PITTSBORO — Multibillion-dollar manufacturing projects headline the bright future ahead for economic development in Chatham County, but local officials are also focused on the necessary next steps, including infrastructural upgrades, sufficient labor supply and attracting supporting businesses.
There are approximately 1,800 acres still available for use in the areas adjacent to VinFast and Wolfspeed, according to Chatham County Economic Development Corporation President Michael Smith. He expressed that filling those empty acres with businesses to support Wolfspeed and VinFast is a priority for the Chatham County EDC.
The Chatham County EDC is in communications with several companies interested in occupying some of those empty acres, with most of the companies being related to the electric vehicle and semiconductor market, according to Smith.
While attracting Wolfspeed and VinFast to Chatham County was a huge win for the Chatham County EDC, it won’t mean as much if they can’t also help attract the necessary labor supply.
“We’ve got 80,000 people that live in Chatham County,” Smith said. “And if we ever used that number as one [of the attractions] of the big companies that looked at coming here, they would have kept looking.”
Despite that current population total, a significant amount of the needed labor supply may already be in the county; it’s just about finding ways to keep them here.
About 25,000 Chatham County citizens leave the county for work every day, according to Smith. Jobs at Wolfspeed and VinFast could help keep those commuters here and supply labor at the two manufacturers.
“One of the things [the Chatham County EDC] is trying to do is create jobs here in Chatham County so those 25,000 people don’t have to leave,” Smith said.
And Central Carolina Community College could help put those Chatham County residents in local jobs; as Smith noted the Chatham County EDC and CCCC are engaged with the two companies to set up courses that prepare students for jobs in the manufacturing plants. Smith said he believes the skills taught in CCCC’s newest industrial robotics technician course would “likely be applicable to both VinFast and Wolfspeed.”
There are also numerous colleges and universities in the surrounding area. Smith said that attracting some of the over 40,000 college graduates this region produces per year is a priority for rounding out the labor supply needed at Wolfspeed and VinFast.
“We’ve got an extraordinary quality of life here in Chatham County, and trying to make sure people understand that and all the different excellent places to live that we have here [is a priority],” Smith said.
Pittsboro recently cleared a significant hurdle in maintaining Chatham County’s quality of life in late July when its board of commissioners approved a merger of the town’s water, reclaimed water and sewer systems with the City of Sanford. And Smith remains optimistic that Siler City will clear the same hurdle.
While Smith noted that “discussions continue to go quite well” with potential regional providers, the passage of the 2023 Appropriations Act holds substantial weight in Siler City’s ability to find a water and sewage solution.
The Town of Siler City would receive $75.25 million in water and sewer infrastructure funds, with $2.5 million going towards constructing an elevated water tank for its economic development project.
In addition, the City of Sanford would receive $7.5 million in water and sewer infrastructure funds, with $2.5 million being contributed to “the development, operation and management of the Siler City Wastewater project.”
The economic development of Chatham County is promising, but Smith and the Chatham County EDC are focused on taking these projects to the finish line.
“We meet with them (VinFast and Wolfspeed) on a teleconference every other week and have now for the last year,” Smith said. “We will continue to stay involved with both those projects since they are, in essence, creating two new cities in Chatham County.”