From Triangle to Triad: Anticipated Wolfspeed Chip Factory Adds to New ‘Economic Corridor’ in North Carolina
RALEIGH- A new “economic corridor” focused on “next-generation manufacturing” is emerging in central North Carolina as Durham-based Wolfspeed is expected to announce a new semiconductor plant in Chatham County today.
The deal — which could cost billions of dollars and create 1,800 or more new jobs — adds to a substantial economic development win streak for the state.
Wolfspeed is expected to join VinFast (electric vehicles), Toyota (batteries for electric vehicles) and Boom Supersonic (airliners). These factories are in turn expected to create additional jobs through companies that work with each of the major companies to provide services, supply chain and other needs.
All the actions of the past year lead NC State economist Dr. Michael Walden to call these developments a “rebirth” for the state’s manufacturing sector which over the years has evolved significantly from tobacco, textiles and furniture.
“Wolfspeed’s selection of Chatham County for a semiconductor plant is another piece of an emerging next-generation manufacturing economic corridor stretching from the Triangle to the Triad,” Walden told WRAL TechWire.
“Companies in the corridor will be able to call on skilled workers from the Triangle and the Triad. Businesses form a level of critical mass that will attract similar businesses to access the skilled labor that will be developed.
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Labor is crucial
John Boyd, Jr., a nationally known site selection company whose The Boyd Company has done a lot of business in North Carolina, notes that the availability of labor is one of the main reasons why Wolfspeed chose Chatham County for the chip factory.
“North Carolina’s workforce training program through its stellar community college system is the benchmark in economic development and a key asset in attracting more major players in the technology, EV [electric vehicle] and pharmaceutical,” he says in an exclusive interview. “These industries require a highly skilled workforce, and North Carolina has a workforce training and continuing education infrastructure to provide the human capital side of the equation.”
Boyd also notes that the state is one of the best places to grow (CNBC recently recognized North Carolina as #1 for business) for several reasons beyond labor and technology. training:
- Cost reduction
- Less taxes
- Tax incentives
- Natural resources
Wolfspeed is expected to agree to contract terms with North Carolina that will likely be formally announced Friday morning at a meeting of the state’s Economic Investment Committee. These are expected to range from a state income tax refund for new jobs created, local Chatham County incentives, and funding set aside by the Carolina General Assembly. Nord designed to land so-called “mega site” deals such as VinFast and Toyota.
The state said it would allocate the “sum of one hundred and twelve million five hundred thousand dollars” to secure a commitment from a company with “an eligible project in Chatham County.”
As WRAL TechWire reported in June, such a project would receive a Job Development Investment Grant, JDIG, from the state Economic Investment Board, which would tie a minimum job creation goal 1,800 eligible positions and an investment of at least $4.8 billion in private funds.
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Despite setbacks, growth continues
North Carolina has also suffered setbacks in economic development with the cancellation of some planned job expansions, including a billion-dollar complex in Charlotte. But the North Carolina Department of Commerce says the outlook remains bright for more jobs.
“The business fundamentals that earned North Carolina its reputation as the best place to do business in the United States remain unchanged, and the strength of our business development pipeline reflects that fact,” the NC spokesperson recently said. Commerce, David Rhoades, at WRAL TechWire. “While it is disappointing for a company to change its plans, economic conditions are always dynamic and affect different companies in different ways. For many years, our programs have been designed to operate successfully in this type of environment. North Carolina’s future is bright, and the Department of Commerce will continue to work to create world-class jobs in the state.
It’s also easy to overlook the continued expansion of the state’s booming life sciences sectors, with headlines devoted to manufacturing projects. But recent announcements mean more pharmaceutical jobs — especially in Johnston, Wilson and Pitt counties — not just in the Triangle. In fact, pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk has pledged to create jobs and grow over the next decade under a new agreement with Johnston County.
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Rural counties benefit
The Triangle to Triad corridor means rural counties such as Chatham outside of Wake, Durham, Forsyth and Guilford County will share in the economic benefits of new manufacturing, Walden points out.
For example, Toyota’s new plant is being built in Randolph County, and a newly announced expansion means hundreds of additional jobs. (Boom Supersonic is the exception, having decided to build its factory at Piedmont Triad International Airport.)
Also, says Walden, these factories won’t necessarily add significant housing demand to large metropolitan counties.
“[W]It should not be overlooked what this corridor could do for workers in rural counties north and south of the corridor,” he explains. “Rural workers could continue to live in their area but have a reasonable commute to access jobs in the corridor. Such a mix of rural life and corridor work would avoid housing price pressures in the Triangle and Triad metropolitan areas.
However, housing costs are already rising in Chatham, where median prices are already among the highest in the area. The addition of a Wolfspeed plant and an expected 4,500 workers at the VinFast plant has already prompted county officials to support growth.
But despite the growing pains that can be inflicted in this corridor, Walden stresses that the long-term benefits to the state and its people are significant.
“Corridor manufacturing businesses represent a renaissance in this sector of North Carolina’s economy as it continues its transition from textile, tobacco and furniture-based manufacturing to 21st century manufacturing, providing middle-income jobs to thousands in North Carolina,” he says.
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