New developments are popping up across Chatham County before VinFast’s first workers are hired for the company’s new electric SUV factory in Moncure.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows the county has grown significantly in the last decade: The county had about 63,505 people as of April 2010. It has about 77,889 people as of July 2021.

How NC developers are preparing for VinFast’s arrival

VinFast’s $4 billion factory is expected to create 7,500 jobs in five years. Construction on the new plant is expected to start this month.

“We’re getting ready as fast as we can because we know they’re coming,” said Preston Development co-owner Tim Smith.

Smith and fellow Preston Development co-owner Julian “Bubba” Rawl are Cary-based developers. Two decades ago, they started buying up land surrounding Pittsboro’s historic downtown.

“We sort of saw it coming,” Rawl said.

There are several developments planned for central North Carolina, including Toyota’s first lithium-ion battery plant in Randolph County, Facebook’s parent company Meta opening an office in Durham, Google building an engineering hub in Durham, FUJIFILM building a plant in Holly Springs, Invitae’s facility coming to Morrisville and Science 37 moving its headquarters to Morrisville.

FedEx Ground also announced it is building a facility at Triangle Innovation Point near where VinFast will build its plant.

We realized the growth was coming through these megasites, and now that’s coming to fruition and we’re getting ready for those people to move here,” Smith said.

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Chatham County housing may price out VinFast employees

Chatham Park is a mixed-use development that now covers more than 8,200 acres. The first 550 homes are going up in the Vineyard neighborhood. Smith said Chatham Park is zoned for 22,000 homes and for 22 million square feet of nonresidential buildings.

Construction is underway on MOSAIC, a 226-acre, mixed-use development of restaurants, shops, a hotel and 350 condos and apartments within Chatham Park.

Smith said he estimates Chatham Park will be home to 60,000 people once it’s built out.

“In five or 10 years, we expect there will be 15,000 to 20,000 more people here living and setting up businesses here,” Rawl said. “We’re excited about being able to serve them because there’s really not any services available for that kind of growth in this area.”

The boom is driving up home prices in Chatham County. The median sales price so far this year is $600,000, according to MLS data. That’s a 23% increase compared to last year.

However, the average VinFast worker is due to make a little bit more than $51,000 per year.

“The VinFast workers, their average salaries are not going to allow them to contribute to this economy,” said Orange Chatham Association of Realtors President Michele Hobaugh. “Not when we’ve got the housing the way it is.”

Hobaugh, who has more than two decades of real estate experience, said the price of housing is going to drive VinFast workers away.

“I think the surrounding counties will probably reap the benefits more than Chatham County will,” Hobaugh said. “We’re going to see the kind of growth that, I think, Wake County saw.”

Hobaugh moved to Chatham County in 2017.

“It’s still the wild West in terms of real estate for right now,” she said.

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Population growth brings needs for schools, police, roads

Chatham County Commissioners Chair Karen Howard said the commission is planning to change policies and put funds toward affordable housing. The county is also developing a plan for the area around the Moncure megasite to determine where they’ll need new schools, public safety and infrastructure.

“All of those things have to be thoughtfully planned out so they’re not wholly on the backs of current residents, but that we’re not finding [ourselves] lagging,” Howard said.

Howard said county leaders started putting together affordable housing plans a few years ago.

“My hope is that, as we do these developments, we will not have entire strips of highways and byways covered with housing and development,” Howard said. “Part of our challenge is to say to [ourselves] that, ‘How do we ensure as Chatham [County] changes, it doesn’t lose all the beauty and wonder of what it is?’”

At Chatham Park, developers are promising at least 7.5% of all the housing that goes up to be affordable. Smith said for 30 years, there will be units available for those who make 60% to 80% of the area’s median income.

“It’s important for us to be a community that everybody can live here, and everybody can work here and everybody’s a part of the community,” Smith said.

Smith said home prices will range from $235,000 to $1.1 million. He said most homes in the development will range from $350,000 to $450,000.

Hobaugh said she’s seen a lot of people from California and northern cities move to the area.

“This was a bucolic area of rolling pastures and verdant fields,” Hobaugh said. “Now, you’re starting to see large swaths being taken out for new construction.”