‘On the precipice of giant things’: Chatham officials optimistic about county’s development

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PITTSBORO — Speakers at Tuesday’s Chamber of Commerce Development Briefing touted recent economic development announcements and growth as evidence Chatham County is headed in the right direction.

The networking event, held at the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center, drew 250 people and featured five keynote speakers who discussed a range of issues including proposed development plans and the state of economic development in their respective areas.

Karen Howard, chairperson of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, said she was proud of the way Chatham County has grown in the past decade. She said, however, growth has put new issues like broadband access in the spotlight.

“Broadband access is one of top complaints from citizens across the county,” Howard said. “The pandemic showed us how important broadband access really was. We know there is a lot of work that needs to be done in that space and that continues to be our top legislative goal.”

Howard said there was a positive outlook for increased broadband access because of new state funds devoted to providing solutions, including the GREAT Grant Program to grow technology access in rural counties across the state — including Chatham.

Speaking about Siler City, Mayor Pro Tem Thomas “Chip” Price III said the real estate boom in town is a positive.

“We have been very fortunate and blessed for our growth and industrial partners,” Price said. “There is an energy and buzz in town. Previously, the only buzz around here was a bee flying around.”

Price said future upgrades for the area included a $2 million investment in Siler City’s wastewater treatment plant, maintenance upgrades for the airport and rerouting 3rd Street to improve access to downtown.

“We aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket,” Price said. “All the problems we have now are good problems to have. They show we are continuing to grow and that we have the necessary facilities to keep growing.”

Price said upgrades to the wastewater plant are roughly halfway completed and will be finalized by the end of 2023.

The new upgrades in Siler City and the return of events like the Spring Chicken Festival in town after the pandemic show positive trends for the city. The town also has 3,118 proposed dwelling units and more than 90 acres of commercial development, according to Price.

“We are on the precipice of giant things happening in Siler City,” Price said. “There’s a long way to go, but there’s a lot of exciting projects coming.”

Pittsboro Town Manager Chris Kennedy said there are more than 27,000 dwelling units on the books and ready to be built there, primarily related to Chatham Park.

“It’s a nerve-racking time in many ways but we are working with our partners around us,” Kennedy said. “We are working to solve the riddles that have perplexed us for so long.”

Kennedy said improvements to Pittsboro’s sewer line and water quality are key pieces to those solutions.

The other major development discussed at the briefing was the VinFast automotive manufacturing plant, the largest economic development project in the state. It has been valued at more than $4 billion and is estimated to bring in 7,500 jobs in its first phase, and an additional 12,000 jobs related to that development. Michael Smith, president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation, said the selection of Chatham County was a sign of all the growth this region expects to see.

“Our site is within an hour of 22 counties in North Carolina,” Smith said. “When you think about the ability to help out families, this is really dramatic. People will be coming here for these good jobs.”

Smith said with the influx of jobs, housing projects and improvements, there’s no limit on the level of economic development coming to Chatham County.

Greg Stafford, the developer of SOCO in Pittsboro — a new and refurbished section of downtown that will feature restaurants and more — also spoke.

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com and on Twitter at @b_rappaport.

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