAR Mechanics School Opens With All Classes Full
As the home to nearly 60 auto racing teams, it’s no surprise that Mooresville was chosen as the site for the first-ever NASCAR Technical Institute, the inaugural institute of its kind to combine a complete automotive technology training program with a NASCAR-specific motorsports program. The institute, located in Talbert Pointe Business Park, opened in mid-May and hopes to help address the shortage of auto service technicians. According to the institute, some 60,000 new automotive technicians are needed to meet demand nationwide.

The $12 million training facility spans 146,000 square feet and is equipped to teach 1,900 students. The institute has already filled all of the available student slots until next February, with the bulk of the training to consist of entry-level automotive technology mixed with NASCAR expertise. Tuition ranges from $24,350 to $29,100.

At the end of the 57-week training period, students receive their certification and may enter the job market. The first 39 weeks of the program is for basic automotive training and the last 18 weeks focus more specifically on NASCAR and its related programs. Students also may enroll in an optional 12-week FORD-FACT program for supplementary training.

The institute is a joint venture between NASCAR and Universal Technical Institute Inc. and is expected to employ about 150 people. Mooresville was a natural fit for the program. In addition to its nearly five dozen race teams, it is home to the North Carolina Racing Hall of Fame, race-themed restaurants and many of the sport’s top drivers.   — Rachel Suls

Movie Making Remains Strong Despite Hollywood's Doldrums
Hollywood we’re not, and thankful for it. That said, North Carolina continues to enhance its reputation as a state where films get made. The latest statistics from the N.C. Department of Commerce reveal that production of film, television and commercials created an estimated $250.6 million in revenue for the state last year. Only California and New York did better.

Revenue was created from the hosting of 12 theatrical features and 32 TV series episodes in 2001. Despite a slight decrease in the number of productions from 2000, revenue rose half a million dollars and produced more than a 500-to-1 return on the investment of the less than $500,000 budget of the Commerce Film Office. 

North Carolina’s numbers remain impressive in spite of a difficult year overall for the film industry. The decrease in production was partly due to the screen actors’ and writers’ guild nationwide strikes. In addition, Canada has become an attractive option for many filmmakers because of the favorable monetary exchange rate — a factor that North Carolina has countered by using its offices in Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Canada to attract potential filmmakers. 

“Considering that the state’s film recruiters are working with reduced resources because of the budget crisis and are facing escalated competition from Canada, other foreign countries and other states,” says Commerce Secretary Jim Fain, “we’re very pleased with these revenue numbers and the jobs and investment that the industry continues to bring to our state.”  — Rachel Suls

Sara Lee to House 6,000 Workers at Single Site
Sara Lee Branded Apparel has announced plans to consolidate its Winston-Salem operations with a $35 million expansion of its Oak Summit campus. The company plans to build two five-story wings on each side of the existing building at 1000 East Hanes Mill Road in northern Winston Salem. The enlarged campus will allow most of the company’s 6,000 Triad workers to be in one place.

The new wings will add about 383,000 square feet to the current 255,000-square-foot facility. The groundbreaking is scheduled later this summer with the projected completion of the project in fall 2003.

The new-look campus will included a world-class learning center, which also will be used as an auditorium for company meetings, and “think tank” space in the form of work carrels that will provide retreat space for brainstorming and uninterrupted concentration on specific projects. Cary McMillian, CEO of Sara Lee Branded Apparel and executive vice president of Sara Lee Corp., says the expansion benefits all involved. “Employees win,” he says. “The county and the city win with new tax base. And finally, down the road, a central, highly efficient location should result in improved operational profit, so Sara Lee’s shareholders win.”

Sara Lee’s current building at Oak Summit was built in 1994. It was designed by Little & Associates with expansion in mind. McMillian says that he initiated a space study after becoming CEO in November 2001. A study group quickly concurred. Little & Associates will again be the architects, and a general contractor has yet to be named.

Sara Lee Activewear and Sara Lee Branded Apparel management group occupy the current Oak Summit facility. Relocating to the new campus upon completion of the project will be Sara Lee Intimate Apparel, Sara Lee Underwear and Sara Lee Hosiery, all moving from other Winston-Salem locations, and Sara Lee Sock Co., which will leave High Point. Sales teams and Hanes megabrand marketing are in the process of relocating to Oak Summit. Sara Lee Business Services and Sara Lee Direct response staff, currently located in Rural Hall, will relocate to 450 West Hanes Mill Road.  — Jim Buice

No Local Layoffs Expected From Sale of Miller Brewing
The sale of Miller Brewing Co. by Philip Morris to London-based South African Breweries PLC is not expected to result in layoffs at the Eden brewery. In addition to receiving $3.6 billion in stock, SAB agreed to assume $2 billion in Miller debt, raising the acquisition’s total value to $5.6 billion. Philip Morris would get a 36 percent stake in the company, to be renamed SABMiller, and intends to remain a long-term shareholder.

