SANFORD — The events, unrelated and seemingly discordant, would create — rather quickly — the inspiration for something not found anywhere in North Carolina, or perhaps the entire eastern seaboard.
A mainstay manufacturer’s closure and move to Mexico. A serendipitous round of golf in Sanford. The largest single donation in Central Carolina Community College history. The need for more training and workforce development space for any massive economic development project that might come this way.
They built on one another quickly in the summer and fall of 2021 to create the kernel of a vision for a world-class education and training center, the largest of its kind focused on addressing advanced manufacturing and biotechnology workforce training.
Everything’s in place for it to happen.
It’ll be known as The Moore Center, and work on it has already begun. All CCCC President Dr. Lisa Chapman needs to bring it to completion is a little bit of time.
And about $50 million.
‘A game-changer for Chatham ...’
When it’s fully built, the E. Eugene Moore Manufacturing and Biotech Solutions Center will be the premier education and training center in North Carolina. It’s set to be created from the old Magneti Marelli facility in Sanford, as an expansion of CCCC’s campus there on Nash Street.
When complete, it’ll be as comprehensive a workforce development operation as could be imagined — with more than 200,000 square feet dedicated to advanced (and evolving) manufacturing and biotechnology training.
The 22-acre former Marelli campus — conveniently located a short walk from the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center on CCCC’s main campus — is being re-imagined to include at least 10 specific areas for training, plus space for on-demand customized skills training and what planners are calling “soft landing spaces” and incubaetor space for new and expanding businesses industries.
Michael Smith, president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation, described The Moore Center, though located in Sanford, as “another game changer for Chatham,” and something that would help attract new businesses — as well as help existing industries expand.
The reason: workforce training. It’s a key, he said, for every business.
“This concept was one of the selling points that helped us make our case for Chatham on both the competitive VinFast and Wolfspeed projects,” Smith said. “We are fortunate to have such excellent collaboration with our neighboring counties. This is another example of how our regional leaders work together to create an outstanding business climate.”
That “work” actually started after a bit of play. Chapman recalls she was out on the golf course — “trying to improve my game … unsuccessfully, by the way,” she says — when another golfer sidled up to her with a question.
“One of our leading employers was out there, too,” Chapman said. “He said, ‘Are y’all going to purchase the Marelli site?’ I thought, ‘That sure would be nice.’”
Marelli had yet to vacate its facility at that point, but had already announced it was moving operations to Mexico. Chapman and Margaret Roberton, CCCC’s vice president for workforce development, began talking, wondering: what could we do with that site?
“And before we had a chance to start reaching out to the leadership — economic leadership and government leadership in the community — we got calls from some of them saying, ‘What if you all purchased the Marelli site and developed it into a solutions center?’” Chapman said.
Phillip Price, CCCC’s executive vice president and CFO, joined the discussion about financing. Lee County eventually acquired the facility and the college is leasing it for $1 a year, Price said.
The entire community, Chapman said, quickly recognized what that investment might mean for CCCC and the communities it served in Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties, as well as for the state: a centralized hub dedicated to high-tech skills development that could grow and evolve along with workforce needs.
“So not just the college, not just the county leadership, but the entire community said, ‘This is what we need to do,’” Chapman said. “I don’t know that you would ever see that anywhere else.”
When she reflects on it now, Chapman revels in the fact that so many community leaders began to have the same vision for the Marelli facility at the same time.
“And we have not shared this with anyone who said, ‘Why in the world are you doing that?!’” she said. “They’ve all said, ‘This is so exciting.’”
It became more exciting — and closer to fruition — when a CCCC alum saw the vision as well. Eugene Moore, who’d used his education there to help build Bear Creek Arsenal into a hugely successful firearms manufacturer in Sanford, was looking for a way to give back to the college with a major financial gift. Working through the CCCC Foundation, and knowing Moore’s interest in machining and manufacturing, Chapman and Lynda Turbeville, the Foundation’s board chairperson, paid him a visit.
“We talked through some of the possibilities of things we could do,” Chapman said. “And we talked through some things about machining, and programming, and where we might be able to expand and do some things that we needed to do.”
Moore quickly saw the vision.
“I believe it’d be fair to say he saw that as a perfect match for the use of his gift,” Chapman said.
For his part, Moore said he was honored to have a role in the project.
“Our company never has enough manufacturing/process engineers,” he said. “We hire what we can, but they are in short supply, and we are constantly training.”
Moore said his company had been working with CCCC to design a program that would fit Bear Creek Arsenal’s needs. But the college was out of space to meet those needs.
“So when this facility became available, then there was the opportunity to move ahead with this program,” he said. “That is when we made the $2 million gift to help make a manufacturing associate program happen. There’s a great need for manufacturing engineers, not only for our company, but for other companies in the area.”
Now, Moore said, win VinFast arriving, the demand will only grow even more exponentially.
“Dr. Chapman and her team will be putting in place programs to train students for all manufacturing in the area, not just metal working — that’s very important to note,” he said. “We and Dr. Chapman see The Moore Center not only as serving existing companies in the area, but as a drawing card to help attract other new companies to our area.”
All that awaits is time and additional funding — which Chapman and her team believe is coming.
Here’s what you need to know about The Moore Center:
What is it?
When completed, The Moore Center — more formally known as E. Eugene Moore Manufacturing and Biotech Solutions Center — will be a world-class education and training center. Located in the former operations hub of automotive components manufacturer Magneti Marelli, it’s at 2101 Nash St. in Sanford, adjacent to CCCC’s Lee County campus.
Now mostly vacant, the 220,000-square-foot facility will become — when funding is secured and all phases of work completed — the largest of its kind in the state focused on addressing advanced manufacturing and biotechnology workforce training.
