Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Mooresville races ahead

By Page Leggett

In mid-September, after Hurricane Florence had churned across the state, President Donald Trump joined business and government officials in assessing the storm damage.

At one point, the president turned to Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good. “How is Lake Norman, that area?” he inquired. Assured it was fine, Trump responded, “I love that area. I can’t tell you why, but I love that area.”

Mooresville residents know why — in 2012, the Trump Organization bought a struggling local golf-course development, investing millions of dollars on improvements. But long before Trump set his sights on the southern Iredell County town, another Manhattan business titan had made a big mark.

The Mack family didn’t found Mooresville — farmer John Franklin Moore did that in the 1850s — but the family has had a lasting influence on the town about 25 miles north of Charlotte. Patriarch John Mack emigrated from Lebanon in the early 1900s. His son, Charles, opened John Mack & Sons, a wholesale grocery and general-merchandise store in Mooresville. Charles and his wife, Alice, had six sons, all of whom worked at the store. Their youngest, named John after his grandfather, attended Duke University on a football scholarship, majored in history and clerked at a small brokerage firm during his last year in college.

John Mack, who turns 74 this month, went on to become co-CEO of Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group AG and later CEO and chairman of Morgan Stanley — and one of Mooresville’s primary patrons. The Charles Mack Citizen Center, which Mooresville officials call “the jewel of downtown,” is named for its benefactor family. They gave $4.5 million in 2002 toward its expansion, according to Stephanie Crisco, the center’s director. Residents rent it for weddings and corporate meetings and attend plays, concerts and comedy shows there. The Macks use it for family reunions.

“People look out for each other in a small town,” says Mack, who lives in New York, as he recalls his Mooresville childhood. “If my brother and I, God forbid, ran a stop sign, our dad would find out about it. That was the beauty of the place. There was a real sense of community.”

With a population of about 38,000, Mooresville today isn’t the quiet small town of John Mack’s youth. NASCAR, the loudest of all sports, is central to the town’s identity.

Concord might claim Charlotte Motor Speedway, but Mooresville — which calls itself “Race City USA” — has the NASCAR Technical Institute. The facility, which opened in 2002, is the only campus in the country to offer NASCAR-endorsed training for technicians and racing teams. More than 60 NASCAR teams and racing-related businesses, including Dale Earnhardt Inc., are based here, along with the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

“Race City USA is a great description of our heritage and our entrepreneurial spirit,” says Russ Rogerson, executive director of the Iredell County Economic Development Corp.

But as NASCAR’s popularity wanes, the town is broadening its appeal to other industries.

Rogerson’s organization is part of a public-private partnership hoping to build Silicon Shores, a proposed technology hub along Lake Norman. “We can transfer all our motorsports know-how into high-tech manufacturing jobs,” he says. “We’re drawing the attention of the Department of Defense, medical-device companies, aerospace and, of course, the automotive industry. We have rocket scientists moving here.”

That’s not just boosterism. Homegrown Corvid Technologies broke ground this summer on a four-story headquarters at a site tucked between the corporate offices of home-improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos. and Ingersoll Rand Inc. in neighboring Davidson. Corvid, which does everything from developing software to ballistics testing to designing warheads, is creating 367 jobs with an average annual salary of $110,000. Calling it “a catalyst project,” Rogerson says another 100 acres nearby have been set aside for an office park for the ancillary businesses Corvid’s expansion could attract.

Lake Norman is even more important to Mooresville’s brand than racing. It’s the town’s water source and its most critical natural asset, according to Mayor Miles Atkins. The lake, built by Duke Energy Corp. in the late 1950s and early 1960s, is used to power the Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Station and cool turbines at the Marshall Steam Station and McGuire Nuclear Station. The lake saw a surge in residential growth in the late 1980s. Gradually, the small weekend cabins and trailers that dotted the shores gave way to increasingly larger, higher-priced homes and mini-mansions.

Mack was in high school when the lake was being built. “My mom was a [real-estate agent] and entrepreneur,” he recalls. “She bought three or four lots on the lake, and each one cost less than $3,000.” Nowadays, undeveloped lakefront lots are hard to find. A half-acre lot off Brawley School Road in Mooresville was recently listed for $400,000. But you can readily find a lakeside mansion. At the swanky The Point on Lake Norman, asking prices for waterfront homes run as much as several million dollars.

The centerpiece of The Point is Trump National Golf Club Charlotte. Trump acquired the club from its members in 2012 after the developer, Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, had filed for bankruptcy during the housing crisis. Though it’s private, you don’t have to be a member to order a cake from Trump Bakery, which also serves Trump Wine and Trump Chocolate.

There’s more to Mooresville’s economy than racing and lakeside living. In 2005, when Lowe’s, the Fortune 50 hardware-store chain, moved its corporate headquarters from North Wilkesboro, it was a game changer.

“We needed access to the transportation and business assets of a metro area like Charlotte,” says Tim Cooksey, Lowe’s senior vice president of real estate. “Mooresville appealed to us for its own economic growth.” To be clear, Mooresville is close enough to the Queen City to be considered a suburb, yet the town has a budget of $100 million and a local government that employs 520 people, Town Manager Dave Treme says.

Lowe’s has given Mooresville more than bragging rights. It’s also played a significant role in its population growth. The company’s $320 million campus houses more than 3,500 employees. Hundreds of vendors requiring space near the Lowe’s campus have brought an additional 2,000 jobs to Mooresville, Atkins says.

A swelling population — it has doubled since 2000 — can create growing pains. Several roads have traffic that exceeds capacity, and the town has the potential to add another 24,000 residents over the next two decades, Atkins says. So, the need for improved infrastructure is pressing.

John Mack may have left Mooresville, but many of his kin remain and are active in the Jaycees, scouting and Rotary. In 2014, Mack and his wife, Christy, returned to the town to help raise money for the HealthReach Community Clinic, a free medical clinic for Iredell County residents. They brought with them their doctor friend, Mehmet Oz, who visited patients and local physicians as part of the hoopla. A black-tie gala was held at, of course, Trump National.

“In today’s culture, there is so much focus on temporary connections,” Atkins says. “However, the Mack family has been a part of the Mooresville community for decades, and they have always offered support, volunteered time, provided leadership.”

Mooresville residents looked out for the Mack boys when they were growing up. Ever since, they’ve been returning the favor.

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