Officials celebrate megasite certification

Jun. 20, 2014 @ 05:24 PM

Chatham County officials excitedly kicked off a new stage of Siler City history Friday morning, with a press conference on the new megasite there followed by a tour of the site.

The Chatham Randolph Megasite received official certification from the state last week, becoming the largest industrial park in the state at about 1,818 acres. Officials hope to bring in an automobile plant, which they say would provide hundreds of jobs by itself — not to mention that auto plants tend to create six or seven jobs in secondary industries for every job created directly by the plant.

"The impact will ripple in a positive way through the county, state and region," Siler City Mayor John Grimes said.

The six or seven secondary jobs would include everything from more low-wage jobs like waitresses and cooks to higher-paying jobs with vendors and contractors associated with the plant, like transportation and manufacturing.

To top it all off, Duke Energy also kicked in another $100,000 — in addition to resources it has already contributed to the site — on Friday, "to further accelerate the preparation of the property," according to a press release.

Grimes said he has watched his town go through hard times over the years, but that he thinks this will turn things around for the small town. Walter Petty, chairman of the Chatham County Commissioners who lives in nearby Bonlee, agreed that Siler City will be getting some much-needed help from the megasite, which is to the west of town and also stretches into Randolph County somewhat.

"We're truly re-writing history today," Petty said.

The Randolph County Commissioners wrote a letter in support of the site and sent a representative Friday to join the gaggle of other public and private sector bigwigs gathered outside the Siler City town hall. Rep. Robert Reieves II (D-Lee/Chatham) and Sen. Valerie Foushee (D-Chatham/Orange) were there, promising to support the site in Raleigh.

On the other side of the political aisle, and with more clout, N.C. Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Guilford) and U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) have also pledged their support, officials said Friday.

The site's owners, construction magnate D.H. Griffin and beverage distributor Tim Booras, were also there Friday with family members and business representatives, showing their support for the plans to attract an auto manufacturer to their land.

The site isn't fully ready to go, however, still needing further utilities and rail, although Chatham County Economic Development Corporation President Dianne Reid said those steps are under way.The N.C. Department of Transportation is reportedly also looking at how to best connect the massive site directly to U.S. 421. Despite its unfinished nature, the megasite has been ranked among the top three potential sites in the South for a major automaker.

Helping matters, Reid said, Norfolk Southern Railroad "has designated the site as a prime site" and will look at connecting the area directly to major shipping and trucking hubs across the country. Important port cities like New York, Cleveland, Baltimore, Charleston, S.C., Jacksonville, Fla., Savannah, Ga. and Hampton Roads, Va., are all within a few hundred miles.