The most recent census showed 80,000 people lived in Chatham County, a density of 112 people per square mile, about 10 percent that of Wake County.
The announcement Friday of a new Wolfspeed semiconductor chip plant – the latest big project planned for the county and the largest in North Carolina history – will mean an addition of thousands of jobs, new residents, families, homes and drivers.
Vinfast, a Vietnamese automaker, is planning to build electric vehicles in the county. Toyota has promised a battery plant nearby in Randolph County, and Boom Supersonic, a jet liner maker, will invest $500 million to build high-speed aircraft at a facility based from PTI airport.
The Wolfspeed plant, to be located on a plot of land between Zion Church Road and Old US Highway 421, precedes a population boom that county political and school leaders have been planning for.
“We’ve been preparing for this moment for a decade now,” said Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne.
He sees the future as “a place where your children can go to school, come back here to work.”
“Right now, we don’t have that,” LaMontagne said. “We are seeing a lot of our youth leaving the county. We expect that to change.”
That is a vision that Chatham County native Lisa Stout can believe in.
“I’m welcoming of new growth,” she said. “The place I grew up – it’s been dying and drying up. I’m hoping this will bring back business and people.”
While Stout appreciates what she called the “smallness” of her Siler City community, she can imagine a balance between economic benefit and small-town spirit.
“I hope it won’t make us real big,” she said.
Chris Blice, assistant superintendent of operations for Chatham County Schools, acknowledges the challenge. “There has never been this level of growth,” he said. “This level of growth is not what school districts experience.”
There are already plans for renovations at a middle school, the construction of two new elementary schools and more.
Blice called the changes exciting and said the school system is “blessed with our relationship with the county government.”