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Melanie Underwood
Melanie Underwood, executive vice president and economic developer for the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce

Racing Revs Up
Mooresville Development

Mooresville's emergence as a center of rapid development continues to gain national recognition. An ABC Evening News report on May 10 told of how this small town's relationship with stock car racing and its suppliers has transformed its economy. The exposure comes on top of Mooresville's ranking as the top small town for corporate facilities since 1998 by Site Selection. The pace of growth has quickened in recent years with $700,000,000 in investments and 4,000 jobs coming to town.
        NASCAR has been a large part of Mooresville's rebirth over the last 20 years. In fact, the city has copyrighted the nickname of "Race City USA." The company is home to nearly 50 race teams, which in turn have attracted dozens of suppliers and other racing-relating firms to the area. These include parts makers, decal makers, marketing and advertising companies and caterers.
        "Racing has dominated new development here," says Melanie O'Connell Underwood, executive vice president and economic developer for the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce. "Thirty percent of new company announcements over the last seven years have been racing-related."
        It all began when a race team owned by Chuck Ryder moved to the area. Others soon followed. Now, the town actively recruits the industry. Underwood and other Mooresville representatives recently exhibited at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis.
        Topping off the NASCAR-related development is the recent opening of the NASCAR Technical Institute, a $12-million, 110-job project which will train mechanics for a variety of positions with automobile dealerships, performance shops and for all levels of racing, including NASCAR. The facility will eventually employ 150.
        "The decision was made to locate in Mooresville and grow along with it," says Dennis Hendrix, director of the Institute. The training center quickly took on a full load of students and as of late May was booked through February. Students from all over the country will take a 57-week curriculum.
        Another major racing-related deal was the $20 million expansion by NGK Ceramics. NGK manufactures parts of catalytic converters for automobiles.
        Coinciding with NASCAR's migration to Mooresville has been a doubling of the population of the former textile mill town to more than 19,000. And all of those old mill buildings have found new uses.
        One of the largest is the huge Burlington Industries denim mill. Burlington phased out the plant in 1999 and a Raleigh-based development company, Cherokee Investment Partners, bought the plant, demolished antiquated sections of it and is developing about half of the facility into space for business condos.
        Why Mooresville? Underwood says proximity is key. Mooresville is within 15 miles of three Interstate highways and has good rail access. Companies also like the work ethic of the area's work force. The fact that the town is near Lake Norman doesn't hurt, she says.
        NASCAR notwithstanding, the area's biggest new deal was by Lowe's Companies, the world's second largest home improvement retailer, which announced it would build a corporate campus in Mooresville that will bring with it 1,000 jobs in its first phase. Subsequent development may bring employment to more than 8,000.
        And with Lowe's will come suppliers. Underwood says one of the company's major suppliers is already looking at Mooresville as a possible site for new headquarters, and another unrelated firm is taking a look at the area following the attention the Lowe's announcement created.


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