Charlotte: Toe to Toe with Coronavirus

Charlotte: Toe to Toe with Coronavirus

By: Felipe Rivas

4 min read June 2020—The tenacity of the coronavirus has challenged, and at times highlighted, the economic strength of cities across the nation. While the pandemic has severely bruised the Queen City’s economy, the city’s dexterity and sound fundamentals are helping to soften the blow as Charlotte recoups and prepares for an uncertain future. 

 

Marked by serious losses and promising victories, June has been a roller coaster of economic activity for the Charlotte Metro Region. Unexpectedly, the city’s hospitality sector, an already embattled segment of the economy, suffered a further blow when President Donald Trump and Republican leaders swiftly yanked the Republican National Convention (RNC) out of Charlotte after coronavirus-related concerns prevented North Carolina leaders from guaranteeing a fully operational Spectrum Center, hotels and other amenities. But as Charlotte reeled from this sudden blow, the region jabbed back at the coronavirus-related adversity with positive job expansion and promising rezoning announcements slated to be catalysts for growth in the near future. 

Two years of RNC preparations vanished as RNC leaders decided to move more than half of the August festivities to Jacksonville, Florida. Since winning the bid to host the 2020 RNC in 2018, the host committee and Charlotte’s hospitality and business leaders have toiled to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience for the thousands of delegates, journalists, and visitors expected for the event. However, as government and business leaders entered 2020 confident about the state of the economy, the contingency plans unsurprisingly failed to factor in a global pandemic and the subsequent reduction in major events and large gatherings of people. 

In late May, in a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper, RNC leaders demanded that Charlotte, which remains in a state of emergency, guarantee a “full convention,” and “full hotels and restaurants, and bars at full capacity,” according to a response letter published by the governor’s office. Citing uncertainty and the state of the coronavirus come August, Gov. Cooper said planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity. “As much as we want the conditions surrounding COVID-19 to be favorable enough for you to hold the Convention you describe in late August, it is very unlikely,” Gov. Cooper wrote to the RNC leaders. “Neither public health officials nor I will risk the health and safety of North Carolinians by providing the guarantee you seek.” 

This lack of guarantee prompted RNC leaders and President Trump to move three of the four convention days to Jacksonville, according to different news sources. Charlotte will host the first day of the convention, with the traditional speeches and fanfare occurring in Jacksonville. The convention is scheduled to run Aug. 24-27.  

“We wanted to host the RNC because we hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and so we want to prove to the world that we are capable of delivering high-quality events,” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles told Invest: Charlotte in the spring, before the RNC decision. She further explained the advantages for Charlotte: “It is a great branding opportunity for the city, as we expect up to 50,000 people, including many international journalists, to visit during the event. It will also provide a huge boost to our hospitality industry.” she said. The convention was expected to generate more than $150 million in revenue for the area’s restaurants, bars and hotels, the Charlotte Observer reported.  

As the hospitality and tourism sector begins to gather its composure after such a punch, Charlotte heavyweights aim to continue to strengthen the region’s foundation. Two significant redevelopments projects moved forward on Monday after receiving unanimous approval from city leaders. Rezonings were approved for the redevelopment of Atrium Health’s Midtown flagship campus and the former Eastland Mall property in east Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Business Journal. 

Atrium Health, the region’s largest employer, seeks to rezone close to 70 acres at the Carolina Medical Center to accommodate a live, work, and play environment, complete with a new bed tower, rehabilitation hospital, office space, affordable housing and more. In 2019, Atrium Health announced more than $1.5 billion investment in the Charlotte metropolitan area to help build new infrastructure, including new hospitals and medical facilities, President and CEO Gene Woods Told Invest:Charlotte in the spring. “This is about more than just adding brick and mortar. It’s about investing in this community because this is the place our friends, our neighbors and our loved ones call home, and we want to see it continue to thrive,” Woods said. “As the major healthcare system in the state of North Carolina, we know we can play a key role in helping our economy flourish as well.”

The Eastland rezoning includes close to 78 acres of mostly city-owned property, according to the Charlotte Business Journal. The site will be the future headquarters of the yet-to-be-named Charlotte Major League Soccer team, owned by business leader David Tepper. Similar to the Atrium Health project, Eastland will be the site of mixed-use development featuring residential units, office and retail space, and athletic fields. 

And while these projects are expected to pay dividends to the community in the future, the region scored significant economic development victories on Tuesday when Chime Solution and Ross Stores announced the addition of 250 and 700 jobs respectively to the region’s economy. 