What will it provide?
It’s all about workforce development.
The Moore Center’s three core goals:
• Recruit the manufacturing workforce’s next generation of skilled workers
• Support current and future manufacturing and biotech environments with state-of-the-art technology and training
• Establish a world-class resource to drive future economic development in the state — essentially attracting the businesses of tomorrow with a training and technology hub in an ideal location.
What happened to Marelli?
The automotive supplier — a subsidiary of Italian automotive part maker Magneti Marelli — opened the Sanford plant in 1976, but vacated the facility in June 2021 after moving operations to Mexico. A total of 329 employees were laid off when the plant closed.
Tech … what kind of tech (and training) are we talking about?
The Moore Center’s 22-acre campus will include state-of-the-art facilities for training in biotechnology, computer integrated machining, industrial automation, welding, robotics, 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing and short-term, on-demand customized skills training. There will also be soft landing spaces for new and expanding industries undergoing facility construction, according to CCCC.
Who’s the “Moore” in the Moore Center name?
Bear Creek Arsenal’s Eugene Moore. A CCCC graduate, Moore gave $2 million to the college in 2021 to help fund the project. Bear Creek Arsenal, based in Sanford, has a staff of more than 500 people at its ammunition manufacturing facility.
Moore re-connected with CCCC by providing tuition assistance for students struggling financially and began talking with staff at the college about classes that might help Bear Creek Arsenal employees.
“We wanted a program that would train people how to be manufacturing/process engineers for metal working using CNC machines — computer numerical control — machines for high production,” Moore told the News + Record.
The discussions evolved into possibilities for the former Marelli facility.
“What Dr. Chapman and her team have put together as a vision for what the Moore Center will be when it is finished will truly be a world-class teaching and training facility,” he said.
Moore emphasized, though, that even though the project got a boost from his donation, “it’s Dr. Chapman who is doing all the work to make this happen.”
Who’s going to use it?
For starters, VinFast. The Vietnamese electric vehicle manufacturer wants to be able to start training sometime in 2023; CCCC has dedicated 30,000 square feet in the Moore Center for its use right away.
“They have an aggressive schedule,” John Crumpton, who recently retired as Lee County’s manager, told the Triangle Business Journal. “They want to be able to start in 9-12 months. So we have put the giddy up in trying to get all this ready for the college to take the facility over.”
A 2,700-square-foot building on site will host CCCC’s CDL (commercial driver’s licensing) training program, along with classroom spaces, offices and a driving range for behind-the-wheel instruction.
What other spaces are planned?
Here are just a few of the other plans and possibilities for the site:
• a 9,908-square-foot building with two BioWork laboratories, a general use laboratory, lab preparation space, a clean room, two equipment laboratories, lab storage and four offices.
• a “soft landing” space, designed to allow new or expanding businesses to nurture and develop their ideas until they are ready to move into their own facilities.
• incubation space to foster the growth of entrepreneurs in the manufacturing areas of the Center by providing them limited time and access to working environments
• a “Warehouse” to be used as a base for short-term, on-demand customized skills training. It’ll include an array of hands-on training types
• a “Showcase” to provide opportunities for individuals to learn about, experience and build interest in the wide variety of opportunities available in manufacturing.
• areas dedicated to training in automation, solid-state fundamentals, digital concepts, microprocessors and industrial systems including PLCs (programmable logic controllers), hydraulics, pneumatics, industrial electricity, electrical systems, motors, control systems and rapid prototyping.
• a collaborative learning space to be operated in partnership with N.C. State University’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) for North Carolina. It’ll provide a place for community college students in either Engineering or Industrial Technologies to work in conjunction with engineering students from universities on project-based learning experiences involving real-world industry processes and problem solving.
Who owns it?
Lee County. The county government acquired the Marelli facility and land in the summer of 2021 for $7.1 million and is leasing it to CCCC for $1 per year.
What’s it going to cost — and who’s paying for it?
Funding from a private donations, coupled with pending grant applications, will provide the project’s initial investment.
“We’ll take funds from anywhere that would be supportive,” Chapman said.
CCCC is working diligently to request a non-recurring appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly and hoping funds from the state’s budget surplus, incoming industries, partnering colleges and other workforce partners will meet the needs of the facility.
Chapman and her staff are confident The Moore Center will provide a significant return on investment.
“We’re working to do our part in small, very old limited facilities,” she said. “So what we need is that $50 million to meet the the needs of North Carolina’s commitment to the largest economic development projects we’ve ever had.”
So why is this good for Chatham County?
Chatham County was able to attract two massive economic development projects in 2022 — VinFast ($4.5 billion, 7,500 jobs at its EV manufacturing facility at Triangle Innovation Point in Moncure) and Wolfspeed ($5 billion, 1,800 jobs at its silicon carbide manufacturing plant planned for Siler City’s Chatham Advanced Manufacturing site). Keys in landing those projects were available and attractive megasite space in a great location and incentives packages that include funds for infrastructure and training.
But workforce development potential was also important, and CCCC was a major part of that solution. If the college’s existing training capacity wasn’t enough, think about this: having a world-class technology and training hub adjacent to Chatham County will be a significant draw for other business and industry to the county and region. Keep in mind Chatham’s CAM site in Siler City still has 1,400 available acres for development; there’s 300 more in a business park adjacent to the CAM site, and another 300 acres at TIP West, next to VinFast’s location.
The Moore Center would be an amenity too good for businesses and industries seeking expansion to pass up.
What’s the timeline?
Phase 1 of the project includes the 10,000-square-foot biotech building and is expected to take about 18 months to complete, beginning this summer. Biotechnology classes are scheduled to begin in the fall of next year. Support and additional funding from state legislators will accelerate the rest of the project.