Workers examine a vial at
Wyeth-Lederle Vaccines in Sanford
about Lee County:
Pottery Studio Helps Mold Downtown
Why Kids Love
arrival of several industrial
and biotech companies invigorates
County's traditionally robust economy
By Heidi Russell Rafferty
Wyeth-Lederle Vaccines decided to call Lee County home, it
found a host of benefits: a bountiful supply of trained employees,
convenient access to Research Triangle Park and other metropolitan
centers, positive cooperation with local officials — and plenty of
room for growth.
With an expansion plan under
way and the addition of 250 employees by the end of this year, Wyeth
is now poised to become the fourth-largest biotech employer in North
Carolina. Company officials credit their host county with creating an
environment that fosters achievement of their business dreams and
goals. The facility produces components of three vaccines for
“The county is very, very
interested in our success and working with us,” says Brad McNickle,
the human resources director at Wyeth. “Absolutely, the staff is
first rate on doing what it needs to do in order to secure good
corporations to come down here and set up shop.”
Officials at other companies
agree that Lee County provides all the support they could ask for —
training programs at Central Carolina Community College for their
employees, tax incentives for plant expansions and new jobs,
infrastructure for growth and a homegrown labor pool with a strong
work ethic. In addition, the county is centrally located in the state,
a short drive from Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Greensboro and Fayetteville.
Transportation is supported by a network of highways and railways as
well as an airport for corporate jets.
It doesn’t stop there. The
county seat, Sanford, has undergone a downtown renaissance in the past
few years, drawing in urbane crowds in quest of a new hot spot for
cuisine, pottery and other arts. With the added presence of a
professional theater and the renovation of a number of historical
buildings, the downtown has evolved into a thriving business district.
Coupled with the open rural spaces, Sanford makes a nice place to call
home, say newcomers and natives alike.
“I always look at it as a
nice hub of a wheel,” McNickle says. “We have the opportunity to
draw from quite a large area.”
Wealth of Resources
Lee County, which is at the
southern base of the Research Triangle Region, may be in RTP’s
shadow but it’s no bedroom community, say spokesmen from various
companies and economic development officials. In fact, they predict
that within the next 10 years industry will continue to balloon and
people will call the county home in growing numbers.
Sanford was named the
seventh-best town in America for corporate facilities, according to a
survey recently released by Site Selection magazine. Its rankings were
based on the number of new and expanded corporate facilities that had
been established since 1998. That’s impressive for a county with a
long history of successful enterprises, most notably in brickmaking.
Two major brickmakers have long called Sanford home – General Shale,
which was founded as Cherokee Brick in 1913 and boasts two Lee County
facilities; and Lee Brick and Tile, which was founded in 1946.
Together, they produce in excess of three million bricks annually for
commercial and residential use.
Lee County’s population is
projected to grow 12 percent over the next few years, from 49,040 in
2000 to an estimated 54,933 in 2005. Besides its steady workforce, Lee
County offers all the quality of life that one would find in a
metropolitan setting with a rural flavor.
It’s easier now than ever
to get to the capital city of Raleigh from Sanford, thanks to the
completion of four-lane improvements to U.S. 1. Improvements are under
way to N.C. 87 south to Fayetteville, and the area also connects to
other parts of the state via U.S. 421 and 15/501. The proximity to RTP,
in particular, makes it easy for employees to move their families to
Lee County, says Nagib Nasr, plant manager of Moen Inc., a plumbing
“It makes us be able to
attract a lot of working couples, where one person is at the Triangle
and the other is down here. My wife is a physician and works at Rex
Hospital. I work here in Sanford, and we live halfway in between,”
Golf enthusiasts tout the
county’s proximity to Pinehurst. In addition, five highly rated golf
courses, all open to the public, are in Lee County or in the immediate
vicinity. Nature lovers point to nearby Jordan Lake, Raven Rock State
Park, Kiwanis Park and San-Lee Park as their recreational outlets.
Canoeists journey down Deep River, whose banks are dotted with
The essentials of health
care and education are readily available. Central Carolina Hospital,
with 137 beds, has about 100 medical staff specializing in a number of
fields, including everything from general family practice to vascular
surgery to oncology. The acute care facility delivers services as far
as western Harnett County and eastern Chatham County. The hospital
recently affiliated with Tenet Healthcare Corp., a publicly held
company based in Santa Barbara, Calif. Tenet owns and operates 116
acute care hospitals that employ 113,750 people in 17 states.
