EDC’s Smith: Chatham commercial growth about to explode

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About five minutes from the Siler City Municipal Airport and centrally located between the Triangle and Triad, Siler City's CAM megasite offers compelling features to heavy industrial companies.
About five minutes from the Siler City Municipal Airport and centrally located between the Triangle and Triad, Siler City's CAM megasite offers compelling features to heavy industrial companies.
Map courtesy of CAM

PITTSBORO — After 100 days as head of Chatham’s leading business recruitment agency, Michael Smith is still glad he took the job.

“It’s even better than I knew,” he told the News + Record. “I kind of slipped in right when a lot of big things are about to happen.”

With more than two decades of experience in economic development leadership roles, Smith came to Chatham in January to assume presidency of the county’s Economic Development Corporation. He previously served as CEO and executive director of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance (SAGA), which includes Sanford’s Chamber of Commerce.

“A big thing I wanted to do right away was get a better understanding of our megasites,” Smith said, “and also Chatham Park. One of the things that I moved us to do that wasn’t done as much in the past is really tie in all three of those amazing long-term projects.”

Chatham has two megasites: The Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) site, a 1,802-acre industrial megasite in western Chatham County; and Triangle Innovation Point (TIP), previously the Moncure Megasite, a 2,150-acre life science and advanced manufacturing park in Moncure. Both have been under development for several years, and their infrastructures are almost complete, Smith said. The biggest thing left to do: find companies to move in.

“Those have been 10-year projects or more, maybe a little longer,” Smith said, “and I’m fortunate now to be here in 2021 at the end of those 10-year phases and moving into a phase where I think we’re really poised for truly exciting things to happen.”

Smith was not at liberty to discuss specific candidates for the megasites, but said many high profile companies are expressing their interest.

“All these projects are extremely competitive and they’re very protective of their identities and their timelines,” he said, “so I really can’t go into details. But I can say that we’re talking with a number of significant projects.”

At TIP especially, Smith and the EDC have been instrumental in helping the site adjust its market focus away from heavy industrial use.

“They have been re-branding in the last year,” Smith said. “And with the re-brand, among other things, they’re thinking it’s a great place for a life science campus.”

The site is about 20 minutes from Holly Springs and 15 minutes from Sanford, Smith said, which makes it ideally located to integrate with the several life science companies already working in the area. Between the TIP and CAM sites, Chatham stands to gain thousands of new jobs, depending on which companies eventually move in.

“We’re talking two locations of about 2,000 acres or more,” Smith said. “So it’s significant. We have dramatic opportunities at both places.”

As the EDC recruits potential companies to the megasites, Chatham Park serves as a major selling point. The county’s 7,068-acre development — with plans to house about 60,000 residents among 22,000 homes — will provide the quality of life and community that companies value for their employees, Smith said. The development will also host many new businesses of its own across several commercial sites.

“The fact that Chatham Park is easily accessible by both of those megasites gives us a unique story, and we feel like it gives us a competitive advantage,” Smith said. “The thing with Chatham Park is that in a lot of ways it’s been hard to explain what it is. But now the fact that it’s going vertical, that makes my job a whole lot simpler, to be able to go have lunch with somebody there and to say, ‘Here’s what you’re getting.’”

Business sections of Chatham Park are set to begin leasing space in June, Smith said, which will help the county offset its need to increase future residential property taxes. Chatham has sometimes been criticized for an imbalance in its residential versus commercial revenue. It has traditionally served as a “bedroom community” from which workers commute to jobs in other parts of the Triangle. Right now, 85% to 90% of the county’s revenue comes from residential taxes, Smith says, whereas closer to 70% would be much healthier.

Fortunately, he thinks “that’s all about to change.”

“When you think about what what’s happening at Chatham Park, there’s no other development like that on the east coast ... and we’re about to have that here in Chatham County,” he said. “Commercial and industrial investment is coming with it, and that is going to help keep our taxes where they are or even give us a chance at some point in the future to possibly even lower them.”

In the meantime, Smith hopes the EDC can do a better job updating the community, in Chatham and beyond, of the rapid-fire changes coming to the county.

“I think one of the things that we need to do a better job of is trying to share with the public what all of this means,” he said. “It’s great that in a number of situations and with some very large projects, exciting things are coming. We really want to keep Chatham — the name Chatham — at the front of people’s minds.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.



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