“We think it’s going to be positive for Eden,” says Cathy Wright, a spokesperson for the N.C. plant, which opened in 1976 and with 750 workers is Rockingham County’s sixth-largest employer.

Miller had 19.7 percent of the $60 billion U.S. retail beer market last year, down from 20.7 percent in 2000, according to Beer Marketing Insight, a trade publication. Anheuser-Busch companies control almost half of the U.S. market.

The sale is expected to be completed this month. The company will be headquartered in London, with Miller’s Milwaukee office overseeing the company’s business in North and South America. SAB is the fourth-largest brewer in the world, with brewing operations in 23 countries.  — Kevin Brafford

Site Selection Data Finds an Internet Home
A longtime Hickory businessman has started a company aimed at boosting economic development in the state by compiling information, via the Internet, about property and building data for businesses and consultants. Through the company, e-Site Analysis, Engineer Don Moss gathers in one central location all the engineering and demographic information potential developers need to make site selection decisions.

The program is the first of its kind in the state to provide such a comprehensive amount of information on the Internet, according to Moss and Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corp.

Moss, who has been in the construction business in Hickory for more than 30 years and is retiring next year as president of Moss Marlow Building Co., is marketing his program to North Carolina counties and the state’s seven economic regions as a way to foster economic development by making the site selection process easier for businesses and consultants.

“With this program, the site consultants and engineers can go to the web and get the information they need before visiting the site,” says Moss. “Normally, the economic developer for the county would have to gather the information about the site and FedEx it to the consultant and the consultant then must be able to interpret the information.”

“Economic development officials are finding out that businesses today are going for the sites that have all the information readily available to them right now,” Moss adds.

Millar agrees: “There is no doubt speed and quality of information is critical in the site selection process.”

Moss recently took e-Site Analysis online using Catawba County as its first test site. The initial feedback was positive, leading both Moss and Millar to believe that success is imminent.

“We are the first to go to this level of information on the Internet,” says Millar. “I’ve shown it to Japanese clients, and the president of company has looked at the site and had an engineer in Japan look at the information the same day.”  -- Charlene H. Nelson

County Plots Strategy for Dealing With Growth
Cabarrus County leaders recently joined with state officials to measure the impact of growth on the region and to review how the area has weathered the recession. The meeting — something of a “state of the region business summit” — was held in May at Cabarrus Country Club. Organized by the Cabarrus County Chamber of Commerce, the mayors of Concord, Harrisburg, Mount Pleasant, Kannapolis, China Grove, Landis and members of the Cabarrus County Commissioners came together to talk about common issues.

Cabarrus County has experienced unprecedented growth in housing over the last decade, and the additional rooftops have put a strain on the county’s water supply, says Concord Mayor Scott Padgett.

Cabarrus County does not have a river running through it, and it currently buys water from Charlotte. Every summer the region faces a severe water shortage and imposes water use restrictions. Padgett says the meeting served as a time for leaders to coalesce their views on securing more water sources, including the long-term plan to get water from the Yadkin River.  

Padgett says most leaders agreed that while many manufacturers were hit by the recession, the region has worked hard to diversify its economic base over the past decade. “Our economy is so much more diverse than it was a few years, when we were solely textiles,” says Padgett.

Today in Concord no textile company ranks among the top-10 property tax payers. Instead, the top industries are Philip Morris, Lowe’s Motor Speedway, CT Communications and Concord Mills shopping center.

The county recently unveiled a new logo that includes a racing theme, which plays up the area as the headquarters of many NASCAR teams and home to the Coca-Cola 600, the Memorial Day weekend race that is the second largest sporting event in the U.S. each year, behind the Indianapolis 500.

“This is our Super Bowl and we’re proud of it,” Padgett says.  -- Laura Williams-Tracy

Mount Airy
DOT Urged to Rename Parkway for Andy Griffith
Lifelong friends and fans of comedian and TV legend Andy Griffith are petitioning the state to name a section of U.S. 52 near his hometown of Mount Airy in his honor.

The idea belongs to Mitch Williams, an engineer with the city of Mount Airy. He told the Winston-Salem Journal that during his travels around the state he noticed road dedications for some of North Carolina’s favorite sons: basketball superstar Michael Jordan, stock car racing legend Richard Petty and the Rev. Billy Graham.

But there was nothing for Griffith, now a resident of Manteo. Friends of Williams mentioned the idea to a member of Gov. Mike Easley’s staff, who was in the Surry County town for a dinner in March. A few weeks later, Williams received a letter encouraging residents to make a formal request to the state.

So Williams and friends started at the local level to rename about 10 miles of U.S. 52 from Interstate 74 to the Virginia line, currently designated the Pilot Mountain Parkway, the Andy Griffith Parkway.

Part of the process involved local government officials making a formal request to the state. Board of Transportation, according to Mike Pettyjohn, a DOT division maintenance engineer.

