great city needs a great university, and a great university can propel a great city.
Somewhat quietly, the 77-year-old University of North Carolina at Charlotte has evolved into the second-largest institution of higher learning in a state long known for its academic rigor and excellence. With a total enrollment of 30,500, according to university president Dr. Sharon Gaber, UNC Charlotte welcomed its largest-ever class of first-time students at the start of the 2023 fall semester.
Her background in urban planning, Dr. Gaber is deeply attuned to both the needs and aspirations of the community that surrounds UNC Charlotte.
“We are strongly focused on creating the diverse talent pipeline to fuel the Charlotte metro area,” Gaber tells Site Selection. “And we continue to develop programming to help fuel the entire region. But not only that, we provide a lot of cultural vibrancy. And because this is such a wonderfully booming region,” she adds, “70% of our students wind up staying in the metro area, which is pretty amazing.”
UNC Charlotte grad Chris Moxley, a 43-year-old “Charlottean through and through,” has seized upon Charlotte’s youthful vibe to build a thriving business that trades upon the increasing cred of the local brand. His 704 Shop, now in its eleventh year, manufactures and sells high-end streetwear including sweatshirts, tees, bottoms and hats.
“Our sweet spot,” he says, “is the 27-to-44 demographic, women and men.”
True to Moxley’s personal connection to Charlotte, the motto of 704 Shop is, “Stay Close to Home.” With a background in finance, Moxley has engineered partnerships with UNC Charlotte, FC Charlotte and a local soft drink company, and — in a stunning coup — executed an exclusive licensing agreement with the city to produce apparel and accessories bearing Charlotte’s official symbol, “the Crown.”
Moxley runs his retail business out of a storefront on Camden Street in Charlotte’s pulsing South End, an area that’s witnessed a remarkable surge roughly parallel to the 2007 launch of the LYNX Blue Rail Line, which now runs as far north as the UNC Charlotte campus.
“If you are a young individual in America and you want to find friends, find work and have a great time, there’s nothing better than South End.”
— Abhishek Mehta, Founder and CEO, Tresata
Tresata, the AI software security unicorn, occupies space above Moxley’s. Founder and CEO Abhi Metha, who has lived in other big cities, likens South End to some of the world’s most vibrant and well-known urban neighborhoods.
“South End,” Mehta tells Site Selection, “is the perfect combination of New York’s Soho, London’s Carnaby and Delhi’s Hauz Khas. If you are a young individual in America, and you want to find friends, find work and have a great time, there’s nothing better than South End.”
Light Rail Carries Heavy Impact
Already having helped to reimagine parts of the city, LYNX is poised to expand. Inaugurated in 2007 and extended in 2018 to UNC Charlotte, the LYNX Blue Line carries more than 27,000 passengers a day, on average, along 19 miles of track covering 26 stations. It connects to a shorter Gold line that opened in 2017.
Under a $13.5 billion transportation plan to include new bus routes, a greenway system and bicycle network, leaders of Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County are backing plans for a LYNX Silver Line, a proposed 29-mile expansion to run east and west from Belmont in Gaston County through the center of Charlotte and out to CLT. The Silver Line is envisioned as a catalyst for Charlotte’s outlying areas in the way that the LYNX Blue line has injected life along the path it serves from South End northward.
“Light rail has created a major impact,” says JLL’s Jones. “Before it came along, some of those areas couldn’t be considered as thriving parts of our community. But it’s brought in young professionals and just exploded our city.”
Moxley says the LYNX Blue Line “brought a frenzy of development” to his part of town, with the extension to UNC Charlotte exerting a similar impact.
“You’re seeing a lot of the restaurant, hotel and apartment development that South End has experienced beginning to make its way north of the city.”
CLT Takes its Place Among the Tops
Brandishing as it does a Top 10 ranking among the world’s busiest airports, Charlotte’s CLT International is another point of pride throughout the Charlotte region. In 2022, nearly 48 million passengers flew through CLT, seventh-most globally according to Airports Council International.
More than just a source of mere bragging rights, CLT is one of North Carolina’s top economic drivers, having contributed $32 billion in 2021, or 5% of the state’s gross domestic product. Not surprisingly, the airport is a major boon to business attraction.
“Every project we work has a component of transportation for its C-suites and salespeople, and Charlotte Douglas is a huge resource for us,” says JLL’s Dianne Jones. “It is vital to the success of our region.”
An easy 10-minute drive from Charlotte’s downtown interchanges, CLT — an American Airlines hub that hosts seven other major carriers — connects to 178 destinations including 36 overseas, “anywhere you’d want to go for business or pleasure,” says Stuart Hair, director of commercial & community engagement for the Charlotte Aviation Department.
Efficiency, Hair says, is CLT’s calling card. The airport’s hub-and-spokes layout, he says, helps to consolidate overlapping functions and ease passenger flow.
“All of our capital programs and operating budgets really go through that lens of efficiency, and it’s made us one of the most cost-efficient airports for airlines to do business.”
Some $4 billion worth of capital improvements currently underway include a $600 million Terminal Lobby Expansion and a 10-gate expansion of the airport’s Concourse A, both projects to be completed in 2024. Work is beginning on a fourth runway targeted to open in 2027.
“The really big amenity,” says Hair, “will be the new security checkpoints. They’ll increase our passenger throughput by a quarter, and we’ll get people through more quickly, which should really excite the traveling public.”