Chatham County mega-site seeks manufacturer

dranii@newsobserver.comMay 2, 2013 

The president of the Chatham Economic Development Corp. envisions 1,700 acres of undeveloped land west of Siler City some day becoming the site of a giant manufacturing plant with 1,000 workers.

“The state hasn’t had a site of 1,000 acres or more (available for a manufacturing site) for a long time,” said Dianne Reid. “We haven’t had that really large mega-site to be competitive for very, very large projects.”

Reid isn’t the only one who sees the site’s potential. This week Duke Energy selected the site off N.C. 421 and south of Interstate 85 for its Site Readiness Program.

Under the program, the Charlotte-based utility hires a consulting firm to evaluate the site and brings in site planners and land-use experts to develop a conceptual plan for the property. Then it will share with county leaders what work needs to be done to attract a big-time manufacturer.

“We know what is good for our customers is good for Duke Energy,” said Duke spokeswoman Lisa Parrish. To be sure, a major manufacturer likely would be major energy user.

Duke’s economic recruiters also will help market the site after the necessary groundwork has been laid to make it attractive to a company looking to expand or relocate operations.

The Chatham County site is one of five North Carolina sites – and by far the largest – that Duke selected this week for its 8-year-old Site Readiness Program. Other sites include: a 320-acre site in Nash County, a 260-acre tract in Harnett County, 200 acres in Montgomery County, and a 200-acre plot in Randolph County.

Since the utility began the program in 2005, 97 sites in North and South Carolina have been selected. So far, 10 of those sites have attracted major projects that created 1,700 jobs, Parrish said.

The program’s recent success stories include Sierra Nevada Brewing, which last year decided to build a brewery in Mills River, about 12 miles south of Asheville, that is expected to employ about 90 workers.

Properties considered for the program are 75 acres or larger and served by the utility. The program was expanded this year to include sites formerly served by Raleigh-based Progress Energy, which merged with Duke in July.

Parrish declined to disclose how much Duke spends per site but described it as “much more than a typical county can absorb on its own.”

The giant Chatham County site came together about a year ago when two property owners with adjoining land decided to package them together, supplemented by some additional parcels they purchased, Reid said. Part of the site was previously a hunting preserve.

Reid is optimistic that the Duke program will accelerate the process of making the site manufacturing-ready and raise its profile.

Duke is hiring site selection consultant McCallum Sweeney to study the property.

“They really do a very thorough assessment of the site and its potential, what its strengths are and what its problems are,” Reid said. “I think it will be a real advantage for the site to go through that thorough analytical process.”

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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