The Surry County Board of Commissioners recently passed a resolution in support of the Andy Griffith Parkway, and the actor has agreed to the project. The state Board of Transportation will have the final say some time later this year. — Kevin Brafford

Electric Utiliti8es Go Green Offering Renewable Energy
Carolina Power & Light, Duke Energy and North Carolina Electric Membership Corp. (NCEMC), among other energy companies, have filed a proposal with the state utilities commission to allow their customers in the state to purchase electricity from renewable energy sources. This new effort, dubbed the N.C. GreenPower Program, is being touted as the first statewide program of its kind in the United States. If approved, customers will be able to sign up for the program beginning six months from the approval date.

“CP&L is committed to providing our customers with the opportunity to support the use and development of renewable energy,” says Bill Cavanaugh, the chairman, president and CEO of Progress Energy, the parent company of CP&L.

Cavanaugh further echoes the thoughts of his energy partners in the state who are behind the proposal. “Progress Energy is committed to be a good environmental steward,” he says, “and we’re proud to be part of this new statewide effort to promote the use of renewable energy.”

Customers who select the green power option will pay an additional $4 per month for a 100-kilowatt block of electricity generated from renewable resources. The renewable resources include solar, wind, small hydroelectric and biomass.

Customers may choose to purchase one or more blocks per month, and funds collected through the program will be transferred to the N.C. Advanced Energy Corp., the statewide program administrator, for the support of generators of energy from renewable resources selected to participate in N.C. GreenPower.

The proposal is the culmination of a collaborative effort involving CP&L, Duke Energy, North Carolina Power, NCAEC, the Public Staff, the Attorney General’s office, the North Carolina Electric Membership Corp., the state’s municipal power agencies, the State Energy Office and several environmental and renewable resource advocacy groups and providers. — Kevin Brafford

Bennett Coaxes Noted Educator From Retirement
Johnnetta Cole keeps doing her best to retire, but new challenges continue to just get in the way. Cole, who served as president at Spelman College in Atlanta for 10 years before retiring the first time in 1997, will assume the top position at Bennett College, the nation’s other historically black, all women’s college, in mid-July.

Cole, 65, recently was named the14th president of Bennett, which has been plagued by budget woes and shrinking enrollment numbers. The tiny Greensboro college, a fixture in the city for 129 years, faces a $2 million budget shortfall. Enrollment fell to 500 students this past year, about 100 fewer than the previous school year. “Only the challenge to help Bennett College soar to the heights of its possibility could have brought me out of retirement,” Cole says.

After retiring from Spelman, Cole returned to work a year later as a professor at Emory University. She retired from Emory, also located in Atlanta, in 2001, after three years at the helm.

Then Bennett unexpectedly entered the picture earlier this year when then-President Althia Collins resigned after a rocky six-month tenure. Cole was sought as a consultant to help with the search for a new leader because of her vast experience, knowledge and contacts. She is a member of the board of directors of Coca-Cola Enterprises, Merck and the Rockefeller Foundation and counts among her friends Bill Cosby and Coretta Scott King. She quickly moved from consultant to No. 1 candidate.

Cole will inherit a situation similar to the one at Spelman, which also was struggling upon her arrival. She sparked a fund-raising campaign at Spelman that raised $114 million, soaring past a goal of $81 million. Under her leadership, Spelman became the first historically black college to receive the No. 1 ranking among liberal arts colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report.  -- Jim Buice

Industries Cut Emissions in Half Over Past Decade
Industries in North Carolina are emitting far less toxic chemicals into the environment than they were a decade ago, according to a recently released report from the Environmental Protection Administration. The report found that industries that were operating in North Carolina in 1990 had reduced such emissions by 53 percent when the EPA rechecked them in 2000.

Nationwide, the EPA report shows that emissions of toxic chemicals into the environment decreased from 7.8 billion pounds in 1999 to 7.1 billion pounds in 2000, a 10.1 percent reduction. Since 1988, chemical releases into the air, water and soil all across the U.S. have decreased about 48 percent, the EPA report said.

To be sure it’s comparing apples to apples, the EPA in each state annually measures emissions from “original industries” that were operating at the time it began taking the measurements. Separately, it tracks emissions from “new industry” that began operating after the tracking started.

Because of the huge growth and diversification in North Carolina’s industrial base over the past decade, the toxic chemicals released by the state’s “original industries” now make up less than half of the total emitted into the environment today. In 2000, that amounted to approximately 61.9 million pounds by the original industries and 95.3 million pounds by new industry.

Of the 157.3 million total pounds of toxic chemicals released in the state in 2000, 125.7 million pounds were air emissions, mainly from coal-fired power plants. Only 9.2 million pounds were released into rivers and streams.

Industries in the state actually generated 801.9 million pounds of toxic waste in 2000, but 80.4 percent of it was recycled or recovered, including 285.8 million pounds sent off-site for recycling, 80.6 million pounds recycled on-site and 241.2 million pounds treated on-site.  -- Steve Tuttle

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