Over the next 40 years, the planned Chatham Park development could generate $154 billion in spending statewide, including $80 billion in Chatham County alone.
That’s according to a study by N.C. State University economics professor Michael Walden, whose report was released Tuesday by the Chatham Economic Development Corp.
“It’s going to be a game-changer,” said Ken Atkins, who oversees economic development and business recruitment for Chatham Park.
“These numbers were a lot bigger than what I was expecting, quite frankly,” added Atkins, a former leader of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and Wake County Economic Development.
Preston Development, the Cary company behind Chatham Park, paid Chatham EDC to commission the study. However, officials from both groups said they either didn’t know or couldn’t say how much it cost.
Walden said he didn’t personally receive any money for the study and sees it as a public service – not a political statement on the controversial development.
“There’s a massive interest in what will be the economic impact,” he said. “Not just in Chatham County, but in the entire state.”
Chatham Park plans call for 22,000 new homes and millions of square feet of labs, office and retail space. It could add 60,000 residents to its 7,000-plus acres between Pittsboro and Jordan Lake.
But Walden’s study does not factor in the costs of new roads, schools and utilities to serve the development, and Pittsboro Mayor Bill Terry said people should view the numbers with skepticism.
“You’ve got to take the model for what it is,” Terry said. “It’s his best economic analysis for economic output. But you’ve got to take the caveat of, ‘If resources are unlimited and you don’t run into any problems.’ Of course, that never happens.”
Walden said it wasn’t his job to question the developers’ plans, but to predict their impact.
He measured gross domestic product, job creation and public revenues.
At its completion, he estimates, Chatham Park will contribute $146 million annually in revenue to Chatham County’s budget through taxes and fees.
The state government can also expect to gain $442 million annually, he wrote.
Walden also estimates that Chatham Park will create 99,000 jobs in the Triangle in the next 40 years, including 61,000 in Chatham County.
The county’s population last year was 67,402, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce.
“We’re talking about having as many jobs as we have people now, which is amazing,” said Dianne Reid, president of Chatham EDC.
Chatham Park will also bring needed offices, industrial sites and shopping centers, she said. Such property now makes up less than 10 percent of the county’s tax base, putting most of the cost of local government on homeowners.
“That’s what we need for economic development,” Reid said.
Jeffrey Starkweather, co-founder of opposition group Pittsboro Matters, criticized Walden’s relying on Preston Development’s projections and called the report a “PR stunt.”
“If you read the study there’s basically no information that backs up their assumptions,” he said.
Starkweather said 60,000 new residents will bring more traffic and pollution and raise the cost of living too high for the teachers, police officers and retail workers who will work in Chatham Park to live there.
But Atkins said people who buy expensive homes also shop more, eat out more and participate more in local schools and charities.
“The rising tide really does lift a lot of ships,” he said. “I think there’s going to be an overall increase in wellbeing because of the jobs that are coming in.”