Chatham County’s 9 x 9 x 9 summer: $9 billion in investment, 9,000 jobs

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PITTSBORO – Wolfspeed’s The announcement on Friday that the Durham company would build a $5 million semiconductor plant in Chatham County and create more than 1,800 jobs took on an almost victorious election campaign atmosphere complete with campaign buttons. But these colorful pins weren’t about Democrats or Republicans.

No – the 9$, 9K, 22 represented the county’s remarkable year in economic development with the Wolfspeed announcement coming on – you have already guessed – Sept. 9.

The “9s”:

  • $9 billion coming in new industrial plants from Wolfspeed and electric vehicle manufacturer VinFast

$5 billion from Wolfspeed (surpassing VinFast as the biggest economic development investment in the state to date)

$4 billion from Vinfast (announced March 29)

1,802 from Wolfspeed

Some 7,500 from VinFast

The significance of the news is clear to economic development recruiters who keep bringing big projects to North Carolina.

“The formal announcement of Wolfspeed serves to confirm the new high tech trajectory emerging in the Triangle to Triad Corridor, one going beyond the already well-established pharma and med tech base in the region,” says site development executive John Boyd of The Boyd Company .

And there’s still nearly four months left in 2022.

To appreciate the scale of these decisions requires only a look at population – 9,000 jobs coming over the next several years for a county with a population of around 73,000. And the Wolfspeed-Vinfast developments are likely to create thousands more “halo” jobs – new positions created by companies lured to help support or do business with the two giants.”

Actually, that total number of new jobs could double, says one economic development expert.

“There will be a multiple or halo impact from these jobs, at roughly 1 additional job in supplier, parts, and service firms for every 1 job at the new factory,” says Dr. Mike Walden, an economist at NC State who has studied economic development for decades.

An example: Shortly after the VinFast announcement, FedEx said it would add a site in Chatham County, too.

Wolfspeed CEO: Breaking ground on Monday to do things that are unprecedented

‘Historic moment’

In an exclusive interview via email with WRAL TechWire early Sunday, C. Michael Smith, president of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, labeled the Wolfspeed announcement an “historic moment.”

Michael Smith (Chatham County Economic Development photo)

But Smith pointed out the county may not be done making news.

“[T]here may be several other similar sized parks coming on line in that area” he said of the site selected by VinFast. He notes it is “12 minutes from I-540” as the route around Raleigh-Durham is pushed towards completion.

Then there is land availability at the Chatham-Siler City site picked by Wolfspeed.

“A remarkable fact at the CAM [short for Chatham Advanced Manufacturing] site in Siler [City] is that even after the 9/9 announcement, there are 1,400 acres still available for additional development,” Smith explained. “We also have the Midstate Development Site, a 300 acre business park that is adjacent to CAM.”

Even with VinFast taking all 2,000 acres at the Triangle Innovation Point site further to the southwest of the Wolfspeed development, Smith said no one should forget what he calls TIP West, or Triangle Innovation Point.

“The Triangle Innovation Point (TIP) East site is 2,000 acres and VinFast will take all of that site,” Smith said but noted: “We have 300 acres still available at the TIP West site.”

Both sites, Smith adds, trace their roots to private sector developers.

Carolina Core Map 8.2020 1

Map of the Carolina Core (NC Carolina Core image)

Filling in the Carolina Core

Wolfspeed and VinFast chose so-called “megasites” for their new facilities. Not too far to the northwest on Highway 421 (a future interstate), Toyota chose a megasite in Randolph County for a huge new battery plant. (Not to be overlooked in the so-called “Carolina Core” region stretching from Fayetteville to Winston-Salem is the supersonic aircraft plant to be built at a large site adjacent Piedmont Triad International Airport.)

“Amazing to have Boom, Toyota, Wolfspeed and VinFast all come together over the past year,” Smith said. “It highlights the work of so many across North Carolina to make us the top destination for business recruitment.

“The region’s talent pool with the large number of 4-year college graduates, our outstanding community college system, and the 7,000 annual exiting military members from nearby Ft. Bragg are all points that are helping drive interest in Central NC. This has also brought into the Triangle and the Triad significant numbers of new residents on an annual basis, and these announcements may accelerate that trend.”

Carolina Core is described as “a 120+ mile stretch of central North Carolina from west of Winston-Salem to Fayetteville encompassing Greensboro and High Point and in close proximity to Charlotte and the Research Triangle, all along future Interstate 685.”

From Triangle to Triad: Expected Wolfspeed chip plant adds to new ‘economic corridor’ in NC

In an interview before the Wolfspeed announcement Walden said the decision “is another piece for an emerging economic corridor of new-generation manufacturing spanning from the Triangle to the Triad.”

“Firms in the corridor will be able to tap into trained workers from both the Triangle and the Triad. The firms are forming a critical mass level that will attract similar ventures to access the specialized labor that will be developed,” he added.

While the Research Triangle area itself has generated much of the economic development news over the years, the Carolina Core is showing remarkable strength now.

“As the geographic center of NC, these projects have an opportunity to bring positive opportunities to a wide variety of NC residents. For example, the VinFast site in Moncure is within 1 hour of 22 NC counties – over 1/5 of the entire state,” Smith explained.

North Carolina pays $1B price to land Wolfspeed plant over offer from New York

$1 billion in tax incentives

The Wolfspeed and VinFast victories did not come without costs. In addition to the burden of more traffic and more homes needed to accommodate growing communities there are long term tax and other incentives for each site pledged to by Chatham County.

  • Some $600 million for Wolfspeed
  • Another $400 million for VinFast

But largely like North Carolina incentives provided through such benefits as Job Development Investment Grants, or JDIG the Chatham support has protections, Smith said.

“Our county incentives are all performance based,” Smith explained. “No existing county programs will have any funds diverted for these major projects. All county incentives are a part of our Transformational Grant program, that allows the companies to receive annual grants after meeting established new jobs and investment commitments.”

‘Four months of work in three weeks’: How North Carolina landed VinFast, the company building a $4 billion Chatham County automotive plant

Recruiters in partnership

Chatham’s 9x9x9 month also is not the result of any one party or organization, Smith pointed out.

“A great part of this story is regional collaboration,” he said. “The Wolfspeed project could not have happened without the assistance of our neighbors in Asheboro and Randolph County. The CAM site is on the Randolph County line.

“Similarly our neighbors in Sanford and Lee County are the water and sewer providers at the TIP site. These are extreme examples of – Economic Development is a team sport!

“But as you can see these types of major wins are highly complex, expensive and lengthy processes. We are fortunate that many public and private sector leaders had a vision and have been able to stay with it – to allow a historic moment like today in NC.”

The state’s political leaders played their part, too.

“We are grateful for significant help from the NC General Assembly, Gov. Cooper’s office, the NC Department of Commerce, and Golden LEAF [Foundation] for infrastructure and site development at both sites,” he said.

“In addition, broth ownership groups invested a great deal of time and money on both sites and gave the Chatham EDC a great deal of trust over time to keep these two megasites available. That is an important point that can’t be overlooked – both sites were over 10 years old.

Other partners will be providing training for the new works Wolfspeed and VinFast will require, Smith noted.

“Along with our shared resource of the award-winning Central Carolina Community College that serves Chatham, Lee and Harnett, we also are fortunate on the timing of these announcements and the [E. Eugene Moore Manufacturing and Biotech Solutions Center] in Lee County,” he said. “We are working closely on that large new facility that will serve as a regional asset for customized training for new and existing industries in this region.”

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