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Major expansion projects announced at Raleigh Exec Jetport
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Monday was a big day for aviation in Lee County.

Two major expansion projects were announced at the Raleigh Exec Jetport — the groundbreaking for a the North Terminal Hangar and a ribbon cutting for the opening of sewer service.

Several dozen city, county and state officials attended the announcement, which took place at the facility which was opened more than two decades ago. Officials said both projects would help with the growth of aviation in Lee County and with business expansion as more large companies locate in the region.

“What a great day this is in aviation at the Raleigh Executive Airport,” Carter Keller, Airport Authority chairman said. “We couldn’t have done this without a great partnership, without our partners, the Sanford mayor (Chet Mann), the Sanford City Council, the Lee County Commissioners, Chairman Kirk Smith, Rep. John Sauls, Sen. (Jim) Burgin, Scott Hamilton, Bobby Walston, the Sanford-Lee County Regional Airport Authority — both past and present members — a great construction team, Sanford Contractors, who are doing the design and build, and our Airport Manager Bob Heuts.”

Keller said the day marked a celebration for two unique features at the airport.

“One that opens the opportunity for long-term growth and the other that will allow the airport to be more of a full-service provider to the aviation public. For 20 years, the airport has struggled with a limiting septic system. Building hangars and other opportunities were always hampered by the lack of sewer capacity.”

The new sewer lines will be tied to the city’s sewer system, according to Keller.

“Three governments and the private sector, along with the Golden LEAF Foundation worked closely to make public sewer for the airport a reality,” he said. “This game-changing project is another example of how much can be accomplished when everyone works together.”

In addition to the sewer project, a groundbreaking was held for a new aircraft storage facility in the new corporate area. The new hangar — and future ones — should be able to house larger aircraft. Keller said larger aircraft should equate to larger investment in the region and more opportunities.

Bobby Walston, director of the Division of Aviation for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, also spoke about the additions to the airport.

“As I was reflecting on this airport and the change and the growth, I remembered the Sanford Airport down the road — it had a lot of challenges,” he said. “It was landlocked and it did not have many options for growth. This still feels like a new airport too, but it opened up here in 2000. It’s incredible the impact and activity out here. It’s really one of our premier airports in North Carolina. I know that if I was in business and day-to-day operating an airplane, I would look hard here, like many do. It’s well thought out, well constructed and well run.”

According to Walston, the RaleighExec Jetport has a significant impact on the region. The airport generates $63 million annually in output. It supports nearly 500 jobs providing nearly $20 million in personal income and contributes almost $2.5 million in state and local taxes each year.

“The airport connects this region, this county to the global market,” Walston continued. “Hangars in North Carolina are really important at the state’s 72 airports. We have about 3,000 airplanes based at these airports representing almost a billion dollars in assets alone.”

Scott Hamilton, president and CEO of the Golden LEAF Foundation, which helped provide grants for the projects, spoke about the importance of the projects. He noted that LEAF is an acronym for Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation.

“Our board affirmed that all projects that we fund should have a clear path to job creation,” he said. “I’m happy to be here today and be a partner in this project. The tax base and job opportunities all bring what I refer to as hope, opportunity and dignity. That’s what our mission is about is helping people have that hope, helping people have that opportunity and helping people have dignity. We are very pleased to be a partner in this project.”

Lee County Commission Chairman Kirk Smith said the projects are important to future growth.

“The airport is a key component of our economic development,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate to put it on this side of the county. The preliminary plans for it happened many years before I got on the commission and put it in a very nice spot. Of course, it’s called the Raleigh Exec Jetport and for anyone searching for Raleigh, it comes up on a search. It’s very strategically placed. The airport is an incentive in and of itself for individuals looking to build here.”

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann agreed.

“This infrastructure improvement will allow some serious growth out here,” he said. “In the past, we’ve had 80-500 employee opportunities that have had to pass because of lack of sewer. We’re going to see a big return on investment. This airport is going to continue to grow. We like to call it the front door of our community. We’re excited about it.”

SAGA hires new economic development manager

Washington native John Cotton Dean became the new economic development manager for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance on Monday.