Central Carolina’s close
alliance with other major healthcare providers, such as Duke
University Medical Center and UNC hospitals, enables it to offer
services that many community hospitals do not provide. The hospital
also owns and operates the Interim HealthCare franchise in Lee County,
which offers home health services.
Lee County schools work
closely with Central Carolina Community College, as well as local
industries, to develop the upcoming workforce. The area is also near
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, N.C.
State University and Campbell University.
The county is rich with
entrepreneurial spirit. Residents have launched several well-known,
successful entrepreneurial ventures: Golden Corral restaurants, The
Pantry convenience stores, Capital Bank, Static Control Components
Inc. and J.T. Davenport & Sons Inc., to name a few.
Sanford has never been a
one-horse town, says Tommy Mann Jr., president of Central Welding and
Industrial Supply. Diverse businesses continue to pump the local
economy and encourage more migration, a core philosophy to economic
development that has been in place since the 1960s, he says.
Mann, whose company has been
in town since 1967, says that when Sanford was largely a brick and
textile town, local business leaders had the foresight to seek out a
variety of companies and bring them in. The approach has made the area
virtually recession-proof, Mann says.
“If automotive was slow,
the brick business or some other type of industrial company was still
busy, and maybe even hiring. So that diversification — the fact that
we were not all automotive or cosmetic or a singular industry — kept
us from having huge layoffs,” Mann says.
Ray Epley, industrial
relations officer at Central Carolina Community College, says that as
the traditional industries of brick and textile became more automated
during the years, diversification took on an even stronger importance
for the workforce.
“They used to have to
handle each brick when stacking them. Now they have a machine to make
and stack the brick.
. . . In textiles,
you used to go into factories and see 40-50 people. Now with high-tech
yarn producers, you have to look long and hard to see a person,”
Mann says business leaders
40 years ago were very deliberate about their recruitment approach.
Former chamber executive Hal Siler formed a group of 11 businesspeople
and assigned each a special area of knowledge, such as transportation
or education. When company representatives visited, they were treated
to individualized tours on each area, according to Mann. “They’d
come and get to see the whole dog and pony show,” he says.
The local recruiters were
careful about the types of industries they attempted to bring in, Mann
says. “They didn’t want someone to be a water hog or
Today, the industrial
landscape reflects the diversification the team sought four decades
ago, and economic development officials and Central Carolina Community
College continue to push for that variety, says Robert P. Heuts,
director of the Lee County EDC.
Some of the current
companies are: Coty Inc., which produces cosmetics and perfumes; Moen
Inc., a plumbing fixtures manufacturer; Tyson Foods, Inc., which makes
taco shells and nacho chips; General Shale Products Corp., a brick
clay manufacturer; Parkdale Mills, a cotton spinner; Magneti Marelli
USA, an Italian carburetor and fuel line maker; Gold Kist Inc., a
poultry processor; GKN Automotive Inc., which handles automotive
electrical products; and Sanford’s biggest employer, Static Control
Components Inc., which engineers, designs and manufactures static
elimination equipment that is shipped worldwide.
“Ultimately, we look to
diversify even further,” Heuts says. “We will continue to grow
industry to compliment what we have here and in the greater Triangle
Mann notes that the original
cooperation between government and business also continues to exist
today. “Don’t get me wrong — we had our fights,” he says of
the original economic planners. “Everyone didn’t want to always do
a particular thing.
“But we have had real good
working relationships between the city of Sanford and the county of
Lee, and it’s easy to get your permits, easy to get your site prep.
. . . The county and city agencies did everything they could to
expedite the companies’ ability to get the ground broken and the
building built. We have been very fortunate. It wasn’t all roses,
but basically everyone had the same mindset.”
Epley says that some other
counties struggle “like they’re herding a bunch of cats in one
direction.” But he adds, “If you get everyone in the same
direction, and everyone is cooperating, it works out great.”
Businesses that relocate or
expand to Lee County can expect to find the infrastructure and land
they need, as well as the support of local officials, Heuts says.
The Lee County Industrial
Park, which is on the north side of Sanford, has direct access to U.S.
1. Currently, 16 companies — including Wyeth, GKN and Caterpillar
— fill up 400 acres in the park. An additional 400 acres, parceled
in 10- to 30-acre lots, are currently under development, Heuts says.
