ORANGE COUNTY – According to the North Carolina Department of Revenue, the local economy is showing signs of improvement.

The year-end results for Orange County show taxable retail sales rose seven percent between 2011 and 2012. County Manager Frank Clifton says trends are starting to return to where they were before the economic crisis.

“Where people were not spending or holding back on certain expenditures in 2011, they’ve started to move forward in 2012,” Clifton says.

Clifton also says opening smaller shops in the Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough areas have led to growth. He says some of those businesses have grown out of plans for the future.

“The Edge Project in Chapel Hill, and then the hotel project down in Carrboro, that I think are stimulating activity in those areas, and you know, you may have some small businesses that are doing better as a result of some of those activities,” Clifton says.

In addition to projects around town, Clifton says there’s an opportunity for economic expansion across the interstates that crisscross Orange County. He says with the addition of utilities in these areas, opportunities for retail and even small-scale manufacturing will become available.

Despite the economic growth, Orange County still finished behind Durham County last year. Durham experienced an 8.1 percent jump in retail sales between 2011 and 2012. Because Orange County prides itself on homegrown, local businesses, many of the big box stores tend to set-up just across the county-line…Like the Wal-Mart off of 15-501 in Durham. Clifton says the county may have to make some changes.

“The reality is, is that those types of businesses do contribute to the local economy, and if they’re in the adjacent counties, they subtract from the local economy in our county,” he says.

Chapel Hill Economic Development Officer Dwight Bassett agrees with Clifton.

Bassett says, “I hate to see us lose any additional opportunity because once those opportunities are lost, unless our residential market were to grow dramatically, we have limited future opportunity.”

Bassett says developing some large retailers alongside smaller stores will help to benefit local businesses by drawing in more customers. He says redevelopment is important as well.

“I think it’s important that we facilitate that conversation, that we figure out what role the town can play in making sure that we, excuse the pun, pave the road to make sure that they can move forward and we can capture market share in a timely way,” Bassett says.

Talks of a facelift for the Holiday Inn and Park Apartments around Ephesus Church and Elliott Road will begin Thursday at the Ephesus Church-Fordham Future Focus Public Information from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Extraordinary Ventures on South Elliott Road.   Basset says the new owners of Village Plaza are also hoping to improve on their three acre development. In total, he says eight to ten million dollars worth of improvements could be made in that district.