By Richard Sullins | email@example.com
The part Sanford played in helping close the deal on one of the state’s largest-ever economic development projects could be considered as a back story, but it’s one that deserves to be told.
Were it not for the vision city leaders showed as far back as four years ago, today’s announcement of Vietnamese electric automaker investing $4 billion and adding 7,500 jobs to the region wouldn’t have happened.
Chatham County had lots of available land, but what it didn’t have was easy access to the one natural resource that makes economic development projects sink or swim in the third decade of the 21st Century — water. Chatham officials recognized that a neighboring city had the water capacity needed. So, they reached out to their neighbors in Sanford for help.
Water is a critical component for any developing industry, particularly those focused on heavy manufacturing like VinFast, and Sanford has it in abundance. Four years ago, Mayor Chet Mann and the Sanford City Council made a critical decision to build a water line that will help bring service to the site as construction takes place over the next three years, a call that later became one of the determining factors in VinFast’s decision to come to central North Carolina.
The northeastern end of Lee County, and just across the Deep River into Chatham County, had long been a desert for water and sewer services, and no water means no development. Building on Mann’s Open for Business platform put forth when he was first elected in 2013, the city leveraged grants from the state, the GoldenLeaf Foundation and a budget allocation of $3.9 million in 2018 to build water and sewer lines from Sanford to Pittsboro, as well as a second loop to provide services to the Raleigh Executive Jetport in Lee County and the Moncure area.
Mann said, “It was a huge leap of faith by the city council, but boy did it ever pay off.”
The deal negotiated on behalf of the city by Mann and City Manager Hal Hegwer does more than provide Chatham County with the water they need. In addition to the sale of water and sewer services and in exchange for their provision, Sanford will receive 20 percent of all property taxes that Chatham County collects from every home, business, or industry that connects to the water line. Even better, Sanford will continue to receive those funds for the next 50 years after the line goes into service, meaning millions of dollars that will flow annually into the city’s coffers every year for the next half-century.
In a genuine coup for the city, the arrangement negotiated with Chatham County allows for that same money to flow into the city’s general fund. That means it can be used to provide a supplementary level of funding for the next 50 years that the city would otherwise not have had.
“That’s one of the many nuggets of gold in this story for Sanford,” Mann told The Rant. “By the time that money stops flowing, I’ll be gone from the scene. But by the time that spigot finally gets turned off, Sanford will have millions of additional dollars coming in. And by going into the general fund, it can be used to address our housing shortage, build and expand our parks and trail systems, we can continue revitalizing our downtown and lifting up neighborhoods, and a whole host of things that will come along to make Sanford a place that people want to call home.”
It was Public Works Director Victor Czar who came up with the engineering needed to connect the existing loops and lines, and then extend them to Triangle Innovation Point and on into Pittsboro. It was this kind of thinking that previously brought Sanford to the verge of winning another economic development project that ultimately it didn’t get.
“Another company told us that Sanford was only city that had cracked the code on how to do this, on how to get the water up to a site like this and back, but other factors led them to choose somewhere else. But it’s one of the implements we are now keeping in our toolkit as future projects come along,” Mann continued.
The mayor said just the water and sewer infrastructure needed to connect the new plant site to the city’s system and then over to Pittsboro could exceed $135 million. But the news just keeps getting better, Mann said. The state will pick up the tab for almost all of it – $132 million, leaving the remaining $3 million to be split between Sanford and Pittsboro. Sanford’s share of the entire project could come to be just $1.5 million, itself another huge win for the city.
Sanford has been planning for expansion of its water and sewer services for just this moment. Its system today treats about 12 million gallons of water and turns it into drinking water-grade, with an equal amount of sewage treated and returned to the Cape Fear River in a form cleaner than what is drawn from it daily.
To accommodate the city’s and the surrounding region’s anticipated growth, it is planning to expand its water treatment capacities, both intake and discharge, to 30 million gallons per day, an increase of 18 million gallons of water every day, through a major engineering project funded in large measure by state grants.
