Charlotte, North Carolina: The New Energy Capital of the Country?

Washington Post
September 9, 2011

Charlotte looks beyond financial sector in effort to become ‘energy capital’
Paul Glader

Since 2007, Charlotte has announced about 5,600 new energy-related jobs, taking the total to roughly 27,000 at 250 energy-oriented firms, according to economic development officials. About 2,000 energy jobs were added in 2010, with another 765 this year. Charlotte is also the headquarters of Duke Energy which, if it successfully completes its acquisition of Progress Energy, will be the largest utility in the country in nearly every category, including market capitalization (nearly $40 billion), number of customers (roughly 7.1 million) and power generated (a 57.2-gigawatt capacity). Of about 16 million square feet of commercial office space downtown, Duke will hold 1.3 million square feet. In addition to luring energy firms, the city is expanding recycling, “smart” grid projects and public transit, with plans to add 10 miles of light rail and a commuter line in years to come. Charlotte is looking to reduce its dependence on the financial sector (it calls itself the nation’s No. 2 financial center), which has been hard hit by Wachovia’s takeover by Wells Fargo and Bank of America moving some of its operations from Charlotte to New York.

This diversification into the energy sector should reduce Charlotte’s current unemployment rate below 11.2 percent. Moreover, it is logical to embrace and build upon its role as the location of the headquarters of nation’s soon-to-be largest electric utility. The presence of Duke Energy in Charlotte in and of itself will attract scores of related energy businesses, particularly “clean energy” industry rather than the traditional oil and gas business. With Mitsubishi Nuclear locating its main nuclear engineering office in Charlotte, Charlotte is looking to dominate the market for nuclear engineering and to position itself as the “epicenter of environmentally friendly energy practices.” Whether the long-anticipated nuclear renaissance in America actually occurs is open to question, but Charlotte is making a safe bet in positioning itself as a center for the energy industry of the future.