PITTSBORO — The objective?
“Ambitious” just scratches the surface.
If the Chatham County EDC’s “Accelerate 2026” five-year development initiative hits its marks, however, the impact — a significant increase in local jobs and tax base growth — will, combined with the market’s residential boom, serve as a rising tide to lift the county to unprecedented economic heights.
Accelerate 2026, a public-private campaign announced earlier this month by Chatham’s Economic Development Corporation, the county’s lead economic growth agency, is raising $900,000 to supplement the EDC’s work. Its leadership says the fundraising campaign allows the private sector to supplement public investment in the EDC — $394,174 from Chatham County, Siler City, Pittsboro and Goldston — and positions Chatham and its municipalities for something the county needs to balance its booming residential growth: for starters, 2,000 new jobs and $500 million in new capital investment.
So far, Accelerate 2026 has raised more than $750,000 of that $900,00 goal, funds which will, among other things, be used to more effectively market the county. Priority number one: get Chatham’s two megasites — the 2,150-acre Triangle Innovation Point (formerly known as the Moncure Megasite) and the 1,800-acre Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) Site — in front of site selectors, business executives and similar decision-makers.
“The more people in the larger business community know about our sites, the more likely it is that the right project will be interested,” said Michael Smith, the EDC’s president.
The additional investment dollars will make that happen, according to the campaign council’s chairperson, Kirk Bradley.
“It’s essential for the Chatham EDC to have 100% of the resources needed to meet the needs of clients in the 21st-century global economy,” said Bradley, the developer of Pittsboro’s Mosaic project and the president and CEO of Lee-Moore Capital in Sanford. “All previous efforts, including the public and private sector investing in getting product available, puts us in a position to grow our jobs and tax base significantly during the next five to 10 years.”
Bradley is also part-owner of Chatham Media Group, which owns the News + Record.
“The county funding we receive enables us to provide our core services, while the private funding allows us the flexibility to go after the big projects and get creative,” Smith said. “We are fortunate in Chatham County to have an organization that is focused on economic development.”
The funds, he said, would also be used to improve the EDC’s website and give Chatham better presence at national site selection events. Other goals: increase Chatham’s industrial and commercial tax base to 14% from 8%, help 100 local businesses with expansion projects, and create a spec building program to give the county active inventory to help lure investment.
Increasing the industrial and commercial tax base means a lower tax burden on Chatham residents, Smith said.
“Most of the county’s revenue comes from property tax,” he said. “If we can increase the commercial tax base by recruiting more industries to Chatham, county revenue is less reliant on property taxes, creating a more diverse tax base. Eight percent of our tax base is commercial or industrial. By comparison, Lee, Durham and Wake’s commercial and industrial bases are in the ranges of 20-40%. The return to taxpayers on each $1 worth of services for commercial and industrial uses is $2.45, according to a recent study in a neighboring county.”
Bradley is a developer who played a lead role in the restructuring of Lee County’s economic development efforts in the last decade, which have yielded huge dividends for that county’s economy and job growth. He previously worked with Smith when the latter headed up the Sanford Growth Alliance, also known as SAGA. SAGA encompasses both Lee County’s traditional EDC work and its Chamber of Commerce and used public-private investment to help fund marketing efforts to spur interest from companies to invest and locate in and around Sanford.
“Having commitment from the private sector to supplement and support all efforts of Chatham EDC also means we have the full support of all public and private stakeholders needed to get the kinds of projects that provide great paying jobs and expand the tax base,” Bradley said. “This tax base expansion and the subsequent revenues allow the county to support education and other social and quality of life services for the entire citizenry.”
Smith, who came over to the Chatham EDC from SAGA in January, said as a nonprofit, the EDC’s capital campaign is structured around a five-year strategic plan, which began to be developed in 2020. COVID and the departure of former EDC president Alyssa Byrd delayed the launch, but with the fundraising nearly done, work will begin that will help accomplish the goals laid out in the campaign.
“By 2026,” Smith said, “the predicted annual consumer spending generated by the 2,000 new jobs and $500 million in capital investment will be $67.9 million. So, just monetarily, that’s what it would mean for the county. Overall, it means growth, which we knew would be coming. It will mean new employers, new neighbors, a lot of new things. But it will also mean new customers for the shops on main street, new entrepreneurs launching their small business, and new opportunities for those who may not have had them before.”
Smith also said another byproduct of achieving those goals is the reduction of “out-commuting” from Chatham. Chatham County has a higher per capita of residents working outside the county than almost any place in North Carolina, which creates its own set of challenges.
“If we can establish the type of jobs here that we are envisioning, we can enable Chatham residents to stay here for work,” he said. “When people leave the county for work and buy their lunches, gas and groceries elsewhere, they are paying a sales tax to a county where they don’t reside and won’t benefit from in terms of services and governance. Having local jobs is also positive for the environment as it reduces road congestion and commute times.”
The EDC hopes many of those 2,000 jobs will come from development at Chatham’s megasites. Both the CAM and Triangle Innovation Point sites have hosted prospective employers seeking to expand, but the types of economic “home runs” that some neighboring counties have landed — including a $500 million expansion by Pfizer and another $170 million by Bharat Forge in Lee County — have so far eluded Chatham.
“When prospects are considering new locations, sites in Chatham County are often in competition with sites in other parts of the state, as well as other states entirely,” Smith said. “The competition can be tough, but the work that’s been done on both sites makes them very attractive. Landing a project at either is a matter of when, not if.”
No one else in North Carolina has Chatham Park — a 7,200-acre planned community which, when fully developed, will have around 22,000 homes. But that residential explosion still leaves Chatham County without an influx of jobs. Much of the state’s job growth has gone to the Triangle and Charlotte regions, but Accelerate 2026 has components, Smith said, that could be game-changers for Chatham — including creating a spec building to show to site selectors.
“One of the biggest reasons Chatham is missing out on projects is due to our lack of available industrial buildings,” Smith said. “We see many project requests that are seeking an existing building, which immediately puts us out of the running. Chatham Park has this type of development under way, but we are also invested in starting a speculative building program, similar to that of other counties in N.C. My first experience with industrial spec buildings was in Iredell County in 2009, and we have seen that model be successful in a number of communities, provided the facilities are in a good location with all utilities and have the support of the public and private sectors.”
That adds up, Smith said, to the secret sauce Chatham needs for economic success.
“We have a majority of the ingredients — location, leadership, vision,” he said. “Now, we just need to focus on cooking. We have great partnerships across the spectrum, from Central Carolina Community College to Chatham Park to all of our utility providers and development partners. As evidenced by the campaign, we have the backing of the industries in the county, as well as the support of Chatham County. Utilizing all of these partnerships, we have a pretty good recipe.”
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