At its meeting on Jan. 18, the city approved agreements with Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs, Pittsboro and Chatham County for the engineering design of a joint water treatment plant to service the new system. The city has also negotiated interlocal agreements with these partners to provide for the construction and operation of new lines that will provide the lifeblood for regional economic development for years to come.
“None of (the VinFast announcement) would have happened without the water and sewer capacity that only Sanford could, and was willing, to bring to the table,” Mann said. “Years ago, no one wanted to extend capacities like these. They didn’t want to have to deal with their competitors. But I’ve always believed that collaboration is the best way to get things done. We got in there and got it done and look at the result — good jobs that will provide a living wage, money that will support our communities and our schools and parks, and money to plow back into our budget to build out even bigger.”
Plant will have a multiplier effect
Mann, who recently decided not to seek a third term as mayor in order to focus on his business and devote more time to his family, believes the VinFast project will have an even greater impact to the region, including Sanford and Lee County, than a BMW plant has meant for Greenville, Greer, and Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“Seriously, this will be the most transformative project in our history,” he said. “It will help lift a lot of people out of poverty and create some new and massive opportunities.”
Just as BMW brought in dozens of supplier companies into the Upstate region of South Carolina, the Chatham County project potentially could have surrounding communities in the running soon for as many as two dozen or more related supplier companies, an indirect effect that will add even more to the economic impact that VinFast will bring.
When BMW originally located in Spartanburg, it was expected to bring approximately 2,000 new jobs with it. Today, BMW Manufacturing has 11,000 workers on site in the Upstate and the total economic impact of the company has a multiplier effect of 4.0, meaning that for every new job that BMW itself creates at its Spartanburg plant, three other jobs are created there or elsewhere in the state. Imagine that kind of impact on central North Carolina, and then imagine it again, because the VinFast plant will be at least twice as large.
A 2017 study done by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business found that BMW’s Spartanburg plant had grown to an annual economic output of $16.6 billion since it moved into the state 25 years before and was by then supporting 31,000 jobs.
How could an investment of this size impact life in the community, far beyond the gates of the plant? Mann said only the limits of our imagination prevent a definitive answer to that question today. Through the corporate charity of VinFast and its cast of companies that will symbiotically support its presence in Chatham County, there will be millions of dollars generated to support nonprofit organizations large and small, from little league uniforms to sponsorships of community organizations and underfunded groups that do good work in the area.
The economic development initiatives of the recent past have, to some degree, left many blue-collar workers behind. VinFast will be looking to hire many of them, as well as students that Central Carolina Community College and other institutions of higher education will train to fill positions that demand highly-trained workers. New training programs, built around new facilities outfitted with the latest equipment, will be a focus of area colleges and universities for the next few decades. CCCC has grown rapidly in recent years. It’s about to do so again.
Who is VinFast?
VinFast is the automotive sector of the VinGroup Joint Stock Company, the largest conglomerate company in Vietnam, that is owned and operated by the company’s richest man, Pham Nhat Vuong, which began rolling out its completely electric vehicles in 2021 as part of its direct challenge to Tesla. The company was started by Vuong in 1993 in Ukraine and originally sold instant noodles before moving operations to Vietnam and diversifying in 2000.
The company debuted two vehicles in the SUV market last year, the VF 8 and the VF 9, both slated for sale in the United States by the end of the year. Three others were rolled out at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, a first for an automotive manufacturer of any sort. Each of the five are in the SUV market and are all-electric vehicles that are battery powered instead of by an internal combustion engine.
The five vehicles, ranging from a small two-seater to a four-door wagon model, are broadly expected to sell in the American market between $30,000 and $60,000 to be competitive with other high-end electric vehicles in today’s market. The company is offer e-vouchers which early adopters can purchase now for $200 to provide discounts off the sale price of either $3,000 or $5,000 at delivery, depending on the model.
Thanks Richard for an excellent article. Hats off to Mayor Mann and the rest of the Sanford City Council for having the foresight to make this investment. Kudos to Public Works Director Victor Czar, City Manager Hal Hegwer, and all within the public works department! The whole Sanford, Lee County and surrounding counties have brighter futures due to your efforts. Just shows have a well run government can have a positive impact on the people it serves!
