SILER CITY — Wolfspeed’s plans to build a semiconductor plant in Chatham County could create major changes in eastern Randolph County.
Asheboro and other municipalities stand to benefit beyond the 1,800 jobs on 400-plus of the 1,800 acres at the Chatham Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) site.
Wolfspeed’s $5 billion investment will produce a plant to make semiconductor chips used in electric vehicles by 2024. Add to that the Toyota Battery Manufacturing Plant west of Liberty and the jobs created could surpass 4,000.
Developing such industrial megasites requires infrastructure, such as highways, railroads, airports, water supply and sewer service.
You can check off the highways, with US 64 bordering the southern edge of CAM just a short distance from Randolph County. Also, US 421 is to the northeast of the site.
Norfolk Southern Railway borders the east side of CAM, providing the likelihood of spur lines to the site. The Piedmont Triad International Airport and Raleigh-Durham Airport are both nearby.
Siler City says it can provide the sewer service to Phase I on CAM development. The state will provide that city with $4 million to $5 million for upgrades to its sewer plant.
That leaves water, of which Wolfspeed is expected to need 3.3 million gallons per day (MGD).
The state, in making plans for the site, looked at Burlington, but found that water lines would need to be run through the countryside, meaning costly land purchases from agreeable owners. State law doesn’t allow land condemnation for economic development projects.
That left Randolph County with its abundant supplies of water. “Asheboro had a line down (US) 64” to just beyond Loflin Pond Road, said Michael Rhoney, water resources director for the City of Asheboro. A water line would run 16 miles along the US 64 right-of-way from Asheboro to the CAM entrance.
According to the Wolfspeed project plans, the state will budget $55 million for utilities, with $4 million-$5 million going for Siler City sewer plant upgrades and the remainder for the water line.The money for the water line will go directly to Asheboro to install the lines.
Rhoney said the water line will have to meet the requirements of the NC Department of Transportation and the new 20-inch line will have to run parallel with the current 12-inch line to Ramseur. From there, a 24-inch line will be run to the CAM entrance.
Rhoney said Asheboro’s water plant is rated for 12 MGD of treated water and is currently producing 5.5 MGD. So sending water to CAM is well within the city’s capacity.
Since the water lines would pass through the city limits of Franklinville and Ramseur, Asheboro would sell the water to those cities, who would then sell the water to Wolfspeed.
Looking to the future, Wolfspeed, or other clients that move to CAM, could necessitate the need for more water from Randolph County.
“One issue is that if we need to up the capacity, we would have to look at the system as a whole,” Rhoney said, “the lakes, the raw water lines, distribution from the plant to the site.” He said Asheboro is contracting with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council to manage the project, including environmental and engineering work.
Asked how much revenues could come from supplying water to Wolfspeed, Rhoney could only say it would be in the six digits annually.
“There would also be opportunities for others to hook on to the line,” he said.
Rhoney said he’s been looking at options for starting the line from Asheboro. It could come down Dixie Drive from about NC 42 or, his preference, extending water lines down Presnell Street from near Farr Street through undeveloped areas. He thinks that will help bring development along that stretch of road.
The only Randolph County people invited to the Wolfspeed announcement on Sept. 9 at the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh were Asheboro Mayor David Smith and Darrell Frye, chair of the Randolph County Board of Commissioners. Frye talked about the potential upsides of the project for the county.
Referring to Siler City’s plans to provide sewer service to Wolfspeed, Frye believed they only have capacity for the first phase of the project. “Randolph County would want to be part of the process. We would be interested in sewer service for eastern Randolph County.”
Frye added that Wolfspeed will occupy only about one-third of the CAM site, meaning that there will likely be at least one other client using water and sewer service.
He said the sewer could be processed in Ramseur with the potential of offering the service to other areas of that part of the county.
Frye said that since Toyota announced its plan to build the battery plant, the requests by businesses for land have been “tremendous. There’s interest already for supplier business in the area, clients who want property. It’s a matter of what we can put together and how soon.”
The commissioners have already committed to an industrial park at I-74 and Wall Brothers Road near Sophia. That site is a source of much interest by certain industries, Frye said.
The commissioners voted to purchase 30 acres of that site to be eligible for grants to develop the park. They will advance money for roadwork, with those funds being returned by the NCDOT on a per-job basis up to $2.1 million.
As for water, Randolph County currently has 750,000 of treated water from the Randleman Lake, which is operated by the Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority. Frye said there are 8 million gallons of untreated water in storage from the 52-gallon per day reservoir.
The water authority plans to expand the treatment plant by 10 million gallons.
“Our decision is how much more treated water will we need?” Frye said.
And that will depend on how many more businesses choose to locate here, either as ancillary to the megasites or because the area is ideal with its resources and quality of life. Regardless, eastern Randolph County could see dramatic changes in the coming years.