As Harnett County population grows, leaders hope it will help entice businesses: Boomtown

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Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Harnett County looks to use growing population to entice businesses
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About fifteen years ago, the county saw an initial population influx in the western part stemming from Fort Liberty, with the more recent building taking place in the northern part of the county.

HARNETT COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Harnett County officials are hoping its increasing population will help bring businesses to the region.

"We obviously have all the rooftops, but we could use some commercial growth as well as industrial growth," said Mark Locklear, Development Services Director with Harnett County.

The county's population has grown by more than 50% since 2000, from just about 91,000 residents to an estimated 140,000 people.

"Proximity to the large metropolitan areas. Fort Liberty and Cumberland County down south and obviously Wake County up north. Obviously, land values - folks can come down here, maybe get a bigger home than what they can in Wake County. And then I like to think that Harnett County is a beautiful place. We have a lot of natural rivers, state parks and things of that nature that I don't think people know even exists," said Locklear.

About fifteen years ago, the county saw an initial population influx in the western part stemming from Fort Liberty, with the more recent building taking place in the northern part of the county.

"We've reviewed 3-4,000 lots and we have permitted 1,200 houses (annually over the past three to four years)," said Locklear.

One of those projects is Serenity, located in Fuquay-Varina.

"It's the best of both worlds. I can go to Target, it's 10 minutes down the street. But you also still kind of get that feel of being rural and away from everything else," said Jessica Alpers, who moved here from Wake County four months ago.

The county is facing similar challenges as neighboring communities as it tries to manage rapid growth.

"We're starting to see issues with our streets or transportation issues, starting to see some issues with schools. But we're building new schools. We have a brand new school (Northwest Harnett Elementary) and we built several down in Western Harnett. So we're trying to keep up with the challenges," Locklear explained.

As it tries to spur economic activity, the Harnett County Jetport is embarking on a series of renovations.

"The terminal itself is going to allow for meeting room spaces. We didn't have any of that in the existing building. We had a small conference room, and two little pilot (areas). We have room for future growth as far as offices or businesses that can be located at the airport, as well as getting our economic developer over here. When a potential client comes in, they can land, they can come in, they can go upstairs and have a meeting and get back on their plane and go back and tell others this is where we need to be is Harnett County," said Jerry Milton, who is Chairman of the Harnett County Jetport Board.

Milton, who also owns Southeastern Interiors, believes the expansion can also help student-athletes at nearby Campbell University.

"The teams have to drive to Raleigh to get on a plane instead of being able to come to Harnett County's Jetport. So hopefully we'll be able to keep those dollars here," Milton explained.

The new terminal is expected to be completed by the end of the year, and county officials hope to complete a deal to purchase land for additional hangars this week. Money to build a longer runway was included in the state budget, though additional funds will be needed to complete the project.

"We're having more and more interest. This brings us up to the same caliber as the surrounding counties. I feel like that's going to help us be able to compete not against them, but with them. Just because Chatham County is getting Vinfast, we're going to get some ancillary businesses from that," said Milton.

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