I’m curious to see if local Republican Leader Jim Womack & his little minion Kirk Smith acknowledge their attempts to undermine this effort while others demonstrated true leadership & supported economic development programs for Sanford & Lee County. Make sure to thank those truly deserving of gratitude for decades of benefits this community will receive while remembering those who choose to be a roadblock to progress at every turn. We have an opportunity to be among the Global leaders in the EV vehicle marketplace in addition to preserving the environment for generations to follow & for that I’m grateful. Great job by all mentioned in this article, keep up the good work!
Are you kidding me???? It’s great that Sanford is helping out with water for this company but gee why can’t they take care of all Lee county residents first??!! We live outside the city limits but understand that the city supplies water for the entire county. We’ve BEGGED both the city and county for help to no avail. Yet the city of Sanford website boasts about providing water to all Lee county residents. Hogwash! I guess neither entity cares about the citizens, just the big business. If anyone has any ideas on how to get them to run water to our part of western Lee county, please let me know.
Melanie, as I understand it, you live out past Plank Road on the way to Carbonton. The housing density there is extraordinarily low because you can’t have real urban/suburban development there because you can barely get a septic tank into the Brownstone Rock Saprolite.
Water and sewer line construction is very expensive so there has to be a revenue stream to support the cost of an extension like that. A multi-billion-dollar car plant of which the City gets a 20% tax share plus the state and federal grants to build the line make it more than affordable for the City.
Getting you water now from the nearest City line and you being assessed over say 10 years for the cost of the extension would give you almost a $1000 a month water bill.
In fact, it is probably more cost effective for the people in your area to tap onto the Gulf/Goldston Water, running it down North Plank Road.
It’s nothing personal and nothing against an area and you should not take it that way. The underlying geology of Lee County is rough – in the sand you can plant houses like mushrooms if you have water. In the brownstone you are lucky to get a well and septic field and still have a repair area. Underlying rock is one of the reasons there are quarries in Carbonton
Somehow Lee county figured out a way to get water down both north and south plank road where housing density is the same or even less than on plank road. I don’t know who supplies which lines; I just know all of it is in Lee county and is less than 1/2 mile from me. Not sure how the geology changes in that short distance. I would welcome a meeting with someone who could answer some questions. And I would encourage the city to change their water department web page claiming they provide water to all Lee county residents except quail ridge and Carolina trace.
Correction to my comments: housing density is less on plank than on Carbonton.
I am so very proud of the City of Sanford, Chet, Vic, Hal, and everyone who has been working toward this for years. Nothing is more important to people in local government than being able to secure the economic future of their town, county, or region.
This sucks…bad air ,and pollution to the environment… plus we don’t have the infrastructure but Chatham nor Sanford cares..Mitsubishi all about the money…God bless us all
Melanie, you appear to be within 3,000 feet of a line. You can see this on the GIS site when you look at the parcels and infrastructure at the same time. You will need to bore under Plank or Carbonton Road depending on where the extension of the line comes off. (Unless NCDOT allows you to cut the pavement). At $60 a running foot that’s about $180,000 to get the line extended to your house. As the City of Sanford’s web page says if you go in with your neighbors you can do a petition extension and the cost is split between property owners.
From the City of Sanford:
Process for Utility Extensions
Water and/or Sewer Extensions
There are two methods for extending utilities (water or sewer) to residential properties that do not currently have access. In both cases, the costs of the extension are paid for by the homeowner(s).
Homeowner – If a homeowner, or group of homeowners, are interested in a utility extension, the City will design and permit the work. The homeowners would hire a licensed utility contractor to do the work and the City would inspect it. Upon completion, the City would take ownership and maintain the utility.
Petition – If a homeowner requests City involvement in the utility extension, the City will put together a petition that will be circulated among all the benefiting homeowners. If a majority of the benefiting property owners sign on, and if the work takes place, then each benefiting homeowner would be assessed their portion of the cost. This option is a long process, usually taking more than a year to complete, if successful. For more information, please see the Petition Process Summary for more detail.
Please contact the Engineering Division at 919-777-1122 if you are interested in either option.
