This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.
The Town of Wake Forest is home to a rapidly expanding spectrum of skilled job opportunities that mirror the Town’s boom in population over the past two decades.
With more than 112 acres currently under development specifically for new industrial innovation, the community’s rapid acquisition of talent-driven employment is about to get much larger.
Wake Forest is the 10th fastest growing municipality in North Carolina and continues to prove its “bedroom community” days are long gone. Since 2000, the town has experienced a 232-percent population increase, in part due to the growing professional and economic opportunities the community has to offer coupled with its idyllic quality of life.
Roughly half of its active labor force have jobs in education, health care, professional services, science, management or manufacturing.
The latest in Wake Forest’s industrial innovation opportunities includes three unique sites being developed for light industrial use by local firm Moffat Properties and a large flex industrial space under development by Merritt Properties, a firm based out of Maryland.
“We’re really excited to see Wake Forest continue to grow through the new capital investment and job creation these new developments are launching in our community,” said Jason Cannon, president of the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.”Wake Forest is seeing high demand for these upcoming projects by Moffat Properties and Merritt Properties — both of which will bring new jobs, expand our road and greenway infrastructure, and create greater economic opportunity for residents and out-of-towners alike.”
While neighboring municipalities in the Triangle are constantly working to have land supply that meets the development demand, the Town of Wake Forest and its stakeholders have been proactively working to secure land plots and prepare resources for its planned expansions and projected growth.
“Wake Forest has been growing at an exponential rate in the past few years. I think that the Town and other municipal leaders are really trying to do the region and their citizens justice in terms of providing opportunities for people to grow businesses and have places to create headquarters and home bases,” said Craig Moffat, co-owner of Moffat Properties, LLC.
Moffat Properties is a development firm based in Wake Forest that handles everything from land and building acquisition to permitting, construction and property leasehold. Moffat, who has been in Wake Forest for 15 years, emphasized the opportunity for growth and expansion in Wake Forest as competition for land and space in nearby Raleigh and Durham gets harder to come by.
South Forest Industrial Park in Wake Forest currently hosts more than 700,000 square feet of office and industrial space and is home to an array of businesses ranging from advanced manufacturing and pharmaceutical supply to lightning cable production and artistic model design.
Moffat Properties is expanding opportunities for both new and existing companies in the park with its development of three new sites within the existing boundaries of South Forest Industrial Park:
- Site One is a 22-acre lot off of Finger Lakes Drive developed for three different tenants: Moffat Pipe Incorporated, Foundation Building Materials and Sunbelt Rentals. Two of the buildings for Moffat Pipe and Foundation Building Materials are complete while the building for Sunbelt Rentals is in the permitting phase.
- Site Two is referred to as the Unicon Drive Extension, a seven-acre lot that is currently being graded and is a CSX-approved rail site. It will be ready for permitting within six months.
- Site Three is a 28-acre site that’s located between U.S. 1 and Unicon Drive that was recently rezoned for light industrial use. Moffat said there will be a projected availability of anywhere from 75,000 to 150,000 square feet of tenant space.
According to the WFBIP, “the projects are underway, and development is slated to occur both speculatively and via new tenant demand.”
While Moffat has been a staple in Wake Forest, Merritt Properties sought out Wake Forest as prime real-estate in the Triangle for its development. The Maryland-based firm will begin developing 74 acres of property this Fall to be used for office and flex industrial space, culminating in a 452,500-square-foot business park adjacent to South Forest Industrial Park.
While new to Wake Forest, Merritt Properties is no stranger to North Carolina, as this will be its second Triangle-based development site — Merritt TW Crossing located adjacent to Research Triangle Park in Durham was its first.
According to a WFBIP press release, Merritt Capital Business Park, located at 0 Ligon Mill Road off Unicon Drive, will feature up to seven buildings ranging from 30,000 to 85,000 square feet. Each will offer 18- to 24-foot clear heights, traditional rear-loaded docks and drive-in capabilities, and free surface parking. Site plans are still being finalized.
Keith Wallace, who handles the leasing and business development of Merritt Properties’ North Carolina region, has been the lead on developing the new site in Wake Forest.
