CH@T: 2022 poised to be a year of opportunity in Chatham, EDC says

BY BILL HORNER III, Publisher
Posted 1/5/22

Many economic development observers say Chatham County is poised for a giant year in 2022. Chatham Park’s accelerating development, Mosaic’s growing commercial client list and two megasites …

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CH@T: 2022 poised to be a year of opportunity in Chatham, EDC says

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Posted

Many economic development observers say Chatham County is poised for a giant year in 2022. Chatham Park’s accelerating development, Mosaic’s growing commercial client list and two megasites primed and ready for tenants are just the start of assets that could make the new year a landmark one.

To get some additional insight, we spoke with Michael Smith, the president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation. The EDC, a 501(c)3 economic development nonprofit, is the lead economic development agency for the county. It provides support to businesses throughout the county and markets Chatham County as the preferred location for emerging growth companies.

Smith, who heads the EDC’s three-person team, has more than 20 years of experience serving in local organizations and with the N.C. Dept. of Commerce. Before coming to Chatham from Lee County a year ago, he had significant success in business recruitment and product development.

Smith has served as the president of the North Carolina Economic Development Association. He earned a bachelor of arts in Political Science and a master’s degree in Geography with a concentration in Urban/Regional Planning from East Carolina University.

Chatham is a part of NC CORE, as we know, but now the proposed Interstate 685 could also impact our area. What can you tell us about anything new w/NC CORE, and what do we need to know about I-685?

The Carolina Core had a big announcement recently, with the Toyota battery plant that is coming to neighboring Randolph County at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite. That announcement, along with the potential development of Interstate 685, means big things for Chatham as well. With Toyota’s large plant located just over the county line, Chatham will see a lot of interest from Toyota’s suppliers, who will want to locate new facilities nearby.

It’s well known that interstates are a critical component of commerce, moving both people and goods. When companies are scouting a new location, one of the key questions is the distance from a potential site to an interstate. The possibility of U.S. Hwy. 421 being upgraded to an interstate would enhance Chatham’s status as a centrally located area and serve as an additional benefit to our industry-ready sites.

We’ve discussed “Accelerate 2026” before. What’s the funding status — and can you provide an update about the work being done through this funding?

We’re ecstatic that we are getting close to our fundraising goal of $900,000. With our funding and future secured, staff remains focused on ways we may increase the commercial and industrial tax base through new companies and expansions of existing operations. 2021 sets up well for this goal in Chatham.

We are continuing to work very closely with CCCC both in their workforce training programs and with its new Small Business Center Director, Phillip Pappas. We also continue to work with our existing industries to help on any issues they may have and to keep them updated on programs and opportunities through CCCC.

The program funding will allow us to even better market the county as a great place for businesses and families to grow and prosper.

What’s the latest on activity at Chatham’s two megasites?

Both the CAM [Chatham Advanced Manufacturing; Siler City] site and the TIP [Triangle Innovation Point, Moncure] site have seen record interest, activity, and visits over the past 12 months. This community is fortunate to have such strong business leaders that own these two state-certified mega sites in the 2,000-acre range and want to have significant companies land on each.

The recent Toyota battery announcement is a site 10 minutes from CAM, so our opportunity for related businesses is high. The TIP site is a great fit for multiple technology companies looking to be at a location 10 minutes from the I-540 Raleigh Outer Loop. These two sites both continue to be in conversations with very large projects that have a chance to provide good jobs and opportunities for Chatham County and this region.

As 2022 dawns, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and for many businesses, it’s still a struggle. But we’re seeing lots of industrial expansion all around us. What’s your assessment of Chatham’s positioning?

Despite the initial pandemic issue that hit everyone, Chatham is positioned well. There are still some struggles for retail and hospitality-based businesses due to the uncertainty that the lingering pandemic causes. In terms of industrial expansion, we have a lot to offer with our two megasites. The available acreage that we have here, combined with our convenient location in the state, is unparalleled. We hope to continue to improve our position in 2022 by establishing a shell building program and ramping up our megasite marketing to our key audiences.

The EDC created the Chatham Loan Fund during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Any update on this program?

Our loan fund has seen some activity, but what we’ve learned during throughout pandemic is that businesses aren’t looking for more loans. Loans have been offered by several organizations, not just us — EIDL Loans, PPP Loans, and more. Luckily, by partnering with Chatham County, we were able to establish a grant program as well.

We had $75,000 to give to Chatham’s businesses and the program was so popular that unfortunately, we had to turn businesses away. All $75,000 was utilized and put into businesses right here in Chatham. That was just our first round, and we’re hopeful to continue the program. We are thankful to have such great partners in the community that stepped up to help administer the grant as well.

Your organization is governed by a board of directors. Chatham commissioners just re-appointed one board member and doing so, didn’t take the recommendation of the EDC ...

We are looking forward to working with our two board members that were reappointed by the BOC, Dr. Jennifer Platt and Chreatha Alston. We are glad to have their input into how Chatham can continue to move in a positive direction.

You came to Chatham County from Lee, so you’re very familiar with Pittsboro’s partnership with the city of Sanford to boost its water supply. What’s the status of that right now?

The partnership between Chatham County and Lee County remains strong. Earlier this year, the project to extend wastewater from Sanford to Pittsboro received the necessary permits. More recently, the project went out to bid. This agreement and the timing has allowed Moncure to be a part of several responses to large RFIs from major companies. We are looking forward to the beginning of construction and the culmination of years of planning and diligent work from our local and regional partners.

We are fortunate to have County Manager Dan LaMontagne’s utility experience and regional connections to help us during this busy time. My previous work in Lee has been helpful with this unique regional agreement we have. Our partners in Sanford continue to be at the table as we are working with several large projects considering a new location at the Triangle Innovation Point site in Moncure.

(Editor’s note: see the Dec. 30-Jan. 6 edition of the News + Record for a story about the state’s $34 million grant provided to the City of Sanford specifically for improvements to the TIP Megasite.)

Michael Smith can be reached at michael.smith@chathamcountync.gov.

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