Georgia-based Chime Solutions, a provider of customer contact services for several industries, will add jobs for licensed life and health insurance agents and will pay $16 an hour and include training and licensing,  WFAE reported Chime Solutions  opened an office in the University City area last fall. Leading off-price apparel and home fashion retail chain Ross Stores Inc. announced it will expand its distribution and warehousing operations in York County, according to the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. The company’s $68 million investment is projected to create 700 new jobs over five years. 

To learn more, visit:

https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/2020_06_02_RNC-Response-Letter.pdf

https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2020/06/16/eastland-mall-atrium-health-rezoning.html

https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/rnc-2020/article243540772.html

https://charlotteregion.com/index.php?src=news&submenu=Relocation_Expansions&srctype=detail&category=Investor%20News&refno=8639&hurl=n

https://www.wfae.org/post/charlotte-says-chime-solutions-250-job-expansion-offers-economic-mobility#stream/0

 

Spotlight On: Thomas Jewsbury, Executive Director, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport

Spotlight On: Thomas Jewsbury, Executive Director, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read April 2020 — Prior to the current COVID-19 pandemic that is challenging all sectors of the local economy, the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport was coming off a record growth year in 2019. Executive Director Thomas Jewbury spoke to Invest: about looking at a slew of new projects to increase its capacity while also looking to attract more traffic via new airlines to the Tampa Bay region.

 

What construction projects are ongoing at the airport and what impact are they expected to have when completed?

 

In 2020, we’ll finish our parking renovation project. It will expand long-term parking to accommodate more passengers. We are also focusing attention on the airfield. We have a $20-million project to rehabilitate the pavement surface of our primary runway. We expect to finish that project by the end of the year. We are also doing improvements to the terminal’s apron, replacing some of the asphalt with concrete, and converting an old runway into a taxiway. Those are projects that are underway.

We are also set to complete our airport master plan this year, defining our capital improvement program for the next five, 10 and 20 years. A big focus of that master plan is the future development of the terminal building. The next phase of terminal development will look at ways to increase efficiencies by consolidating the TSA’s passenger screening checkpoints and possibly the ticketing area.

We have a 130-acre undeveloped site that used to be a golf course. We are looking to develop that site for both aeronautical and non-aeronautical use. Before we can break ground, we had to conduct an environmental assessment. We just received approval from the FAA and received a finding of no significant impact. That sets the stage for us to improve our infrastructure. To develop the aeronautical parcels, we need to build new taxiways, which is included in our capital plan.

Among finished projects, we did an upgrade to our security system, and built part of a $4.5 million maintenance facility for our own airport maintenance workers. The facility is located on the airfield, it gives workers direct access and makes our operation more efficient. 

In addition to what the airport is doing, Allegiant Air invested $4 million to build a new maintenance/operations facility. They lease their space from the airport.

 

What economic impact does the airport have on the region?

Over a year ago, we concluded an economic impact study. At that time, we were doing just over 2 million passengers a year. It showed an economic impact on the community of over $1 billion annually. We’ve had several recent meetings with various airlines to try to attract new service. In addition to that, we are working with Allegiant to expand to additional cities, add more capacity and also try to incorporate international service. That is always an ongoing effort.

 

How does the airport contribute to sustainability in the Clearwater and Tampa Bay Region?

Our master plan has a focus on sustainability. It was important to us that we also championed another master plan that’s on the way, called the Gateway Master Plan. It looks at this area of Pinellas County and how the future infrastructure will be developed, including how other transportation modes will interact with the airport. It also identifies potential areas of the airport that could be converted for other transportation modes. The Gateway Master Plan is being drafted by Forward Pinellas.

 

What challenges is the transportation industry facing in Florida?

Surface transportation is one of the biggest hurdles. The Florida Department of Transportation is constructing the Gateway Express that will result in an elevated toll road to connect to Interstate 275. It will run in front of our airport. This will provide greater connectivity. 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.fly2pie.com/

Spotlight On: Michael Cioce, President, Rowan College at Burlington County

Spotlight On: Michael Cioce, President, Rowan College at Burlington County

By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read February — Rowan College at Burlington County looks out for its students and has established several partnerships with the private sector to ensure a smooth transition from the classroom to the workplace. Still, shrinking birthrates on the East Coast present a challenge to remain competitive in the state, according to Michael A. Cioce, president of Rowan College at Burlington County.

