Chatham’s loss turns into a win

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When the door closed in January on Chatham County’s “Project Autumn” — the code name for the multi-billion dollar semiconductor chip manufacturer considering Triangle Innovation Point as its home — local officials put a positive spin on the loss.

“Incredibly optimistic,” without exception, was the sentiment. Chatham’s TIP site, rumored to be the destination for Idaho-based Micron Technology, still had plenty of prospective tenants, despite the headline-making rebuff.

That confidence was well-placed. Today, Micron still hasn’t chosen a home for its huge expansion. And VinFast, the Vietnamese carmaker which last Tuesday announced its intention to build a $4 billion manufacturing facility at the TIP megasite, is being celebrated as the biggest economic development project in North Carolina history.

But there’s more: Micron may have been “the one that got away,” but those close to the TIP site and economic development in Chatham County found themselves happy as a lark last week for another reason because, by comparison, VinFast provides a much better scenario for the site, and for Chatham, all-around. During and after the ceremony in Raleigh officially introducing VinFast’s project, those close to activity at the TIP site have told the News + Record privately and for the record that the loss of Micron had other definite upsides.

“Micron probably put a lot of environmental demands on us,” said Rep. Robert Reives II (D – Dist. 54). “And it’s not that we don’t want the demands, but it was going to be tough. And that’s probably the best way to say it.”

Reives, like most who spoke on the record, was hesitant to provide other specifics. But he also acknowledged that in addition to the “physical challenges” putting a company like Micron at the TIP site would create for infrastructure, the incentives the chip manufacturer sought were rumored and reported to be extraordinary — far more than the $1.25 billion package VinFast is getting.

And the incentives package ultimately given to VinFast — which includes $450 million to come from the General Assembly for road expansion and other site improvements — will ultimately provide other fixes needed at the site anyway, he said.

Sanford City Manager Hal Hegwer cited confidentiality concerns surrounding the negotiations with Micron, but agreed that VinFast provided a better fit for the region — specifically because of the demands on water and sewer, which Sanford and the town of Pittsboro will eventually team up to provide.

Vinfast’s needs were more doable, according to Hegwer.

“We have a higher level of comfort being able to accommodate the requirements of Vinfast’s size, scope and timeline,” he told the News + Record.

Pittsboro restaurateur Greg Lewis, who serves as chairman of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation’s board of directors, was more direct.

“At the end of the day, VinFast will employ more people,” he said. “More employees, less incentives. And that’s that for me. And it will be a much cleaner operation than a chip manufacturer.”

Chatham EDC President Michael Smith said he remained grateful that a number of large companies have looked as closely as they have at the TIP site.

“That obviously says a lot for that site and our region,” he said. “And I know that that has played a role in other large companies wanting to look at the TIP site and the CAM [Siler City’s Chatham Advanced Manufacturing] site. So I’m grateful that they get that, you know.”

But he, too, pointed out the “quite extraordinary demands” the chip manufacturer — he declined to specifically name it as Micron — would have put on the water and sewer systems that would serve it.

“They were just so much that certainly we were positioned to do with a great deal of help from our neighbors in Sanford and certainly from the state of North Carolina,” he said. “But nonetheless, it would have been extremely … it would have been a challenge.”

Smith said the TIP site was “really set up and built” to be home to an OEM — original equipment manufacturer, and in its marketing specifically targeted carmakers.

“And so, in essence, it took us longer than collectively we wanted it to, but we got what we wanted — which was an automotive assembly facility here in our neighborhood,” he said. “We think that’s a better fit for the utilities that are there, and the utilities that can come there more easily and less costly. And certainly North Carolina has a lot of automobile parts manufacturers already. So from a workforce standpoint, we’re also extremely well-positioned in that regard.”


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