Directly northeast of Charlotte, Cabarrus County is in many ways a study in contrasts. The western part of the county around Concord is the picture of suburban sprawl and rapid growth, while the eastern half near Mount Pleasant retains a rural landscape and an agrarian economy. As the county aspires to become home to some of the world’s most prominent agri-business companies with the NC Research Campus under development in Kannapolis, it has also emerged as one of the region’s most innovative counties in trying to nurture a small-scale local foods economy, including an “agriculture incubator” near Concord. In 2003, the county experienced the largest single-day layoffs in North Carolina’s history with the closing of the Pillowtex plant in Kannapolis (followed soon thereafter by the announced closing of the Philip Morris plant in Concord), and yet maintained one of the lowest unemployment rates in the region in the ensuing years.
Over the past two decades, the county has become known throughout the Charlotte region for both trying to encourage growth by providing incentives for the development of the Interstate 85 corridor near the Mecklenburg County line (most notably for the Concord Mills commercial area close to the speedway), and to manage some of the negative consequences of its rapid growth by implementing an adequate public facilities ordinance and an urban growth boundary. Cabarrus’ success or failure in finding a balance between growth, fiscal responsibility and environmental stewardship will serve as a lesson for how the region’s other suburban counties address growth management issues in the years ahead.