Job growth in Chatham County is on a pace that’s not been seen in a quarter century.
That’s the assessment of N.C. State University economist Michael Walden, who moderated a “Chatham Development Briefing” on Wednesday.
“The pace of job growth here is the fastest in 25 years if it stays on this pace the rest of the year,” Walden said. “A lot of good things happen when the economy is growing.”
Alyssa Byrd, the interim president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corp., said some local businesses are already seeing the impact.
Workers are filling local restaurants like Johnson’s Drive-In at lunchtime. Johnson’s is just down the way from the poultry processing plant being revamped by Mountaire Farms and set to open next year.
“Restaurants are filled with people at lunchtime because of the construction crews,” she said. “There is this infusion of energy into the economy that will impact business. As we have more customers and consumers, small businesses will be affected positively.”
The next two years will bring changes expected and unexpected for the largely rural county southwest of the Research Triangle as Mountaire Farms in Siler City and Chatham Park in Pittsboro attract workers.
Mountaire Farms will employee about 1,200 people at the plant, said Mark Reif, who represented the company at the forum. It’s the company’s fourth processing plant and will prep about a quarter million chickens daily when in full production.
Mountaire now operates two hatcheries in Siler City with a payroll of about $9 million per year. When the processing plant comes online, the payroll will grow to about $35 million, Reif said.
Chatham Park video
Julian “Bubba” Rawl of Preston Development, the company developing Chatham Park, unveiled a new video showing the latest drawings and construction progress.
Groundwork recently began at two residential sites in Chatham Park. Building there could start next year.
The Eco Group, which will develop a 350-acre mixed-use project called Mosaic in Chatham Park, got plans approved in mid-August for its 44-acre first phase. They hope to begin in October after obtaining the necessary permits. Mosaic is an $800 million project that will serve as a gateway into Chatham Park from U.S. 15-501. Construction will take about three years and will include restaurants, condos, theaters and a hotel.
Rawl compared Chatham Park with North Hills in Raleigh but with one difference: Chatham Park is being built from scratch.
North Hills, which was one of the first mall developments when it opened in the 1970s, was completely redeveloped into a mixed-use destination with residential, commercial and recreational space 20 years ago. Rawl and business partner Tim Smith are emulating the concept in Pittsboro but on a much larger scale. They’ve assembled close to 8,000 acres on the east side of town for the development that will grow the town by more than 55,000 residents over the next 30 years.
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words so a video must be worth about a million,” Rawl said. “This was a chance to show people what we’re about.”
The video drew applause from the crowd.
‘A real opportunity’
Tony Jordan of Resolute Building Co. in Chapel Hill said Pittsboro needs to be careful so it doesn’t end up with the sprawl seen in Wake County as Cary and Apex have grown westward toward Jordan Lake. Jordan has worked on projects in Cary and Apex, he said.
“They have a real opportunity,” Jordan said. “But they’re going to have to be thoughtful about planning and approving projects. Builders build what will sell. A lot of this is still undetermined, but they can look at Cary and Apex and see what sprawl has done there.”
The Chatham County Chamber of Commerce sponsors the annual forum. This year’s gathering brought together about 300 people who are interested in the county’s economic health.
“It stirs up a lot of excitement because people want to know what is happening with Chatham Park and Mountaire,” said Cindy Poindexter of the Chatham County Chamber of Commerce.