By Richard Sullins |

Sanford and Lee County have been incredibly successful in attracting new businesses and industries to locate facilities here, but county and city leaders have been concerned in recent months that those efforts might come to a halt because the Central Carolina Enterprise Park (CCEP) is almost at capacity.

The lack of large tracts of suitable land makes it harder for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance (SAGA), the county’s economic development arm, to continue bringing in new industries that would create more jobs. But that circumstance may be about to change.

The Sanford City Council will consider a proposal at its next meeting on July 19 to annex a 612-acre tract of land as a potential location for new industries to fill. The site is three miles away from CCEP and nearly as large as its 750 acres and could create spaces for manufacturing facilities that would bring hundreds of jobs to Lee County.

The property lies across Ammons Farm Road to west of the Raleigh Executive Jetport with frontage on Rod Sullivan Road and U.S. 1. In addition to annexation, the developer, Stephens Enterprises, is seeking to have the 13 tracts of that will make up the site rezoned from its current designation of Residential Agricultural to Light Industrial.


The proposal was presented at the June 21 council meeting and seemed to be on its way for approval. But a number of adjoining property owners asked to delay any decision because they hadn’t received the required notification of the public hearing as required by the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The measure was tabled and the council will take it up again at their next meeting on Tuesday.

The preliminary plans for the site suggest it will be a phased industrial park similar to CCEP, with tenants occupying lots as needed. The site has access to public water and will need to be served by public sewer after annexation is completed.

John Dean, SAGA’s economic development manager, said the amount of interest businesses and industries are continuing to show in Lee County underscores the need to have sites like the Stephens property that are available and ready when they come calling, because the interest in Sanford is continuing to build.

In 2017, SAGA received a record 79 inquiries from companies considering locating here. Last year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number grew to just over 100.

During the first six months of 2022, SAGA fielded more than 60 potential projects, all of which are in some level of development. That puts the county on pace to break its previous records and reach as many as 120 companies that would consider locating a base of operations within Lee County.

At present, four companies have active operations in the Central Carolina Enterprise Park. A spec building, constructed with the goal of attracting tenants during or just after construction, is going up on another lot while grading continues on still another. Meanwhile, the county’s inventory of vacant industrial buildings is virtually non-existent. So, a key ingredient in the county’s secret sauce is having buildings available and ready for companies to occupy.

Dean said while many companies are still in the more traditional realm of smaller footprints of space needed, others are looking for larger tracts of 100 acres or more to create campus-style facilities. That makes locations such as the Stephens property especially attractive, because securing spaces that can accommodate the sizes demanded by industries today will continue to be a challenge for the county if it is to remain competitive.

With the location of the new VinFast automotive manufacturing plant just across the line in Chatham County, Dean said Lee is going to be part of that growth, particularly through the companies that will come in support of VinFast operations, like the 338,000 square foot FedEx shipping center announced in April.

“We are going to be able to build off of that supporting supply chain,” he said. “We are seeing lots of interest from the automotive industry looking to locate in proximity to VinFast and the industries that will grow up to support it.”

But there’s more in Lee County’s future than just automobiles. Dean said SAGA is getting a new project almost every other day and demand is coming from a variety of industries, much of it in life sciences building off of the county’s proximity to Research Triangle Park, major research universities, and Central Carolina Community College.

Technology and manufacturing are coming together to diversify Sanford’s economy, and the region’s growth over the past three years is beginning to move in new directions that will include advanced manufacturing and research and development. Those, too, will benefit from the county’s proximity to the major universities and Research Triangle Park.

Lee County’s astounding success in attracting new industrial clients has become the model the rest of North Carolina and other states are racing to copy. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it also means the county has to be constantly upping its game to stay ahead of the competition.

SAGA CEO Jimmy Randolph told Lee County Commissioner in January “our challenge this year is to continue our public and private partnerships and make sure we all stay on the same page with views on our investments in land and facilities.”

Final decisions regarding annexation and rezoning of the Stephens property will be on the City Council’s agenda when it meets July 19.