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Chatham and Lee county leaders convene with focus on future

By Katherine McDonald
Posted Monday, March 26, 2012

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Pittsboro, NC - Nearly 50 leaders from Chatham and Lee counties gathered at Central Carolina Community College's Chatham County Campus Tuesday to hear about economic development and express their desire to work together for the future.

“This meeting is all about visionary leadership,” said Joe Glasson, chairman of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation. “We're here to look into the future and ask what do we have to do today to get there? We're moving toward a common purpose: creating jobs through economic development.”

Among those meeting were members of the Chatham and Lee counties’ boards of commissioners, Economic Development Corporation leaders, city mayors and other government officials, Central Carolina Community College, public school officials, business people and a representative from U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers’ office.

CCCC President Bud Marchant, who serves on both counties’ EDCs, suggested the joint meeting.

Attendees included (from left) David Powell, president of Piedmont Triad Regional Partnership; Drew Weniger, Chatham EDC board member; Dianne Reid, President Chatham EDC; Walter Petty, vice chair of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners; Brian Bock, chair of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners; Lee County Commissioner Charlie Parks; and CCCC President Bud Marchant.

“We have to think regionally in economic development,” he said. “There are important issues that the counties can work on jointly. The college is key in this because we provide educational services and workforce training in both counties.”

Donnie Oldham, chairman of the Lee County Economic Development Corporation, agreed.

“We hear companies like Caterpillar say how much the training their workers receive at CCCC figure into their decisions,” Oldham said. “The citizens of Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties don’t realize what an asset CCCC is.”

The joint meeting with so many leaders from Chatham and Lee counties is believed to be a first. Bob Heuts, president of the Lee County EDC, said he has been in his position 15 years and cannot recall a similar joint effort.

“The time has come when we need to work together to move our communities forward in a meaningful way,” he said. “I see no reason why Lee and Chatham couldn't work together to have a joint large development site to attract companies. There are so many different things we could do with it.”

Both Heuts and Dianne Reid, president of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, provided overviews of what is happening in their counties and organizations to promote economic growth.

Heuts said that Lee County has stepped out in a major way in economic development with the establishment of the Innovation Center in the county's industrial park. At the Center, CCCC’s Industry Services Office will provide workforce training, first for Caterpillar and then for other companies. The Center also houses the LCEDC offices and provides spaces for lease by start-up companies, thus encouraging the development of new businesses in the area.

Reid said that the Chatham EDC has worked closely with the college's Small Business Center to create and grow new companies. The CEDC developed a strategic plan three years ago with input from the private sector and is seeing results. It is also diversifying its funding, getting members of the private sector more involved to give them a voice in economic development.

Those attending the joint meeting heard presentations on two topics that are of interest to both counties: the Chatham Park Development and the Highway 421 Economic Development Corridor.

“Chatham Park will have an enormous impact on Chatham County,” Glasson said, “and there will be a tremendous washover for Lee and Harnett counties.”

Chatham Park is a 7,100-acre planned development located east of Pittsboro and touching Jordan Lake at several points. Ground is expected to be broken within the next year.

According to Philip Culpepper, consulting planner for Chatham Park Investors, the developers of Chatham Park, it is planned as a mixed-use development, a place where people can live, work and have recreation. It is also planned for high-level environmental sustainability, with features such as recycled water and solar panels. Marchant noted that buildings on the Chatham Campus already incorporate such features.

“It's a good project, not just for Pittsboro, not just for Chatham, but for the region,” Culpepper said. “We're not selling the county to prospective businesses, we're selling the region. We are not in competition with the adjacent towns and counties; we're in competition with the world to attract businesses.”

He noted that the Raleigh Executive Jetport in Lee County is just five miles from the Chatham Park property, and that Lee County would also benefit — as at least some of the travel related to Chatham Park flows through the Jetport.

David Powell, president of Piedmont Triad Regional Partnership, spoke to the gathering about development of an economic development corridor along Highway 421, from within Guilford County down to Sanford. He said his company works on “big, transformational projects that turn things around.”

He noted that the Triad lost 90,000 jobs in the recession, but has 4,000 jobs that can't be filled because potential workers lack the necessary skill sets. For that reason, he said Piedmont Triad Regional Partnership had put up money for training at community colleges.

“We are excited about seeing that type of cooperation duplicated in our area,” Marchant said. “CCCC is committed to active and integral partnerships with leaders of our communities and businesses to provide workforce skill training. As we have seen repeatedly, that leads to improve economic development and a higher quality of life for all.”

At the meeting, the possibility of bringing Harnett County and/or Montgomery County into the partnership of counties to work together for regional economic development was mentioned for future consideration.

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Chatham and Lee county leaders convene with focus on future
David Powell (right), president of Piedmont Triad Regional Partnership, speaks during a meeting of almost 50 leaders from Chatham and Lee counties gathered at Central Carolina Community College's Chatham County Campus to hear about economic development and discuss their desire to work together for the future.

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