In 1903, after years of investing in their technology, the Wright brothers made history near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, with the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight.
That strategy of long-term investment in technology has paid off again for North Carolina, making this Southern state home to several of Entrepreneur's top cities for small business. This time around, the investment in infrastructure and college and university systems that started 30 years ago, as well as a commitment in the 1970s to pursue high-tech growth, has resulted in three communities world-renowned for their respective strengths.
Research Triangle Park, comprising Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, is a perennial hotbed of technology, from biotech and software to telecommunications. The Charlotte/Gastonia, North Carolina/Rock Hill, South Carolina, area weighs in as a financial services powerhouse anchored by NationsBank, whose recent merger with Bank of America helped spotlight North Carolina's diverse industries. The Piedmont Triad of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point, led by the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University, adds strong medical and retail sectors to the mix.
While calculated investment in growth is at the heart of the state's success, it is bolstered by an open-arms atmosphere that makes entrepreneurs feel comfortable moving in and setting up shop. Hard-working employees and the quality of life-mild climate, picturesque coastline, majestic mountains and an abundance of leisure activities--coalesce to issue an open invitation to come and stay.
In the midst of the state's growth, North Carolinians in the more rural, eastern part of the state continue to face challenges, including high unemployment as well as poor roads and water and sewer infrastructure. Legislative remedies include the Bill Lee Act, which offers sliding-scale tax incentives to industries in the poorest areas. As part of turnaround efforts, the Northeast Partnership persuaded Nucor Corp. to build a $300 million steel recycling plant near Hertford to employ 300 people directly and another 1,000 indirectly.
Tourism is also being pushed in this area rich in natural resources, and manufacturing related to boat-building is on the rise. However, the development touted to change things the most is the new 15,300-acre Global Trans-Park, a state-of-the-art cargo transpor-tation complex expected to provide both direct and indirect employment to nearly 50,000 people during the next 20 years. In fact, one FedEx contractor has already moved into the park.