Face off: County managers reflect on regional advancements and future plans

Face off: County managers reflect on regional advancements and future plans

2023-11-17T13:56:58-05:00November 17th, 2023|Economy, Face Off, Government, Infrastructure, Raleigh-Durham, Transportation|

Writer: Eleana Teran

3 min read November 2023 — Lee and Chatham counties are making strides under the leadership of Lisa Minter and Dan LaMontagne, their respective county managers. In interviews with Invest:, they offered insights into the counties’ contribution to the future of regional growth.

Minter highlighted Lee County’s focus on community-enhancing projects, like the new multi-sport complex and library, while LaMontagne discussed Chatham County’s promising economic landscape, marked by significant corporate investments and strategic infrastructure planning. Together, they provide a clear picture of the challenges and achievements in these counties, reflecting on their strategies for driving growth and addressing the needs of their communities in a rapidly evolving region. 

What are the most significant accomplishments and recent developments for the county?

Lisa Minter: Our capital projects continue to be some of the key highlights for our community. The multi-sport complex is being constructed and we recently approved the contractors for that project. We continue to work on our new library as well. The design phase has been completed and we are moving into the construction phase. Additionally, we are ensuring that the everyday functions of the county run smoothly. Our economic development group, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, is working hard and there are many projects in the works, but given the state of the economy, it’s hard to say how those projects will develop. We also have a plan to upgrade the local Central Carolina Community College, but the funding isn’t there yet. Once that is secured, we will have a state-of-the-art facility with the E. Eugene Moore Manufacturing and Biotech Solutions Center. Industry-wise, pharmaceuticals have a big presence here. We also recently worked with Caterpillar and they were able to purchase an old building. Our Raleigh Executive Jetport also has plans to potentially expand. There is a lot going on in Lee County across the board. 

Dan LaMontagne: The economic landscape in Chatham County is quite promising at the moment and we’re optimistic about the near future. Our endeavors in large economic development projects are now bearing fruit. Notably, companies like FedEx and Coca-Cola have established a presence here. We’ve captured the interest of site selection firms and other economic development initiatives in the region. Over the next one to two years, we anticipate the rollout of several large projects and the initiation of their hiring processes. Recruitment has already begun for some roles but as these facilities approach completion, we expect a significant uptick in workforce demand.

What are the most pressing infrastructure needs in the region? 

Minter: We have been focusing on more quality-of-life projects because, for the last few years, all we have worked on is education projects. We’ve put a lot of money into our parks, playgrounds, and mountain bike trails (some of which are nationally registered), as well as the $40 million multi-sport complex and the new library. Our Parks and Recreation Department and Library are enhancing a lot of programs and facilities, which has stimulated the community. We want our departments to get out into the community so people realize what our services are and what is available. However, we are a small county and we aren’t in the infrastructure business like many others. We sold our water infrastructure to the City of Sanford a couple of years ago, so that isn’t as much our responsibility. We don’t do roads in our county, so our biggest focus moving forward is schools. Our high schools are facing some capacity issues, but our other schools are not and we believe that is because of the increase in charter and private schools in the area. Our biggest challenge will continue to be schools. 

LaMontagne: There has been discussion about expanding public transportation. However, since many businesses haven’t started their hiring processes, we haven’t observed significant movement into those areas yet. But we anticipate this will change. Public transportation typically responds to demand. To illustrate, some of our current sites are remote with no existing public transportation due to the low population. But as people move in, our transportation system will adapt, expanding to meet those needs. For instance, when VinFast chose the Moncure area of Chatham County, an unincorporated zone, we initiated a small area plan. We conducted community outreach meetings and devised a strategy to accommodate the 7,000-plus jobs and the incoming residents. This plan was recently presented to our board and we hope for its approval in the coming weeks.

What is your vision for the county in the near future?

Minter: We will continue to grow and anticipate an economic development announcement, a big park project, and a groundbreaking for our new library. We will keep analyzing our capital improvement projects, as it will continue to be constant growth for us for the foreseeable future. Lee County is on the map and has a lot to offer, so be sure to visit us soon and get it on all the excitement.

We are seeing a lot more housing and apartments coming in due to all the growth occurring regionally, and we are trying to work with that growth. There are more housing units approved; however, they aren’t getting started at the same time, which makes it easier to adjust to the growth. The impact of the extra housing hasn’t been felt yet, but we are working with various agencies to ensure we have things coming down the pike so we can handle the growth. Our schools still have capacity, so we are ahead of the ball on that one right now. 

LaMontagne: Over the next two to five years, I foresee a transformational and historic period for our county’s business community. As we secure more utility capacity in Chatham County, opportunities will flourish. To prepare, we’re staying attuned to these changes. In local government, we typically don’t staff up in anticipation but we stand ready to respond as demands arise. Alongside this, we recognize the impending need for expanded public facilities. This includes broadening our social services, enlarging our schools and even constructing new ones. These developments are integral to our capital improvement plan, ensuring we are well-prepared for the future.

In the Triangle area, it’s always a challenge to predict growth patterns. Just when we think growth might plateau, it continues to surge. This is indeed a historic moment for Chatham County. We understand that growth is inevitable and our focus is on ensuring that it is organized and intelligent. We believe we’ve been successful in managing growth so far and are enthusiastic about the county’s future as well as that of the broader region and North Carolina as a whole. Landing two of the state’s largest projects within a year is a testament to this exciting period. It’s genuinely a privilege to be part of Chatham County during such pivotal times.

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