When you said you have been asking for help do you mean you want the City or the County pay for the extension? What have you been advised regarding your current well? Does it not produce enough water, does it have too much iron, do you have a septic drainage field that has failed and is contaminating your well? Most people are not aware that NC State law and other policies force local units of government to run water and sewer services like a business so they do not use Tax Money for such things. What has the Lee County Health Department had to say about your septic system – they supervise septic tank and well regulation in the County. Or at least they used to.
Wow. I didn’t realize those households on north and south plank and Carbonton to the plank road crossroads had to pay all that money to get the water lines extended to them a few years ago. They must have lots more money than us on the western side of plank road. Thanks for the info.
Melanie, if I am not mistaken many if not most of the County’s water lines were installed using Golden Leaf and USDA grant and loan money. Maybe some Community Development Block grants. The County Manager would have the details on that. They probably paid next to nothing.
The way most of those programs used to work was that an area of poor would be targeted for a water line extension and the poverty rates would drive the “score” of the project upward toward funding. The amount kicked in by the County would be minimal.
From the very beginning of County Water back in the late 80’s and early 1990’s Lee County had two major problems – 1. They had no plants,
2. They they had no experienced water line service people. It was just not their thing and as a result and bowing to local pressure they extended lines into areas that were not economical to serve. They also created some technical problems for themselves related to long dead end lines, the elevations of certain water tanks and the infamous situation of two different sets of water lines in the right of way on Cool Springs Road.
Bringing what is an urban service out to a rural area is not without consequences. In many areas the first effect is the destruction of farmland and the underlying value of the land jumps since it can be used for higher density housing. It only takes a little bit of housing to make life hell on farmers. Then as you increase the density, you begin to get called for other urban services way out from the urban core of the County. In Lee County’s case it meant more schools and more sheriffs deputies and more health department folks.
I am of the opinion a water line from Plank Road to Carbonton would ruin the rural quality of life in that stretch of the County. Lee County, as a county does not have the legal authority to regulate as heavily as the City can regulate the municipality.
Many moons ago and in several communities around NC I used to try and figure out how to extend water via grants. Middle income farms are nearly impossible to reach due to the cost unless you pass it going to a very poor area.
But I encourage you to call the County Health Department and the City Engineering Department to discuss your situation. It may be that all you need is a deeper well.
Over the years I’ve overhead phone calls where the potential customer called and said “do you provide water to such and such address”. When the question is phrased that way you often get the answer “no” and everything stops. You have to make it clear that you know a water line extension is needed for you home.
Carbonton has county water access, right ?
If so, maybe it came from Goldston, not sure .
I see fire hydrants in the Carbonton area when traveling down 42 , hence my thinking is they do.
Did this lady Melanie get totally hopscotched over?
“Bringing what is an urban service out to a rural area is not without consequences. In many areas the first effect is the destruction of farmland and the underlying value of the land jumps since it can be used for higher density housing”
This is not a bad deal for farmers ready to bail, really. Lest their property gets condemned.
(happens a lot in times of growth and greed)
Todd also said:
” Melanie, if I am not mistaken many if not most of the County’s water lines were installed using Golden Leaf and USDA grant and loan money. Maybe some Community Development Block grants. The County Manager would have the details on that. They probably paid next to nothing.”
Melanie…..if you get to grasp the ” golden ring” of water being offered in your area, best to do so when first notified…after that you will pay out the nose for it.
” In fact, it is probably more cost effective for the people in your area to tap onto the Gulf/Goldston Water, running it down North Plank Road.”
Guess so, if she is a candidate.
Without sounding rambunctious…I live within 1/2 mile from the main. So far the frustrations of this build are taxing. Constant road closures to power outages as well as gawkers. I am sure my 4 acre property with a well maintained home will either be bought out I will sell for a ridiculous amount. Sanford played no part in this deal. Sanford would more hinder than help. Once the onslaught of employees decend on Moncure, Sanfords well known and seedy drug areas will draw a good portion of these in. So I was wrong. Sanford Wil play it’s part to cause addiction and spread leftist influences.