South Park, a mixed light
industrial and commercial site situated south of town on N.C. 87, was
just certified by Lee County and the state Department of Commerce.
There are 270 acres available for industrial use, which can be divided
into 5- to 125-acre lots.
The park is a “shovel
ready” site, meaning that the land is ready for industrial use and
that companies will be assured needed services, such as sewer and
water. South Park is the only certified industrial park in the RTP
region. The EDC wants to target pharmaceutical and chemical companies,
warehouses and plastics plants for that site.
Heuts says it was important
that the park be on the south side of town because of the topography.
While the north side of Sanford is similar to the Triad, the southern
side is coastal plain, with a different type of soil for easy
development, he says. In addition, companies there can more easily
attract workers from Fort Bragg.
Heuts says the EDC tries to
make it as easy as possible for a company to locate to Lee County.
“Economic development is a game of options. The more options you
provide, a better chance you have for success,” he says. (See box on
tax and financial incentives in Lee County on page 42.)
Dixon-Gibson MS Consultants,
a five-person engineering firm in Sanford, handled the engineering for
South Park’s certification, says Don Sever, branch manager. He says
the park already has acted as a magnet to draw interested groups.
He adds that the EDC was
receptive and enthusiastic when MS Consultants, a firm in Youngstown,
Ohio, acquired Dixon-Gibson Engineering Associates three years ago.
Since then, the firm handled the road design and sewer service for the
expanded acres in the Lee County Industrial Park. The county approved
$2.7 million for the infrastructure, Heuts says.
Dixon-Gibson is also
designing the building infrastructure for a new $3 million
telecommunications center, which the community college will use for
The Sanford-Lee County
Regional Airport is another added benefit to the area. Located on 705
acres in northern Lee County, the airport offers a 6,500-foot runway,
a computerized FAA written test center, a flight school, an engine
overhaul facility, complete aircraft maintenance, courtesy and rental
cars, a terminal building complete with showers for pilots and
conference rooms and a hangar area. An authority, whose members are
appointed by the city and county, runs the publicly owned airport.
The airport is one of the
county’s best-kept secrets and a wonderful recruiting tool, says Joe
Clancy, site controller for Wyeth. “It will make access for major
corporations much easier,” he says. It’s a first-rate facility
near the industrial park that’s going to be dynamite for the
Epley (left), an industrial relations officer at Central Carolina
and Glenn Shearin work among the school's many milling machines
Central Carolina Community
College, which covers Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties, is another
chief reason for economic success. Some business managers feel the
college is the county’s biggest asset.
“I do not know of any
other community college that works so closely with a company to
provide them with training and background,” says McNickle, the human
resources director at Wyeth.
Epley, the industrial
relations officer who oversees the training programs, says he sees
“nothing but growth” in the next decade. But it all depends on the
college’s continuing commitment to forge strong relationships with
companies and meet their training needs, he says. “The future looks
bright. There have been community colleges that have discontinued
vocational programs. That’s the backbone of industrial development
in terms of training. Even in times when we have low enrollment,
we’ve tried new recruiting methods in order to get the numbers
up,” Epley says.
In fact, the numbers are up
this year. Last year, overall enrollment in general curriculum
programs was 3,809 — currently it’s at 3,890, a 2 percent
increase. When Epley joined the college in 1967, enrollment totaled
The college has touched
virtually every industry in Lee County, offering training programs to
countless people. For example, the college will train each new Wyeth
employee, and it has done the same for many other companies, Epley
says. Training programs are divided to handle production workers and
their frontline leaders or supervisors.
Business owners say that
Marvin Joyner, the college’s president, has crafted the leadership
necessary to focus the programs and meet each of their needs. Joyner
was a mechanical drafting and design graduate from the old IEC system
that preceded the community college system. He worked as a tool
designer and supervisor in quality control before changing his career
to education. He became president at Central Carolina in December
“I backed into it,” he
says of his decision to teach. “I always retained a keen interest in
relationships with these colleges and in the reason they were created
— to create a trained labor force to attract industry to this state.
. . . I’m fortunate to have a great staff that shares that vision of
being a first-class institution as it relates to workforce
Central Carolina is the
first in the state to establish a two-year associate degree program in
bioprocessing, which Joyner says was launched to target needs at Wyeth.
