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Charlotte

Please pump up the volume 

September ended in the Queen City with office towers fraught with fear and tempers flaring into fights at gasoline pumps. As the nation’s financial crisis deepened and Wachovia Corp. careened toward the end of its independence, Charlotte motorists needing to fill their tanks were often greeted by yellow caution tape and plastic bags draped over pump nozzles. At stations with gas, lines spilled into streets, blocking traffic. People slipped out of bed in the middle of the night to search for fuel.

Fear and frustration stayed into early October. AAA Carolinas reported that the city had one of the highest average prices for regular unleaded in the 48 contiguous states. It made Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the 1981 movie about post-apocalyptic survivors battling over scarce gasoline, less surreal. Though other parts of the state were affected, “the supply situation in the Charlotte area presents the greatest concern,” according to a statement Gov. Mike Easley’s office issued.

Inventories had shrunk after two hurricanes — Gustav and Ike — slammed into Louisiana and Texas, shutting down refineries and slowing the flow in pipelines feeding much of the Southeast. Cities upstream, including Greensboro and Raleigh, weren’t affected as much, says Gary Harris, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum & Convenience Marketers, which represents wholesalers and convenience-store owners. Exactly why isn’t clear. The bigger the city, the harder to replenish supply, he says. When gas grew scarce, people grew nervous and stopped to top off their tanks. Some were even hoarding, he says.

It wasn’t the first time Charlotte’s gas supplies were disrupted — hurricanes Katrina and Rita did it three years ago — and it won’t be the last, says Pat McCrory, the mayor and Republican nominee for governor. “You have to accept that our infrastructure is extremely fragile up and down the coast, and until the infrastructure changes, we’re going to be caught in similar circumstances once every several years.”

Kind of a drag

Just when everybody thought Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s feud with local governments was history, they started fighting over the future. Little more than a year ago, Concord officials blocked construction of a drag strip next to Lowe’s Motor Speedway. After Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith threatened to move the racetrack, Concord and Cabarrus County officials agreed to cough up $80 million in incentives to convince him that it should stay — but didn’t specify when. A letter to Smith last November says only that they might need 36 months to get some of the money. In August, local officials sent him a formal proposal in which the payouts could take 40 years. Smith sent it back, saying he wanted the money within three years. A final deal might not be struck until after the elections.

 

HICKORY — The Crawdads minor-league baseball team will become an affiliate of the Texas Rangers, ending a 10-year collaboration with the Pitts- burgh Pirates. Terms of the two-year deal were not disclosed.

CHARLOTTE — The City Council approved $32 million more for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, under construction downtown. That raises the total to $195 million. About $17 mil- lion of the latest amount will be used for exhibits. The museum is scheduled to open May 2010.

CHARLOTTEUNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois recommended to trustees that the school begin playing football in 2013 — if fans raise $5 million in six months to help build a $45.3 million stadium. Trustees will consider the idea this month.

KINGS MOUNTAINSpectrum Yarns closed mills in its hometown and in Marion. About 115 lost jobs here, and about 85 were idled in Marion. It blamed the credit crunch.

SALISBURY — Winston-Salem-based Novant Health fired Chuck Elliott as CEO of Rowan Regional Medical Center. It didn’t say why. He had been CEO since 2002. Jeff Lindsay, president of Presbyterian Hospital-Huntersville, will run both hospitals, which are owned by Novant.

CONCORDCarolinas Medical Center-NorthEast asked state regulators to approve a $264.4 million project that would include an eight-floor patient tower. The hospital also wants to add a second story to its surgery center. The 218 beds in the tower, which would open in 2013, would replace those in other locations on the campus and not increase the 457-bed capacity. The hospital says it expects a decision in February.

STATESVILLEKohler plans to close its Canac plant by the end of the year, putting more than 550 out of work. The company, based in the Wisconsin town of the same name, makes plumbing fixtures, furniture and other items. It is discontinuing the kitchen-cabinet line made at the plant, blaming escalating costs and the weak housing market.

MOORESVILLELowe’s plans to open fewer stores next year due to the weak housing market and national economy. It will launch 75 to 85 stores, compared with about 120 this year.

CHARLOTTEDuke Energy and nuclear-engineering company Areva formed a joint venture to build U.S. power plants that will produce electricity by burning wood waste. Areva, based in Bethesda, Md., will design and build the plants. Duke will manage them.

HICKORYTurbotec will open a factory by January that will employ about 25. The Windsor, Conn.-based company makes heat tubing and other products.

CHARLOTTECurtiss-Wright Controls won an $80 million contract from Sweden-based Saab Aerostructures to build a system for opening cargo doors of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Components will be made at its plant in Shelby, which employs about 400. The company, based in Charlotte, is part of Roseland, N.J.-based Curtiss-Wright.

HICKORY — Texas-based Dean Foods plans to close its Pet Dairy ice-cream plant by late November. About 120 will lose jobs. The Dallas-based dairy processor and distributor is consolidating production at other factories.

SALISBURYNorandal USA cut 22 jobs at its plant here, leaving about 163 employees. The Franklin, Tenn.-based company, which manufactures aluminum foil for heating and air conditioning, blamed downturns in the housing and automotive markets.

CHARLOTTESencera International, which makes solar panels, secured $15.6 million from The Quercus Trust of Newport, Calif. It will use the money to start production of the panels next year at a plant it is building. Sencera employs 10 but hopes to add 65 jobs within three years.

CHARLOTTE — Phil Mazzuca, 49, will step down at the end of the year as chief operating officer of MedCath. Mazzuca, COO since March 2006, plans to take a job with another company, according to MedCath, which builds and operates heart hospitals. No successor was named.