Article by the Gaston Gazette:
Powered by job growth of more than two percent last year, the Charlotte metro area, including Gastonia and Rock Hill, S.C., was once again named to Forbes? 2014 list of ?Best Big Cities for Jobs.?
Charlotte fell six spots on this year?s list to 14th, ahead of the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash., metro area and one spot behind Salt Lake City, Utah. The Queen City metro area was ranked eighth on the same list last year.
The ranking was based in part on growth trends and employment statistics since 2002. Last year, more than
888,000 people were employed in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill metro area. Job growth grew by 2.4 percent in 2013, and by nearly 5 percent between 2008 and 2013.
Donny Hicks, the executive director of the Gaston County Economic Development Commission, spends his days trying to bolster local job creation and retention, in addition to planning new ways to attract skilled workers and business investment.
?The fact we?re included in that list is remarkable considering where the area has gone over the past four decades,? Hicks said.
Gaston County has just a tenth of the textile workers it had in 1972, Hicks said ? 30,000 then compared to just 3,200 today ? but improvements in education, transportation and quality of life have allowed the region to prosper despite the loss of textile work. Over the past 30 years, Gaston County alone has developed roughly 2,700 acres for commercial use, Hicks said, and more than 5.7 million square feet of commercial space.
But it?s a number of factors, Hicks said, including education and transportation, that combine to boost job growth.
Educational resources in the region, namely UNC Charlotte and Gaston College, have been essential in attracting and training a younger group of skilled workers needed by businesses across the area, Hicks said.
?UNC Charlotte, in particular, has been important,? Hicks said. ?It?s not just the people there that are there getting four-year degrees, but I think programs like the school?s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center are important.?
Area community colleges have also played a crucial role in preparing the region?s workers to take on new roles, Hicks said.
?The entire community college system has been a strength for business development,? Hicks said. ?It helps some students reduce the cost of a four-year degree while helping train others in technical skills. There?s been a huge gap nationally that local community colleges have helped us address.?
Charlotte Douglas International Airport has also been essential in attracting new businesses, Hicks said, especially compared to other cities in the southeast like Tampa, Fla., Nashville, Tenn., and Richmond, Va.
?If you asked every economic developer in the region, they?d all point to the airport being a huge driver of growth,? Hicks said. ?It helps separate us from our competitors, like Greenville-Spartanburg, (S.C.). You can land right here and be at your facility in no time. There is no lag.?
Hicks said local roads offer room for substantial improvement, however.
?You simply can?t grow at the pace we are and not build roads,? Hicks said. ?We need to continue to extend the light rail and bus service while continuing to build more roads. Right now, we can get folks here, but they can?t get around like they need to.?
Hicks believes the North Carolina Department of Transportation?s new funding formula, which places a premium on projects that would save the most travel time, could greatly benefit the region.
?Other alternatives like toll roads or usage fees based on the miles you drive per year might also help alleviate some of our road-funding issues,? Hicks said. ?But as things stand right now, building materials are getting more expensive and it?s getter harder to build roads, right when we need them the most.?
Published by the Gaston Gazette.
Published: Monday, May 5, 2014 at 17:46 PM.
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