UPDATE: Yup. It’s come to our attention that we missed Garden Grove, California-based Through6’s presence on this list at number 25. Through6 announced in May that it was bringing 160 jobs and $2 million in tax base investment to Lee County, all without any government incentive. We wrote about it at the time and discussed it on our podcast. Facepalm.

ORIGINAL STORY: Recent economic development successes in Lee County figure heavily in an article from Business North Carolina Magazine released on June 30.

The article lists the state’s 25 biggest corporate job creators, and among them are three companies which have recently announced expansions in Lee County.

Coming in at number 10 was the India-based Kalyani Group, which through subsidiary Bharat Forge – an Indian auto parts manufacturer – announced in September that it would bring 460 jobs and $170.3 million in tax base investment to Lee County.

Number 17 was Pfizer, which has been in Lee County for some time, but announced in August 2019 that it was expanding its gene therapy operation by 300 employees and investing a staggering half a billion dollars in the local tax base – all without any new incentive from state or local government.

Work on the Audentes building – which had initially been marketed as a spec building by the Sanford Area Growth Alliance – is under way off Colon Road in northern Lee County.

And number 22 was Audentes, which was revealed in February as the subject of Project Jupiter. Audentes, based in San Francisco, also works on gene therapy and will bring 209 jobs to Lee County and invest $9.4 million in the local tax base.

Michael Smith, CEO of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, said for Lee County to be on a list like this three times is no small accomplishment, and he credited work going back at least a dozen years.

“When you look at the Second Century Project that was around 12 years ago, the report card on a number of metrics was a lot of B’s, C’s,” he said. “Twelve years later, it’s all A’s and B’s. I hear from people in other parts of the state and country asking what our secret is, and it’s leaders who put a long term plan into place years ago and sticking to it.”

Smith also said that having the tenth, seventeenth and twenty second biggest job creators in the state was one thing, but that looking at the list in a different way revealed the numbers to be even more impressive.

“When we read the article and looked at the numbers in terms of investment rather than new jobs, we sort of did a double take,” he said. “Because when you do it that way, you actually have three in the top 10. Pfizer is number two, Kalyani is number four and Audentes is number seven.

The article’s timing is also interesting, since SAGA had already planned to announce July 10 as “Bold Forge Day” in Lee County, since that was the day in 2019 that both Kalyani and Audentes officials were in Sanford for SAGA’s final presentation to each company. “Bold” and “Forge” are references to the code names given to the projects before the companies could be named publicly.

“A year ago, (the Bharat Forge site) was deep woods, and there’s steel up today for their facility. And we were still in discussions with Audentes, and today they’re putting glass on the front of the shell building,” he said. “All these projects looked at other places, and they all chose Sanford.”

Smith said Lee County residents should expect the economic development successes to continue.

“We have a second shell building going up, and we’re in conversations with companies who are interested in occupying that building,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to figure out where shell building number three will go. And that’s an exciting challenge to have.”