Dean is replacing former manager Michael Smith, who stepped down in January to become president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation. Smith’s resignation was the last in a long list of changes to SAGA as the organization’s top brass shuffled roles.

The internal reorganization began in August when Jimmy Randolph became CEO, overseeing both the Sanford Area Growth Alliance and the Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year, in preparation for retirement, Bob Joyce became senior director of Business Retention and Expansion, shifting his focus from recruiting new businesses to working with the county’s existing businesses.

Joyce is still working “nearly full-time,” but once the new economic development manager Dean settles in, he may start slowing down, said SAGA spokesman Austin Thomas.

“We feel very confident about the position we’re in right now,” Thomas said. “We still have a lot of great momentum. Even with some of the internal shuffling, we feel like it’s been business as usual.”

Recent news about a new life-sciences company coming to Sanford seems to prove Thomas right. Gov. Roy Cooper and the SAGA staff celebrated yet another economic win in April when they announced that San Diego-based company Abzena would open a new facility in the Central Carolina Enterprise Park. The facility is expected to create 325 jobs offering an average annual salary of $60,000.

As economic development manager, Dean will continue SAGA’s efforts to recruit new businesses to Lee County. His responsibilities include site identification, responding to requests for information, client and local government presentations and post-recruitment support, according to a news release.

Originally from eastern Washington state, Dean is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute, and earned dual master’s degrees from Iowa State University in Community and Regional Planning and Sustainable Agriculture. Dean brings more than 15 years of professional experience in strengthening rural and regional economies, including work in Louisiana, Oregon and Iowa.

Prior to joining SAGA, John served as executive director of Regional Innovation for Louisiana Central, where he worked to increase economic prosperity across a 10-parish region in central Louisiana. He also led the organization’s business retention and expansion program, working directly with companies like Proctor & Gamble, Weyerhaeuser, Drax Biomass and Hunt Forest Products to expand their operations in the region.

“SAGA’s public-private partnership model has delivered unprecedented job growth and tax base expansion for Lee County over the past two years,” CEO Randolph said in a news release. “John (Dean)’s diverse experience and leadership roles in a regional public-private partnership make him an excellent fit for the SAGA organization. We are excited to have him join our team.”

Dean said in a news release he is looking forward to working at SAGA, “especially during a time of exciting economic activity.”

“There continues to be tremendous opportunity for future growth in Lee County,” he said. “My wife and I are excited to put down roots in the community.”

County reports 65 new COVID-19 cases in past week

Sixty-five new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past week, according to the Lee County Health Department.

That’s an increase of 10 cases since April 26, according to a Health Department release issued Monday.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, the county has reported a total of 5,966 cases of COVID-19 and 76 deaths, the release said.

Vaccines are available to those 16 and older, but only by appointment. To register for a shot, call 919-842-5744 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. To register in Spanish, call 919-718-4640 and select option 8.

A pre-registration form is available online at leecountync.gov/covid19, the release said. Once the form is completed, county employees will make contact to schedule a time.

Anyone who feels sick should stay home away from others until a COVID-19 test is given. Those who do not have a primary care physician can find a testing site at covid19.ncdhhs.gov/about-covid-19/find-my-testing-place.

In the past week, Gov. Roy Cooper began to ease some of the COVID-19 restrictions including the mandate to wear a mask outdoors.

Residents should continue practicing the three Ws: wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth when indoors; wait six feet or more away from others; and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

Harnett woman dies in fire

LILLINGTON — A Spring Lake woman died Saturday when she was unable to escape a fire in her mobile home, according to the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire was reported at 9:36 a.m. at 11983 N.C. 210 South, a Sheriff’s Office release said. The caller said a person was trapped inside, the release said.

Firefighters arrived to find fire in a bedroom of the residence. Doris Chisum, 68, was in the bedroom, but firefighters were unable to reach her, the release said.

Chisum lived with her brother, Donald Barnes, who told authorities he was working outside when he heard smoke detectors inside the residence.

He said he tried to get inside, but the smoke and flames kept him from reaching Chisum, the release said.

The fire is believed to be accidental in nature, the release said.

