Regional Report Charlotte June 2013
Time to hit the road
Anthony Foxx’s career was zooming along — president of his class at Davidson College, law degree from New York University law school, jobs with the U.S. Department of Justice and House Judiciary Committee, two terms on the Charlotte City Council, the city’s youngest mayor — until he hit a few speed bumps. He wanted to raise the city’s prepared-food and drink tax to help pay for the Carolina Panthers’ renovation of Bank of America Stadium. The General Assembly said no. Not only that, but the legislature is close to taking control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport — sometimes called the jewel in the Queen City’s crown — from the city and giving it to a regional authority. He thinks Charlotte should raise property taxes to pay for an extension of a streetcar line. The City Council, even with fellow Democrats in the majority, doesn’t agree.
Foxx seemed feckless, foiled by both state and local government. Then a friend threw him a lifeline. President Barack Obama nominated him to become U.S. secretary of transportation, lauding Foxx for the streetcar project, airport expansion and plans to extend the city’s light-rail system. How much credit the mayor is due for any of that is debatable, but one thing isn’t: “They probably could have found other people more credentialed,” says Eric Heberlig, an associate professor of politics at UNC Charlotte. Foxx, however, makes a much better political chess piece.
The pick kills two birds with one stone, silencing critics who contend that Obama’s Cabinet is too white and that the president’s administration hasn’t done enough to raise the profiles of his party’s young politicians. Secretary of transportation is a plum job: Few in Washington want to cut its funding, and most the money it doles out. He’ll make valuable contacts, gain experience dealing with multibillion-dollar budgets and make friends in an industry that contributes huge sums to campaigns. Salisbury native Elizabeth Dole, appointed to the post by Ronald Reagan in 1983, became secretary of labor under George H.W. Bush and wound up as North Carolina’s first female U.S. senator. “He can skip steps on the ladder because he has a feather in his cap few others are going to have,” Heberlig says. “This gives a politically talented Democrat a chance to go somewhere.”
Compare Foxx’s nomination with that of Mel Watt, the 68-year-old congressman from Charlotte whom Obama picked to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which watches over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He served on the House Financial Services Committee — giving him a better pedigree for the post than Foxx has for his — but Republicans are already attacking him. Many aren’t fond of Fannie and Freddie, which guarantee or own about half the nation’s mortgages — especially since the financial crisis. Then again, taking a controversial job after 20 years in Congress will likely be the capstone on Watt’s political career. But as secretary of transportation, 42-year-old Foxx just might be merging into Beltway traffic.
CHARLOTTE — Chiquita Brands International named Rick Frier chief financial officer. He succeeds Brian Kocher, who moved into the new position of chief operating officer. Frier was CFO of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Catalina Marketing, which works with retailers and consumer-product companies.
GASTONIA — Caromont Health’s board fired CEO Randy Kelley after the health system’s “Cheat Death” marketing campaign created controversy. He had clashed with medical staff and local elected officials. Chief Operating Officer Doug Luckett was named interim CEO.
CHARLOTTE — Greenwich, Conn.-based Starwood Capital Group partnered with Mountain Lakes, N.J.-based Vision Equities to purchase One Wells Fargo Center — a downtown office tower and former headquarters of Wachovia Corp. — for $245 million from Charlotte-based Childress Klein Properties. An Israeli real-estate firm backed out of buying the tower, which is 98% leased, last year.
CHARLOTTE — Pactera Technology International, a Beijing-based technology-services company and information-technology consultant, will add 200 to its local workforce of 60 within three years. The company will establish its U.S. IT-services headquarters here.
CHARLOTTE — Babcock & Wilcox will receive $150 million over five years as part of a federal grant from the Department of Energy to help it develop small nuclear reactors.
CHARLOTTE — Sonic Automotive named Heath Byrd chief financial officer, promoting him from chief information officer of the company, which has more than 100 car dealerships. He replaces David Cosper, who retired.