The college and Wyeth have also developed a one-year certification
program in bioprocessing, and about 30 students have participated so
“What we try to do is keep
very much in tune to what is happening with jobs and to change our
curriculum to reflect the changes occurring and to establish new
curriculum to train people for jobs that may not have previously
existed. We do that all the time, and bio process is one of them,”
Besides working with
businesses, Joyner says he is targeting local high schools to educate
them about vocational career choices. The college has an active
arrangement with high schools in all three counties to offer classes,
such as industrial maintenance in the telecommunications field.
Recently, Joyner invited eighth-graders to campus for staff
demonstrations and presentations in various fields.
understand business and industry and the jobs that are there,” he
says. “A good example is bioproces-sing. They have no idea what a
person working in that industry does.”
The community also has an
active job-shadowing program, in which students choose a profession to
follow for a day. In another program, business leaders go to the
schools to speak. They especially target seventh- and eighth-graders,
who are beginning to explore their occupational options, Joyner says.
Epley says that he has been
amazed at how many businesses and people the college has touched. Its
impact, he adds, is evident in that over time no one company has stood
out as the county’s most visible. That’s because all have varying
and important missions.
“It seems like we’ve
always got what you’d call a champion,” he says. “We had GKN
when they came, and then later on we had Parker Hannifin when they
came, and then we had Static Control, and then Caterpillar and now
it’s Wyeth. All of these are special. They’re so different but
civic center in Sanford was renamed in honor of former
lieutenant governor Dennis Wicker, a native of the county
Meanwhile, business in
downtown Sanford has taken on a life of its own, thanks to developers
who have renovated old buildings and tried to give local people a leg
up in launching their own enterprises.
A quaint, eclectic mix of
artsy shops, coffee bars, antique malls and fine restaurants fill the
center of town, just a block off of Route 421, a main thoroughfare
filled with fast food chains. Downtown occupants say they are
concerned that would-be visitors have the wrong impression of Sanford
when they travel through the commercial strip on 421.
Even so, the renovated
Temple Theatre, which has regular performances with professional
actors, has put Sanford on the map as a destination, which in turn has
led to more business openings and more downtown visitors, especially a
Additionally, the city and
Downtown Sanford Inc. are working to develop Depot Park, a place for
outside events that includes an historic railroad depot. The park will
include a splash fountain, benches, decorative lighting, formal
gardens and a gathering place for concerts, plays and meetings. An old
taxi stand will even be converted into a concession stand.
“It’s the heart of the
community. It’s a good location for a community park,” says Sharon
S. Spence, executive director of Downtown Sanford.
Early this month the city
also hosted the first annual Sanford Pottery Festival, showcasing Lee
County’s pottery legacy and featuring artworks by more than 60 of
North Carolina’s finest craftsmen at the Dennis Wicker Civic Center.
Spence says part of the
credit of downtown’s resurgence goes to developers Clyde Atkins and
Progressive Development Co., who have renovated decrepit properties
and funneled support to a number of businesses.
In the past three years,
Progressive, which specializes in historic restorations, has restored
the 1909 Sanford City Hall; a 1907 Coca-Cola bottling plant that had
been in disrepair; and the 1907 Sanford Buggy Co., which houses office
condominiums. The company also has office condominiums in the 1926 Lee
Furniture Building, a structure with many windows and exposed building
Atkins has acquired 35
properties and has had to bring each up to codes, modernizing the
structures’ heating and air systems. “It’s expensive and time
consuming,” he says. “Every single one needed a new roof.”
Still, he has helped about a half-dozen businesses get going. “I’m
just a bricks and mortar guy — I’m in the real estate business.
I’m trying to help with financing as much as I can. If they have a
good concept, we’ll help them.”
With Atkins’ help, John
Bane and Julian “Jinks” Youngblood opened the Sanford Antique Mall
in 1999 and the Java Express Coffee House next door. The mall draws
antique enthusiasts from nearby Raleigh, Cary and Durham.
“We feel pleased and
fortunate that the community supports us. We have lots of regulars,”
Bane says, adding that he and his partner opened at a time when
business downtown started gaining momentum. “Sanford is this little
sleepy community on the verge of breaking open,” he says.
Eddie Baker, owner of Floral
Designs by Eddie, says his business has benefited from the antique
mall’s presence, adding that it has given the downtown “a little
bit of oomph and class.”
“It’s cool. I like the
small town atmosphere, where I get to know the other store owners,”
Baker says. “The atmosphere over there is something we’ve needed
for a long time. . . . A younger crowd is here now.”
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