By Jimmy Randolph
In March, 2021, Site Selection Magazine ranked Sanford, NC, #5 nationally in its top 100 ranking of Micropolitan Areas (population between 10,000 and 49,999) based on “corporate projects landed”, making it the highest ranked community in NC. The magazine editors noted that Sanford has far exceeded the expectations of other predictive economic development rankings which place our community closer to the middle of the pack. Among the projects contributing to this ranking were four of the top 25 job-creating economic development projects in the state during the 2020 fiscal year. Upon completion, projects by Pfizer, Bharat Forge Aluminum USA, Audentes Therapeutics (now Astellas) and Through6 are expected to create over 1000 new jobs, nearly $800 million in new capital investment and generate an average annual payroll of more than $60 million.
The collaborative approach to economic development embodied in the Sanford Area Growth Alliance has been a major factor in our recent success, but at the end of the day, location decisions are based on which site creates the absolute best chance for business success with the least risk. Lee County and Sanford check many of the most critical boxes: homegrown talent with a strong work ethic, an excellent K-14 education system and customized training programs at Central Carolina Community College, and competitive investments by the public to incentivize capital investment and new job creation.
However, before considering any of these other important factors, site selectors must determine whether a community has a suitable physical site available. And infrastructure is absolutely critical to site readiness. Infrastructure may not be the most glamorous topic, but for a given project, reliable infrastructure and capacity for future expansion is often the most decisive factor. If a community cannot provide access to reliable and affordable electricity, water, sewer, broadband, natural gas and transportation, they are unlikely to receive serious consideration for any significant manufacturing project.
Energy, telecommunications, water and wastewater and transportation infrastructure are costly and cumbersome to design, install and maintain. That’s one of the many reasons why effective economic development is truly a team sport. No single organization or governmental entity could effectively assemble the entire ecosystem that is required to support the infrastructure needs of a major manufacturing facility. Reliable and affordable electric service is a good case in point.
The power requirements of a modern manufacturing facility are significant, and despite sophisticated, highly efficient electrical systems, the cost of electricity is a significant part of the cost of doing business for most of our local businesses. Industry partners like Duke Energy and Central Electric Membership Corporation, our local Touchstone Energy Cooperative, are experts at providing the reliable, affordable energy solutions that modern manufacturers expect and demand, and they are a critical part of the economic development success we are currently experiencing.
In a recent interview in the life sciences industry publication, Cell & Gene, the editor asked Don Wuchterl, Senior Vice President, Technical Operations for Audentes about his company’s recent decision to locate their advanced manufacturing facility in Sanford, NC. Among several specific advantages he cited was a strategic alliance with Duke Energy. “Duke Energy One is providing a comprehensive base and emergency power solution for the site including maintenance and operation services. This strategic relationship allows us to take advantage of Duke Energy One’s depth of knowledge and experience in the electrical field while freeing capital funds to redirect to other parts of the project,” Wuchterl said.
Innovative business solutions like Duke Energy One are a win-win for the energy provider and their customers, and this is just one example of the creative infrastructure solutions, both private and public, which have Sanford and Lee County so well-positioned for continued strong growth in our life sciences and advanced manufacturing for years to come.
The Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a roundtable discussion at their monthly Public Policy Luncheon on Monday, May 3rd, to further explore important current topics specific to energy infrastructure, and we encourage you to join us if you are interested in learning more about this aspect of our local economic development ecosystem.