Chatham County is a lesson in contrasts. It's a place where traditional roots run deep and folks value their agrarian heritage while welcoming an influx of immigrants and a new technological era.
Chatham County government's primary concern is meeting the needs of a changing demographic while preserving the charm and neighborliness of small-town Southern life.
Urban sprawl from the county's neighboring cities such as Chapel Hill into Chatham's lovely bedroom communities like Pittsboro - mixed with a burgeoning Hispanic population drawn to the textile and manufacturing plants in the county - have made Chatham the second-fastest growing county in the state. Govern-ment is stepping up to meet these new needs in the same way it has tackled its problems for generations: neighbor helping neighbor.
The people in Chatham County are the area's greatest asset, and residents are noted for their community involvement. Chatham County is still in many ways a rural Southern community where people know each other and pull together. Nowhere is this spirit more evident than in the way the established community has welcomed the Hispanic people as they weave their way into traditional Chatham culture.
You'll find citizens involved in every aspect of civic life: helping immigrant children learn to read English, fighting fires, backing up law enforcement in the volunteer rescue squad, and donating their energy and money to charitable causes. One such example is the Relay for Life. Chatham County scored third in the nation for funds raised in the 2003 Relay for Life when compared to similar-size communities.
Originally Pittsborough, Pittsboro was designated as the county seat in 1787, and it marks the geographic center of North Carolina. Its historic courthouse, the focal point of the town, is surrounded by one-of-a-kind shops that offer everything from antiques to artifacts from South Africa. Chatham County government operates here under the direction of an appointed chief executive officer and a five-member board of commissioners. Leaders representing districts are elected at large.
Siler City is located on U.S. Route 64 and U.S. Route 421, and this historic town of 7,000 is a showplace for some of the county's architectural marvels. The town, which began as a plantation, is a visual treat of Queen Anne, Victorian and Colonial Revival styles. The post office contains a mural that depicts the founding crossroads, and the city hall is a granite-veneer landmark.
A council-manager form of government with seven commissioners and a mayor direct services for safety and recreation, police protection, water distribution and waste disposal. Leaders are particularly proud of the variety of recreational resources within the area.
Several other picturesque towns are interspersed throughout the pastoral landscape, each offering unique shops, services and historical treasures.
County government is working with the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation to attract new business to Chatham's west side. Offering tax breaks concurrent with the number of jobs created is one of Chatham's recent solutions. Chatham is also developing a conveniently located 480-acre stretch of land owned by the county into an industrial park for Chatham's west side. This will help the area catch up to new development plans on the east, which include attracting expanding business from the county's adjacent Research Triangle Park. Chatham County provides an enthusiastic, well-trained and highly dedicated work force, as well as a rich diversity of people.
The goal of county government is not only to provide new jobs but also to secure high-paying ones for the area's rising population.
The state of North Carolina estimates that the population will grow 20.3 percent in the next decade, making the total population of the county upwards of 60,000. Those comprising the increase include the spillover of prosperous, highly educated workers with positions in the Research Triangle Park. These sophisticated neighbors are finding in Chatham County the high quality of small-town life close enough to the amenities of the cities in which they work.
Another growing segment of the population is immigrants from Mexico who are attracted to the manufacturing and textile positions available here.
These newest residents are worlds removed from the turbulent mixture of the county's earliest settlers: British loyalists and rebels. But deeply ingrained in Chatham County history is a practice of welcoming newcomers and working together to achieve common goals.
As a British Parliament member, Sir William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham, befriended the colonists. This avid defen-der of American rights is the name- sake for Chatham County, which was founded in 1771. Records show settlers of European origin coming to the county as early as the mid-1700s, including a Quaker settlement in 1751.
Chatham County history can be felt in its wealth of historic buildings and in its people. Many of those in Chatham County can trace their roots back for generations here, and this remains an important flavor of Chatham.
Maintaining its roots and changing with the pace of the modern world is a characteristic that keeps local families here for centuries and attracts those searching for a better life from all corners of the globe.