s an ambitious young man in his early 20s, Abhishek Mehta was mulling a move from his native India to the United States. Over dinner one evening in Delhi, an American friend suggested that Mehta consider Charlotte.
“Where the hell,” Mehta recalls having responded, “is Charlotte?”
Fast forward two decades, and the conversation remains fresh in the mind of “Abhi” Mehta. And well it should, for it was a life changer. Founded in 2011, Mehta’s Charlotte-based software venture, Tresata, is one of Charlotte’s “unicorns” — a startup valued at a billion dollars or more. Father of two teenage girls, he proudly calls himself a “Charlottean.”
Like Mehta, the world has come to know Charlotte. That would include not just the 113 people who move to Charlotte’s 14-county metro region daily, but also the nearly 48 million passengers who in 2022 flew in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), the world’s seventh busiest. The Panthers of the NFL, the NBA’s Hornets and Charlotte FC of Major League Soccer deliver the Charlotte brand to the world’s most prominent media markets. International touring acts like the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Beyoncé and Garth Brooks make darn sure they hit Charlotte. Make no mistake about it, Charlotte is big time.
A lot of this is Hugh McColl’s doing. Now retired as CEO of Charlotte-based Bank of America — the nation’s second largest bank — McColl helped both to envision and bankroll “Uptown” Charlotte, which has evolved into a thriving hub of business and top-end entertainment.
“We were a boring little town and I was trying to build a big banking company, trying to hire people from New York and San Francisco and Hong Kong and London,” McColl told Site Selection recently. “It made me get interested in developing our city and making it a more fun place to be. And we got there.”
The blossoming of entertainment and attractive housing options, an affordable cost of living, expanding public transit and the dynamo that is the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have coalesced as a magnet for young people. Sixty-three percent of the region’s in-migration from 2010 to 2020 was among prime-age workers aged 25 to 54; another 20% was among people 25 or younger. Across all age groups, Charlotte is America’s fourth-fastest growing metro.
The “explosion,” Charlotteans call it, has spread from Charlotte proper throughout the metro’s inner and outer belts that extend into northern South Carolina, propelling growth in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, data centers, EVs, manufacturing and distribution.
“What’s growing our region is manufacturing, especially EV manufacturing,” says Dianne Jones, managing director of business and economic incentives in the Charlotte office of JLL, the commercial real estate services consultancy. The airport, Interstates 85 and 77, plus access to three major three major seaports, Jones adds, make Charlotte “a vibrant distribution center. We’re a major metro area,” she says, “and we serve many people.”
Having led the charge to establish Charlotte not only as the banking capital of the South but the second-largest banking hub in the U.S., Hugh McColl sees Charlotte’s horizons expanding dramatically.
“One of the most important things that’s happened in the last five years was the decision to bring Wake Forest Medical School here. Atrium Health is gigantic. Our medical community is even bigger now than our banking community.
“We’ll continue to grow,” McColl believes, “and we’ll become more and more a technology center because of our ability to attract young people and tech-educated foreigners. Our goal,” he says, “is to continue to bring in smart people and attract businesses from around the world.”
—Gary Daughters, Senior Editor