Chamber Chat - Prelude to Progress: Part 2

Jun 18

By Meg Moss

This article is part of a series of stories produced by the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, in conjunction with The Sanford Herald, that aim to educate the Sanford community about Sanford and Lee County’s economic development.

When drought hit a decade ago, communities throughout the state struggled to conserve water. Nearby Raleigh, for example, imposed some of the more stringent rules. With new people flowing into the Triangle every day, many worried that water shortages could become more severe over the years. Water rationing was everywhere. Except in Sanford. The problem was convincing locals not to panic. Larry Thomas, who was Sanford’s public works director at the time stated “we tried to get it across to the public that we had plenty of water and, it’s being recycled.’” How could Sanford have so much water? Thomas credits community visionaries, who made tough decisions decades ago that laid the foundation for success. In the case of water, it was building a new, state-of-the-art processing plant way out in the country. Our current system pulls water out of the Cape Fear River, from a location where it’s most plentiful, and can move 12 million gallons per day through a filtration facility that was built with room to expand. Another advanced, expandable facility built about the same time treats wastewater and returns it to the Deep River roughly 11 miles upstream from the filtration plant, preserving water in a sort of endless recycling loop. It means that Sanford has plenty of water and is good at sharing it for the benefit of the region. Sanford, needing only 4.5 million gallons per day, already treats the wastewater of Goldston, a small Chatham County town. Last December, the Golden LEAF Foundation awarded the City of Sanford a $4 million grant to extend sewer nine miles to the Moncure Megasite. And in early March, Sanford contracted with Pittsboro to treat up to 2 million gallons of wastewater, beginning May 2018. It may seem like a no-brainer now, but back when the water debate began, the new plant was a controversial idea that faced plenty of opposition.

And the same could be said for Raleigh Executive Jetport, Lee County’s regional airport serving the Research Triangle Region. When the jetport opened in 2000, it quickly became a local gem. About 150 corporate and private planes are currently based on the field — along with a North Carolina Forest Service forest fighting hub, several aviation-related companies and one of the nation’s oldest flying clubs offering flight instruction and plane rentals for about 440 members. Raleigh Exec contributes $32 million annually to the local economy, a figure that will grow, with new hangars added recently for private planes and an expansion of the corporate area starting this spring. But when it was first proposed to replace a much smaller airport in town, opposition grew quickly. “There were so many people against that airport,” recalls Sanford Mayor Chet Mann. “But when you look at the tax base it created and the opportunities it presented, it’s been one of the greatest things that’s ever happened in Lee County.

The most recent example of infrastructure improvements is Streetscape, a major project that transformed Sanford’s dated downtown. The $6.5 million initiative created the kind of commercial environment that draws visitors and investment. Mann says investments like Streetscape pay off. Even with past successes like the water system and jetport, Streetscape wasn’t an easy sell. Why? Infrastructure doesn’t always sound very glamorous. But it is critical for a city’s long- term. But there’s no guarantee infrastructure improvements will pay off right away. Lee County leaders seem undeterred. Past and present leaders agree that Sanford remains an attractive location for business and residents now because local leaders have long understood how important a solid infrastructure is for any community to thrive.

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