 

 

What are the main qualities that distinguish Rowan College from other institutions in the region?

Access and affordability are built into the DNA of the institution. We have no direct competition within our county boundaries, but the state of New Jersey unfortunately has challenges. Many of our students have been recruited by Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, among others, and it puts the responsibility on us to deliver a high-quality educational experience. 

 

We have approximately 9,000 students in any given semester, which makes us a medium-sized institution. Despite that number, my cabinet, my deans, directors and I all know our students. You are not going to come here and just be a transaction, and that matters to students because they have options and alternatives. We have competitors encroaching on our front door. Online education has grown exponentially over the last 20 years, so students can go wherever they want and I think that value that the personal connection provides differentiates us from many larger institutions.

 

In tandem with that, we have linkages directly into our local workforce, which assists students in gaining entry into the workforce.

 

What are the college’s most in-demand programs and courses?

Anything related to the health sciences sector. Our nursing program has a waiting list, and demand greatly outpaces available seats. Part of that is that students know they are going to be employed upon graduation. Our partnership with Virtua Health System, one the region’s largest healthcare employers, is amazing. Our students are not going to graduate with us simply saying, “good luck.” Through our workforce development programs and partnerships, such as that with Virtua and other employers, our students are getting real on-the-ground training that allows them to cross seamlessly into a job. Many of our students are offered employment prior to graduation.

 

We partnered with an economic analytics firm to conduct an economic impact study that uncovered three prongs where this institution drives value to the area. First, obviously, is training the students locally. They are coming to our campus, living nearby, buying food at local restaurants and working here. Second, as an employer. We employ over a thousand people in any given year, probably more than that. We are not the size of Virtua, but we are not a Mom and Pop store. Third is alumni: students who trained here, stayed here, and are also going to be champions of this institution. That is sort of our hat trick that scores big for the region. The report determined that RCBC’s economic impact on the Burlington County regional economy is $504.9 million in a year. 

 

What are the main challenges facing both Rowan College and the education system at large in South Jersey?

The birth rate has declined over the last 20 years and as a sector that is heavily reliant on high-school graduates, the enrollment curve is going to be challenging over the next couple of years. This is something that is larger than the college and the county, it is actually affecting the entire East Coast. As a community college, we enroll many adult students and we are not entirely reliant on that 12th-grade population. We have a higher percentage of adult learners than our peers, which gives us a little bit of a buffer, but the overall trend, is definitely going to be a challenge because as the main pool of students shrinks, there is going to be increased competition for them.

 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Rowan College at Burlington County: https://www.rcbc.edu/ 

 

Spotlight On: Michael Feuerman, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, Berger Commercial Realty

Spotlight On: Michael Feuerman, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, Berger Commercial Realty

By: Max Crampton-Thomas 

2 min read January 2020 — The commercial real estate market in Palm Beach County has drawn major interest and investment over the past several years. In 2019, the market has remained strong and looks to remain steadfast on this positive track into 2020. Invest: spoke with Michael Feuerman, senior vice president and managing director for Berger Commercial Realty’s Palm Beach Office, about what he has observed in the market over the last year and why the region has become so attractive for development in the commercial real estate space. 

 

What were the company’s highlights from the past year? 

 

The last year has been productive for us. We hired two new brokers, one in Broward and one in Palm Beach, and we’re continuing to add to our portfolio. Right now we have about 7.5 million square feet of commercial property under management, and roughly 6.5 million square feet listed.

 

What makes this region a compelling area for investment?

 

South Florida in general is a cosmopolitan region. In Palm Beach County, we have a population close to 1.5 million. The workforce is just under half of that. That’s a good population size with a solid workforce. Palm Beach also has a substantial office market at around 55.6 million square feet and an industrial market around 62 million square feet, but our rents are lower than our neighbors to the south.

 

In which sectors are you seeing the most growth in Palm Beach County? 

 

The medical industry has grown substantially in the Palm Beach area and as a result, many of my clients are in the healthcare sector and looking to expand their footprint. Another trend we’re seeing is that office users are needing more efficient spaces, or smaller office spaces that can fit the same or more people comfortably. Because these are usually the same buildings with the same structural footprint, parking has become a challenge. Rideshares, autonomous vehicles, public transportation and parking decks are all floated as possible solutions for this.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit their website:

https://www.bergercommercial.com/

 

Spotlight On: Chuck Hurchalla, President, Evolution Energy Partners

Spotlight On: Chuck Hurchalla, President, Evolution Energy Partners

By Yolanda Rivas

2 min read October 2019 —  Energy efficiency and sustainability are hot topics of conversation across all industries and organizations, public or private. Numerous organizations are now embracing eco-friendly alternatives to reduce their impact on the environment and reduce operational costs. During the last few years, full-service energy engineering and consultancy firm Evolution Energy Partners has helped hundreds of clients achieve their goals around utility spend, energy consumption and long-term energy management. Chuck Hurchalla, president of Evolution Energy Partners, recently spoke with the Invest: Philadelphia team about the rapid growth of Philadelphia’s energy sector. 

