Boosters of the Queen City have another reason to smile.

In the latest Fortune 500 list, nine companies have their corporate headquarters in the Queen City, including four in the top 100.

Technically, only seven are within the city limits of Charlotte, while two more are in the surrounding area. Still, seven is enough to make the city have the fifth largest number of Fortune 500 companies, behind New York, Houston, Atlanta and Chicao, and moving it ahead of San Francisco for the first time. Several others, such as Dallas and Philadelphia, are also tied for fifth.

The seven Fortune 500 companies with operations in Charlotte (with ranking) include Bank of America (24), Wachovia (73), Duke Energy (75), Sonic Automotive (264), Nucor (297), SPX (365) and Goodrich (394), both of which have recently relocated to Charlotte in 2002 and 1999, respectively.

Located outside of the city is Lowes (50), which has shifted most of its employees and top executives from Wilkesboro to north of Charlotte on Lake Norman in Mooresville, and Family Dollar (365), which is based in the eastern suburb of Matthews.

The other N.C. companies appearing on the list were Raleigh-based Progress Energy (224) as the only one in the Triangle, BB&T (298) and R.J. Reynolds (341) in Winston-Salem and VF Corp. (343) and Jefferson-Pilot (460) in Greensboro, giving the Triad a total of four companies.

For the second straight year, Wal-Mart led the annual ranking of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies, which will be published in the magazine’s April 5 edition. It is based on the companies’ sales figures as reported in financial statements for 2003.

City leaders in Charlotte say the region has become one of the most attractive destinations for doing business in America. Companies have invested $6.6 billion and brought more than 38,000 new jobs to Charlotte in the past three years alone, they say.

“Companies are discovering what those of us who live in this area already know,” said Michael Almond, president and CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, which promotes economic development in the 16-county region known as Charlotte USA. “Our unique balance of business strength, accessibility and quality of life make this one of the best places in America to live, work and do business.”

Tony Crumbley, vice president of research for the Charlotte Chamber, told The Charlotte Observer that he expects more companies to pick Charlotte in the future.

“It tells me we’re on a roll,” Crumbley told the newspaper. “Looking at the future of the city, you’re looking at a trend for us to see more national headquarters move here.

“They cluster. They’re here for a reason. We can support them. We have amenities and services.”

As the nation’s second-largest banking center, assets for banks in the Charlotte region will approach $1.5 trillion with the merger of Bank of America and FleetBoston. The deal creates America’s third-largest bank, just ahead of Wachovia, also based in Charlotte.

Charlotte, a hub for USAir, also has more commercial flights per capita than any other region in the United States, and leads the nation in fund-raising for the arts, leaders say.

Fortune: www.fortune.com

Charlotte USA: www.charlotteusa.com