The Chatham County Commissioners narrowly approved an option Monday to purchase a 1,818 acre site, known as the megasite, in hopes of attracting a major manufacturer.
The Chatham County Commissioners voted 3-2 to enter into a contract with the owners of the site for a one-year option to bring in business. After that time the county would have the option to purchase all or a portion of the land, which is currently privately owned.
The county’s main focus so far has been to attract an automobile manufacturer but commissioner Diana Hales, who voted against the option, wanted to open it up to any large industry that would be interested.
She noted that there is a lot of competition with other municipalities around the country to attract a major auto manufacturer.
“My concern is that can we have a split focus, can we have a focus that says yes, we will do our best to pursue somehow getting the winning lottery ticket that says, you Siler City, over everyone else is going to be selected for auto company plant,” said Hales.
Many residents of Siler City spoke in favor of the county purchasing the site, including Mayor John Grimes who said it could help the struggling economy in the town.
“President Kennedy said that a rising tide lifts all ships, almost,” said Grimes, “Well our tides gone out in Siler City, the jobs are gone, so we need another tide to come in.”
Commissioner Karen Howard was concerned there wasn’t enough concrete information, such as a detailed timeline or private appraisal, to make a decision.
“I understand that this is a risk and people have said, oh if you understand business, you take risk but presumably you take a calculated risk and to say that a risk is calculated you need all the background, you need all these questions answered,” said Howard.
“I’m quite frankly stunned by the ease of which some people have come to the decision that this is right,” said Howard.
Commissioner Walter Petty agreed that the purchase of the property was a risk but a risk worth taking.
“The majority of people in this county do not have any objection to us taking this risk and it is a risk because it may not amount to anything,” said Petty. “They see it as economic development and investment in economics and the potential to bring jobs here.”
Howard argued that even though most people that came to the meeting spoke in favor, there was no way to know how everyone in the county felt.
The funds to purchase the option, $540,654, will come from funds that have already been earmarked for economic development. If the county decides to buy the land in the future, even a portion, it will cost at least $15 million.
The one year property option will give the county until June 30, 2017 to attract a manufacturer.