Energy leaders discuss Sanford's renewable future

Leaders from Duke Energy, N.C. Electric Cooperatives and other area businesses met virtually Monday to discuss Sanford’s clean energy future.

During an hour-long public policy lunch hosted by the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, the panel answered questions about the current state of the energy grid, how renewable energy is being incorporated and work in Sanford and Lee County.

The energy grid includes everything from power stations to underground utilities that deliver energy to the hot water heater in a home, said Mark McIntire, Director of Energy and Environmental Affairs for Duke Energy.

Duke Energy and N.C. Electric Cooperatives — both major providers of power in North Carolina, including Lee County — each have big carbon-reduction goals they’re trying to meet in the next few decades. The companies hope to significantly reduced carbon emissions by 2030 and eventually get to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Two major concerns for energy providers as they go green are ensuring systems remain affordable and reliable, McIntire said.

Customer surveys show everyone wants to become more environmentally friendly, said Lee Ragsdale of N.C. Electric Cooperatives. The difference of opinion appears when surveyors start talking about cost.

Keeping energy reliable

Keeping the energy system reliable is also a priority, McIntyre and Ragsdale agreed. As hurricanes increase in frequency and intensity, Duke Energy is focusing on “smart-thinking and self-healing” technology that helps keep light switches working, McIntyre said.

“Increasingly, we think of resilience in the face of extreme weather events,” he said.

Ensuring reliability means investing in tools like distribution automation technology, which can help isolate pieces of the grid for repair instead of having to deal with a systemwide blackout, said Ragsdale.

N.C. Electric Cooperatives is also creating microgrids — small, local electric grids that can provide power for a farm or a neighborhood. Microgrids can operate independently using renewable energy, but also connect to the larger grid when they need to.

“Microgrids are innovative solutions that are becoming more and more economic,” said Ragsdale. “We’re taking measured steps. We’re not racing to embrace all of it, but measured pace to keep costs affordable.”

Ensuring reliability also means investing in technology that helps bolsters renewable energy as companies transition away from natural gas, McIntyre said. Nuclear power could help there, he said. Duke Energy is also looking at installing large banks of batteries connected to the electric grid to help meet demand when renewable energy is unavailable.

“We know renewable energy, as it exists today, it’s likely not going to be able to meet our energy needs when we need them the most,” McIntyre said. “On a cold January morning before the sun comes up, our customers are using the most energy. We need to be able to provide that.”

Incorporating renewable energy

One of the biggest challenges for energy providers right now is adapting the current system for renewable energy. Today’s energy grid, first constructed 100 years ago, was never designed to handle a two-way flow of energy, said McIntire. So parts of it are not necessarily capable of taking in and redistributing solar energy.

Duke Energy is working on programs to provide renewable energy access to people who might not otherwise have it, McIntire said.

“As many as 60% of our customers don’t own their roof, so they may not have the flexibility to install roof solar panels,” he said. “Community solar, for example, is an opportunity for folks who don’t own their own roof to participate in clean energy.”

For non-residential customers, Duke Energy established the Green Source Advantage program to help them meet their own sustainability goals, McIntire said.

Duke Energy and N.C. Electric Cooperatives are also working to make their systems more efficient. For example, smart meters can help increase meter-reading efficiency, provide data to customers and conserve energy, Ragsdale said.

“If we use less, that’s less pollution,” he said. “If we use it (energy) more efficiently, that’s a cleaner solution.”

Employment opportunities

As energy companies move toward renewable energy, they are still in need of engineers, technicians and especially line workers, said Ragsdale. Duke Energy and N.C. Electric Cooperatives each work with community colleges to help people find employment, said Ragsdale.

“Line workers and technicians are top of my list as far as workers we need for the grid,” he said. “Not everyone has to go to college and become an engineer to contribute to the grid. We see a shortage of those workers.”

April Montgomery, director of SWCA Environmental Consultants, also commented that the industry will be in need of people to support offshore wind programs.

“We’re gonna have high demand for biologists, particularly coastal biologists,” Montgomery said. “Offshore wind is going to be a big part, not just of North Carolina’s energy future, but the East Coast in general.”