What types of services or areas of business are seeing the most demand in Philadelphia?  

 There is high demand in the commercial, industrial and institutional sectors for our energy efficiency and energy procurement services. For example, commercial real estate is one of our largest and continuously growing customer segments, particularly hospitality, office, multifamily, senior living and data centers. Regardless of industry though, we address inefficiencies across our customers’ mechanical, HVAC and lighting systems and we also help our clients significantly improve their internal processes. 

 

As a professional design-build energy consultancy, customization based on customer needs and the specific property’s energy profile are key. For example, a stellar guest and resident experience is paramount for our hotel and apartment complex owners, respectively. Our considerable experience in these verticals and our customization abilities allow us to implement a large number of fast payback, customized projects that greatly improve light quality, increase HVAC efficiency, and improve air quality for the benefit of ownership and their guests and residents.

 

To what do you attribute the rapid growth of Philadelphia’s energy sector?

 The opportunities in Philadelphia’s energy sector continue to grow rapidly for a few important reasons. First, businesses and institutions are increasingly recognizing the need to establish and then accomplish sustainability goals to address their corporate environmental concerns and the environmental concerns of their customers. 

 

Second, organizations’ decision-making processes around energy have historically been, and still are, based on the economic benefit derived from those decisions. As utility costs and related charges continue to increase, the financial bottom lines of businesses and institutions are becoming more and more sensitive to utility rates and energy consumption. Understanding that the utility cost center is one of the larger line items on an organization’s income statement, it becomes obvious as to why more and more companies and institutions are focusing on increasing energy efficiency and reducing their energy spend.

 

Lastly, Philadelphia is quickly moving forward with various energy regulations that will require property owners to benchmark their energy usage and to improve their energy efficiency. One benefit of recent Philadelphia-related regulations is the adoption of C-PACE financing. C-PACE, or Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy, financing allows a property owner to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects with no up-front cost. The property owner then pays the costs back over an extended period of time through a voluntary property tax assessment, which leads to increased project adoption and improved cash flow for the property. 

 

What makes Evolution Energy Partners unique?

 Evolution Energy Partners is unique in the industry because of our ability to evaluate a facility’s energy cost center from an owner’s perspective in order to positively impact the three critical areas of commodity prices, energy consumption, and long-term energy management. This approach has become even more powerful and more critical to our customers as environmental sustainability has become increasingly integral and imperative to our customers’ shareholders and to society as a whole. 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Evolution Energy Partners: https://evolutionep.com/ 

Spotlight On: Gary Gagnon, President & CEO, Gagnon Development

Spotlight On: Gary Gagnon, President & CEO, Gagnon Development

Writer: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read October 2019 — Gary Gagnon’s family has been involved in the real estate industry since the 1930s. Gagnon decided to follow in his family’s footsteps by creating Gagnon Development, LLC and  Gagnon Real Estate Investments, LLC. He also specializes in commercial income producing property in Central Florida. In an interview with Invest:, Gagnon described the benefits and strength of Orlando’s real estate sector. 

 

How would you describe the strength of Orlando’s real estate sector today?

Orlando’s real estate sector is stronger than most, since it is somewhat in a protective bubble because of being mostly tourism-driven, though we are actively trying to attract more tech-related businesses. Our unique location and economy protects us whenever there is a slowdown or recession. With low interest rates and prices increasing for commercial and residential real estate, fear is beginning to spread and people are starting to question if it is time to sell. Luckily, if the whole country takes a hit, I think Orlando is somewhat protected and should not be as harmed as much as the rest of the country would be.

 

Lenders are starting to get over their fears and they are starting to have a hunger to loan but are still being cautious and require larger down-payments or cross collateralization. Development is booming and we are seeing a high amount of capital in A-class products. However, the growth of new office space in Orlando has been historically stagnant and there is not enough large office space available. Orlando has several new office projects in the works, which should help satisfy the demand for new office space. Many of our international clients are choosing to build new office space instead of renting since it is less expensive than leasing at current rates. Orlando also provides an opportunity for investors to generate high cash flow with less investment dollars when compared to other cities such as Miami and New York. 

