'The word is out.' Growing population, retail and biotech fueling Clayton's boomtown surge

Joel Brown Image
Thursday, May 25, 2023
New faces, retail and biotech fueling Clayton's boomtown surge
The town of Clayton sits right off I-40; close to I-95; US 70 and 42; and the soon-to-be completed 540 outer loop.

ABC 11'S Boomtowns series traveled to Clayton to get a closer look at the supercharged growth of this one-time Johnston County mill town that's turned itself into a magnet for new residents, retail and biotech jobs.

"The word is out."

"Oh my gosh, they're several things that make Clayton a boomtown. One of them certainly is our geographic location," said Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod on what's fueling the growth.

The town's boom is certainly benefiting from just how connected it is. It sits right off I-40; close to I-95; US 70 and 42; and the soon-to-be-completed 540 outer loop through Clayton is expected to unlock a whole new level of growth.

"The word is out that Clayton is a place for people to want to live work and play. And that's what's really been fueling a lot of this growth," said Clayton Town Manager Rich Cappola.

How big is the boom? In 2010, Clayton's population was 16,000. Now, the town boasts 28,000 residents. Johnston is the fastest-growing county in the state. And most of those new residents are moving to Clayton. Every day, five new people move here.

"It's a lot of new people moving from New York, from Florida, also California," said L.D. Broadhurst about the new neighbors being lured in by lower home prices and proximity to Research Triangle Park.

Broadhurst works at Glen's Barbershop on Main Street where he's happy to lure in these new customers for a good haircut.

"We are one of the top barbershops here in Clayton. Google us!" he said with a smile.

"It's good and bad."

Mickie Seligsohn retired here in 2005. She's had a front-row seat for Clayton's resurgence from an aging town abandoned by the textile mills to a charming Raleigh-fueled enclave where neighbors know neighbors to boomtown, the hottest ZIP code in the state.

"It's good and bad," said Seligsohn who has heard some grumbling about the growth. "Everybody's complaining because they don't have that small-town effect. But it's like everybody that's complaining are the new people moving in that are creating the problem."

ABC 11 spoke with Chris Johnson via Zoom from a retail convention in Las Vegas. It's Johnson's job to sell the world on Johnston County. The economic development director is celebrating some big wins: Construction is set to start soon on the Copper District which will transform 300 acres of the old Penny Farm into one of the largest mixed-use projects in the Triangle. Like a North Hills in Clayton, it's promising over 800 homes, high-rise offices, retail, and hotel

"The real estate market is all about location," Johnson said. "We've always been a part of the Triangle region. But you know, reaching or expanding that Raleigh-Wake County footprint is really encompassing of all of Johnston County now."

The explosive growth has also brought new concerns about traffic and crime. And town leaders have heard the grumbles over Clayton losing its small-town charm. They're pledging to continue working to create a balance between preserving what people love about old Clayton and welcoming in all the new.

"We certainly can't forget where we came from, what made Clayton a great place to be," said Cappola. "And why all these folks want to be here is what we gotta make sure we keep to our core."

The strongest growth in Clayton, currently, is in biopharmaceuticals. Global drug makers Grifols and Novo-Nordisk both call Clayton home. And both companies have massive expansion plans in the works.

More jobs, more people producing a Clayton boom showing no signs of slowing down.

RELATED | Booming Johnston County is NC's fastest growing area

"I think they bypassed Raleigh this year and came on here": Feverish highway expansion, population boom make Johnston the hottest county in the state.

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