“Our definition of a flex product is this: it will have a little bit of office, a little bit of storage, a little bit of warehouse, a bit of integration space — could be tech space or manufacturing space. It will also be very flexible with loading docks and drive-ins in the rear,” said Wallace. “However, I think the most important takeaway that we want to get across is that small to midsize business that tends to be in Wake Forest is really our ideal customer. Our tenant sizes, on average, are about 6,000 square feet. And while we are focused on small to midsize business, we can accommodate large businesses too. We want to be able to deliver several product types in one location.”
Nathan Robb, who handles construction and land development for Merritt Properties, said the buildings will be executed “quite differently” than what you’d expect to see in a typical industrial park.
“These are going to be brick veneered buildings on all four sides. We are going to try to orient the front of the buildings towards the street and really create more of a Class A office feel with things like enhanced landscaping and planting beds,” he said. “There’s also a greenway plan for a little stream that currently goes through the site. We’re working with the Town and giving them access for a future public parking lot and trail connection. This will be a nice amenity for the community and for people in the park.”
As Robb hinted at, a significant component of Merritt Properties’ Capital Business Park, which is situated adjacent to the existing South Forest Industrial Park, is aimed at enhancing local connectivity and navigability.
In addition to the expansion in the community’s greenway infrastructure, according to a WFBIP press release, “the site will connect South Forest Park to Ligon Mill Road, a major local throughway, which will significantly aid local traffic congestion.”
“We are relatively new to the market but we didn’t want to come down here to just build one project and take care of it for 50 years,” said Wallace. “We wanted to establish a regional presence in many different jurisdictions. The first being in Durham, right outside the RTP. Once we established that property, we looked around and tried to identify land pieces with the goal of locating ourselves in a strategic location convenient to major roadways, including 440 and 540. We think those are very logical for businesses to want to locate so they can get around.”
“Additionally, Wake Forest has a pretty diverse economy,” continued Wallace. “You have light manufacturing, you have some heavy manufacturing, you have tech companies, you have entrepreneurship, you have the little Main Street, you have the retailers.”
Wallace said it was lucky they stumbled on the Ligon Mill site in Wake Forest from a basic land search.
“We said, ‘Wow, this might be worth looking more into.’ The more we dug into the real estate market, the more we really fell in love with Wake Forest. It’s a booming town that’s going through a renaissance.
When you look at the trajectory of the population growth, it’s staggering. It’s roughly 230 percent over the last 20 years,” said Wallace. “A lot of our customer tenants are similar to Power Secure and CenturyLink, which have a presence in Wake Forest — they could be the kind of tenants locating their businesses within our buildings.”
Wallace said the more he and his team “peeled back the layers” of Wake Forest, the more they fell in love with it because of all of its economic and quality-of-life drivers. Likewise, the Town welcomed Merritt Properties with open arms.
The Merritt Capital Business Park is in its third and potentially final round of site development plan review and Robb said they hope “to be pushing dirt by October.”
Wallace recently moved to Wake Forest from Virginia with his family because he said he wants to be in Wake Forest “long term.”
Moffat noted Wake Forest’s accessibility and ease of access to other parts of the Triangle, its available infrastructure and fiber, services like water and sewer, proximity to the airport, the great public school system, and the high quality of life as reasons why he and others choose to do business and live in Wake Forest. In that regard, Wallace has a lot to look forward to.
“We want to be in this market,” said Wallace. “We plan to be within this community, giving back to this community, serving these customers, these customer tenants, over the next 50 years. It’s really a long term focus.”
Together, the Moffat Properties and Merritt Properties industrial projects will add 112 acres to the area surrounding South Forest Industrial Park, and nearly 500,000 square feet of additional office and flex space to this strategic hub of tech and industrial activity in Wake Forest. Both developers welcome pre-leases, and Merritt expects to have space constructed and available to new tenants during the second quarter of 2021, though this timeline may be altered due to COVID-19.
Added Cannon, “These properties are indicative of the future of Wake Forest. With some of our most significant job opportunity developments to date in the pipeline for Wake Forest, living, playing, and especially working here is about to get that much better.”
This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.