Writer: Felipe Rivas
2 min read June 2021- As the aftermath of the pandemic continues to rearrange and disrupt the business landscape across most of North Carolina, Wake County remains a powerhouse for business expansion and population growth in the state. Though anchored by dynamic, business-friendly cities such as Raleigh and Durham, peripheral Wake County towns and communities just outside of the Research Triangle are positioned to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 disruption.
Despite a challenging period, towns such as Fuquay-Varina, Garner and Apex are experiencing healthy economic development activity and residential growth as they evolve from bedroom communities into micro business districts within an already lively market.
Located 30 minutes away from Raleigh proper, the town of Fuquay-Varina experienced notable growth throughout the pandemic landscape, Mayor John Byrne told Invest:. “From an operations standpoint, we didn’t stop doing business, we just learned how to do it differently,” Byrne said. “As for development, we were able to continue accepting new projects and proposals from our development partners via different digital platforms. Our growth was not negatively impacted by the pandemic. In fact, we experienced an expansion, in particular from the residential market. We had a record year in 2020 and we’re on pace to have another record year in 2021.”
The growth of the town has been characterized as “explosive” by city leaders as new housing developments reach a record-high. “It’s been pretty explosive,” Fuquay-Varina Town Manager Adam Mitchell told WRAL. New home building permits for the first half of 2021 are rivaling the total of numbers of permits filed in 2020, according to WRAL. “Our housing market has been booming and that’s what’s been fueling the growth and the change in Fuquay-Varina,” Mitchell said.
Leveraging the inherent value of being in proximity to the Research Triangle, the accessibility of a well-educated local workforce and tapping into growing industries such as logistics and distribution, life sciences, and IT and technology has proved to be a successful economic development tactic for these Wake County towns.
“The fact that we are located in the Triangle, so very close to Downtown Raleigh, a seven-mile commute, is a strong advantage for us,” Town of Garner Mayor Ken Mashburn told Invest:. “For years, Garner was known as a bedroom community and a blue-collar town. In the 30 or so years that I’ve lived here, it really has changed. It has become more affluent. We’re interested in growing in various sectors. As mentioned, we have some distribution centers. We also have an industrial park. We would like to see some different growth too. Life sciences is a big interest, and some of our surrounding municipalities have been able to entice those companies to come to them. We’d like to see how we can do better in that regard,” he said.
“Our access to a well-educated workforce with innovative talents working in partnership with internationally renowned research universities and an efficient local government, gives Fuquay-Varina a competitive advantage for attracting advanced manufacturing, research and development, life sciences, and IT and technology industries to the community,” Fuquay-Varina’s Byrnes said, echoing Mashburn’s sentiments.
The small-town feel of these municipalities was also a key component of their success throughout the pandemic, town leaders told Invest:. “We are seeing more younger families moving in and taking advantage of what we have to offer, such as the environment that we provide, the community feel,” Town of Apex Mayor Jacques Gilbert told Invest:. “We have a small-town character and I think people are drawn to that. People want to move here and take advantage of it,” he said.
Maintaining the affordability of a small town will be crucial as these municipalities continue to grow. “We’re very serious about that. We want to help to engage the community. In 2020, we started putting an affordable housing plan together. We identified the steering committee, and we adopted the plan. We believe that we can be creative and continue to find solutions for affordable housing as we move forward,” Gilbert said.
Similarly, the town of Fuquay-Varina has been in a yearslong effort to modernize its land-use plan to maintain the affordability factor. “It’s all about planning. Housing affordability comes right out of our land-use plan. The town has spent quite a bit over the last five to 10 years on modernizing our land-use plan. It promotes affordability because it encourages a variety of housing stock in our community. In the last five years, a good amount of new multifamily development has occurred along our major highways. We’ve tried to promote and encourage Downtown living opportunities,” Byrne said. “In addition to new construction, revitalization has been important for Fuquay-Varina for many years. The town respects the past and the history of our community. We’ve tried to do a very good job with historic preservation and in creating a beautiful Downtown District. Land-use is one of the best tools we have to encourage housing affordability,” he said.
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