BUSINESS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Chatham County enjoys a prime business location and rich in- dustrial diversity that bodes well for its future economic health. Maintaining the traditional while pur-suing the innovative is a trademark of Chatham County noticeable in its industrial variety and economic development strategies.
Firmly planted agricultural roots, a strong manufacturing base, innovative new endeavors and outward growth from North Carolina's Research Triangle Park create a dynamic mix of commerce in Chatham County. The economic future of the area continues to brighten in an environment of expanding population and diversified opportunities.
The Research Triangle Park, adjacent to Chatham's northern borders, has long been the source of high-paying research and medical positions for Chatham County residents. This area is known for information technology and computing strongholds such as IBM and is attached to several major North Carolina universities. Chatham County's up-and-coming biotech businesses such as Biolex in Pittsboro are springing outward from the Research Triangle. More and more of these companies are finding in Chatham ample space, a convenient location, a business-friendly environment and a well-trained work force.
Exciting developments, such as the creation of two new industrial parks in Chatham County are in the works to entice more of these high-tech industries to locate here. Nanotechnology and pervasive computing businesses, as well as many other specialized fields, hope to locate near neighboring universities less than an hour from Chatham including: University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Greensboro, A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and North Carolina Central University and Duke University in Durham. Pittsboro's newest industrial park, mere miles from several of these institutions, will draw on the expansion plans of start-ups in these areas. A new industrial park is also in the works for Siler City. Automotive parts manufacturers have expressed interest in relocating to Chatham County for its convenient location in the center of North Carolina and as an excellent base for any East Coast operation. New enterprises in the area are tapping into Chatham's rich, artistic talent pool. Already Chatham County is known for its thriving retail shops composed of antiques and artists selling handmade wares in Chatham's many historic storefronts.
An organized effort to increase these offerings is simultaneously achieving two goals: restoring historic downtowns and providing a new source of employment and revenue to the area. The North Carolina Arts Incubator (N.C. Arts) is taking advantage of the substantial space provided by Siler City's three historic districts and the cultural focus on art that is imbedded within Chatham County's heritage. The incubator is helping to create even more shops and educational hotspots for budding artist colonies composed of artisans from all over the country. Already, N.C. Arts controls more space than any other arts incubator in the nation. New artist studios in the works include centers for blacksmithing and glassblowing. On the drawing board are loft apartments, student housing and a civic center.
A highly educated work force, incentives tied to capital investment and job creation, and a constantly upgrading transportation network make Chatham County an attractive option for opening shop. The area's vital economy has ensured a high quality of life for Chatham County residents. According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Chatham County recently ranked first in the state for median family income at $66,100 and fourth for per capita personal income at $30,380.
While new areas expand and grow, Chatham County holds fast to more traditional sources of income. Agriculture is still a major business enterprise with nearly 1,000 farms annually bringing in $138 million. Hogs, beef and dairy cattle, broilers, and chicken make up the millions of heads of livestock foraging the rural landscape. Tobacco, cotton, soybeans, corn, small grains and hay fill more than 20,000 acres of Chatham County's picturesque 707 square miles. Chatham's lovely forests have not only been a draw for recreation lovers at places like Jordan Lake, but also a boon to business with a healthy lumber industry that has sustained families here since Chatham's beginnings. Specialty farming such as growing organic vegetables is a trend in the area showcased by the many farmer's markets, berry patches and even wineries.
From high-end steel products to industrial machinery, manufacturing industries are a Chatham County mainstay. Major poultry processors and textile manufacturers such as Townsend Foods and Honeywell continue to prosper in Chatham County.
Chatham County builds on these traditional markets, creates new ones and continues to magnetize advanced technological industries with the help of two key org- anizations: Chatham County Economic Development Corporation and Chatham County United Chamber of Commerce. The development corporation is an agency that works to attract new business to the area while helping retain and expand existing industry. The Chamber helps to facilitate a dialogue among businesses in the area and offers a series of courses with business-related topics. The Chatham Chamber also acts as a public-relations specialist, a legislative representative, an information bureau and a research and marketing professional for its members.