Counties that are prepared for economic development will be the ones that get the looks from businesses looking to relocate or open new operations, says the state’s chief business recruiter.
State Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland delivered that message to Chatham County business leaders in Pittsboro on Friday. He was the featured speaker at the 10th annual Opportunity Chatham conference.
“If you’re prepared, you’ll get the looks, you’ll get the companies,” he said. “I have spent a lot of time in Chatham County with your sites and what you’ve done, and you’ve taken the steps to be prepared.”
It’s a lesson other counties have learned, he said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Copeland pointed out Chinese tire manufacturer Triangle Tyre Co. for choosing to build a plant and bring 800 jobs to Edgecombe County. But that deal didn’t happen overnight. The origins go back to the early 1990s when the county committed to building an industrial park, he said.
Chatham County is positioned well to attract industry, says Alysa Byrd, the new president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation. The county is developing industrial zones called megasites in the southern part of the county near Moncure and in the west near Siler City. The development of Chatham Park near Pittsboro will give people a place to live, work and play, she said.
Copeland said the steps taken by Chatham can be copied by other counties.
Chatham County Commissioner Walter Petty said the long-term investment in the megasites will pay off when companies start locating there.
“As a business person, you have to have some long-term vision,” he said. “You have to weigh the time and investment against the risk of not doing anything. What would landing one of the companies do for Chatham County? It would mean more than the investment we’ve already made.”
The Edgecombe tire plant also required state and local incentives totaling about $152 million.
Commissioner Diana Hales pointed to the recent opening of the Mountaire Plant in Siler City as an example of the county being prepared for economic development. Mountaire processes chickens. The company, which will employ about 1,200 people at the plant, was looking to expand its operation in the state, Hales said.
“They were looking for an opportunity, and the chicken plant that had gone through two bankruptcies obviously caught their eye,” she said. “They came in because it was an existing plant. It was from their standpoint, I think, a good idea.”
Companies are looking for infrastructure, Copeland said.
“If you don’t have the infrastructure — the gas lines, the road — it’s just real estate,” he said.
And more companies are doing pre-scouting using online resources than ever before, he said. He encouraged businesses and local governments to up their online presence.
Chatham Park developer Julian “Bubba” Rawl said he’s seen companies go down their site selection checklists.
“If they have 10 checkboxes and you’ve only got seven, they’re not coming,” Rawl said. “You’ve got to meet their needs to be considered.”
Chatham Park is partnering to build the infrastructure — roads, energy, telecommunications, water and sewer — to support 60,000 new residents in Pittsboro during the next 30 years. Some projects such as Chatham Park Way and Penguin Place are well underway or nearly complete. Others like the Vineyards, a residential development, and Mosaic, a mixed-use project on U.S. 15-501 just north of town, recently broke ground.
“Companies do their homework when they’re evaluating sites,” Mosaic developer Kirk Bradley said. “And they’re looking at where their people are going to live. We have to offer it all.”