Experts say that Greensboro has a very real opportunity to become a major national hub for the aerospace, transportation and logistics industries - particularly with the imminent arrival of the FedEx hub and HondaJet at the airport. The best opportunity to maximize the economic impact with more jobs and a higher tax base in Greensboro, they caution, lies in preserving the land around the airport for industrial use.
Fulfilling this promise, however, requires that we as a community be strategic in developing the land near Piedmont Triad International Airport. This land, like water, is a limited natural resource that needs to be used effectively for the benefit of our entire community.
As part of the report in which Dr. John D. Kasarda details his idea of an aerotropolis, which was commissioned by the Piedmont Triad Partnership, he provides a road map for Greensboro's success. His 123-page report focuses on the opportunities for economic growth associated with the "airport submarket." This is the land immediately surrounding PTIA, which is now ripe for business development. More than 100,000 new jobs could be created in a 6-mile radius surrounding the airport, according to Dr. Kasarda, if the land is used wisely.
Much of the property close around the airport submarket is in the city of Greensboro. This means the Greensboro City Council is placed in the position of making critical decisions about how development around the airport will unfold over the next decade. The stakes are high. Land is a resource that almost never gets an economic second chance to be developed. Likewise, Greensboro will not get a second chance to capitalize on this marvelous opportunity.
But, there are problems: The Zoning Commission recently approved rezoning a key property from commercial to residential use, and City Council takes up the issue at its July 17 meeting. If approved, the rezoning would permit 308 apartment units in the heart of the airport industrial submarket adjacent to airport property.
The Zoning Commission's approach is unwise. Ample area exists in our community that is very compatible with residential development without taking key prime industrial land near the airport. Some might argue that apartments in the airport submarket are a sign of progress, but they would not offer anywhere near the opportunities for job creation and economic growth that a new industrial site would provide.
Much is at risk as the council ponders this big decision. With a local economy and a job base still reeling from losses in the textile and furniture industries, it is time we focus on strategic opportunities for economic growth.
According to the city's comprehensive plan, Connections 2025, "One key motivation in creating a comprehensive plan is to positively influence the direction and momentum of change and to promote economic vitality." The comprehensive plan zoned land immediately surrounding the airport for commercial and industrial development.
Council was visionary in making this decision. We need it to remain so and make the choices to maximize the value and potential of our resources for all Greensboro citizens. The City Council must vote "no" on rezoning land from commercial to residential in the airport submarket and manage growth in a way most advantageous for the future economy of the Piedmont Triad.
M. Lee McAllister is president and CEO of Weaver Investment Co. and chairman of the Board of Directors, the Greensboro Partnership. J. Patrick Danahy is president and CEO of the Greensboro Partnership.