Which markets are seeing the most demand in Orlando?

Apartments continue to see great demand. E-commerce and big chain retailers transitioning to or expanding their online sales footprint have created an increased demand for large industrial space. We usually do build-to-suit projects specifically for a client’s needs, but we recently worked on a speculative flex space project with a client. That project consisted of smaller spaces with an office and showroom in the front and warehouse in the back. Along with the client, we were able to sell five of eight units before completing construction. A trend we are seeing in industrial is the smaller the square footage you build, the faster you lease or sell it. There is a demand for flex space and we are looking to expand in that area. Warehouses are in high demand, too. Many larger investors are looking for warehouses that have rail access. Office building is just now hitting its stride. Public storage is keeping up with supply and demand but we don’t see above average growth in that sector. Overall commercial real estate in Orlando is in very high demand and there is more demand than there is supply.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Gagnon Development LLC: http://www.gagnondevelopment.com/ 

Spotlight On: Bret Perkins, Vice President, External & Government Affairs, Comcast Corporation

Writer: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read SEPTEMBER 2019 — The Comcast Technology Center just received one of the development industry’s biggest awards: the 2019 Urban Land Institute’s annual Global Awards for Excellence. The Philadelphia building won the recognition along with 11 other projects from around the world. The $1.5 billion development was designed for namesake tenant Comcast, which has 4,000 employees in the tower. The American telecoms company has had an enormous impact on Philadelphia’s economy and the Invest: Philadelphia team sat down with Comcast Corporation Vice President of External & Government Affairs Bret Perkins to explore the company’s impact and future plans for the Philadelphia region.

What impact will the Comcast Technology Center have on Philadelphia’s economy over the long term?

Comcast has had an unwavering commitment to the city of Philadelphia for over 55 years, and the addition of the Comcast Technology Center to our campus is the latest example. We have approximately 4,000 engineers, software developers, and technologists developing next-gen products in the Comcast Technology Center, and we are recruiting and trying to retain world-class technology talent here in Philadelphia. The fact that we have invested and built this campus in Philadelphia is a statement unto itself and gives a sense of what we think about this city, which is our home. This is a space where we can recruit, retain and grow a talent base to build world-class products. 

The Comcast Technology Center is also the new home of NBC10 and Telemundo62, providing them a state-of-the-art studio to deliver the best news to the Philadelphia community.  The top floors are occupied by Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, which will offer five-star accommodations with magnificent views, fantastic restaurants, and will deliver an unparalleled experience…all contributing to and supporting the success of Philadelphia.

 

How does Comcast support the local startup community?

LIFT Labs and our team that does entrepreneurial engagement is our front door to the startup community around the country. LIFT Labs in Philadelphia is particularly unique because we have a space that is really intended to be a convening spot for the startup and entrepreneurial community. It’s about us working with the startup community and entrepreneurs to help them build their businesses, but also for us to learn from them. We also have the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars, which is designed to support connectivity, media and entertainment startups. Our inaugural Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator took place in summer 2018, and eight out of the 10 companies that participated ended up with some sort of proof of concept partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal. The participants get to meet with mentors and coaches who are world-class in everything they do. This a way for us to help build this ecosystem and partner with startups. 

 

What impact will the 3,500-seat esports arena have on the city? 

Comcast Spectacor and The Cordish Companies recently announced they will build the first purpose-built facility of its kind in the country dedicated to esports. It will also be the home of the Philadelphia Fusion, our Overwatch League esports team. This is a great development for the city. It will bring additional energy and become a hub for esports. There are a number of businesses that have built up around esports, such as N3rd Street Gamers, an amateur and semi-pro esports network. Our dedicated esports arena is part of a huge investment we are making in the Philadelphia Sports Complex, which includes the $250 million renovation of the Wells Fargo Center; the creation of Pattison Place, an $80 million, Class-A office tower; and Fusion Arena, which is a $50 million investment. That is a significant amount of investment in Philadelphia and another vote of confidence in our home city.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Comcast Corporation: https://corporate.comcast.com/ 

LIFT Labs: https://lift.comcast.com/ 

Comcast Spectacor: http://www.comcastspectacor.com/  

Fusion Arena: https://fusionarenaphilly.com/