Zebulon works to enhance business community as population increases: Boomtown

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, July 5, 2023
Zebulon businesses grow as population booms
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"The town motto here is, 'A town of friendly people.' And I would say that that's accurate."

ZEBULON, N.C. (WTVD) -- It was another busy day for Andrew Armstrong inside his namesake barber shop, where customers sat patiently waiting for their turn for a trim.

"We've grown (by) four employees since the last four years. We're getting ready where all our stations are full. Our hours have extended," said Armstrong.

For the lifelong Zebulon resident, the population growth has been exciting, ushering in new customers.

"(The) majority of our new clientele are people that are from somewhere else, from another city, state, or even other countries. We're finding that as well," said Armstrong.

Armstrong said the residential growth has been noticeable; just down the street from his barber shop is a construction site where crews are building duplexes.

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"A lot of younger people, people that weren't considering Zebulon previously now are considering it because of the price point that's available out here. We're seeing a lot of new style housing," said Robert Terry, who is the Broker in Charge at Insight Residential Realty.

The Australian native moved to Zebulon 23 years ago in large part due to its relative affordability. He said despite the increasing prices, it still provides better value than other areas of Wake County, and the town's ethos has remained strong.

"The town motto here is, 'A town of friendly people.' And I would say that that's accurate," Terry said.

US Census estimates pegged Zebulon's population at about 8,700 people last July, nearly double from where it was in 2010.

"As our brand has grown, our distribution has grown. That now has brought awareness to what we were doing, our bourbon, and bringing in folks from out of town, even out-of-state to come visit the business. But in addition to that, we also have a special events business next door that has really taken off in these last three or four months," explained Brandon McCraney, who opened up Olde Raleigh Distillery a couple years ago.

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McCraney has been encouraged by conversations with town officials about plans for future development, and is hopeful to see more businesses choose to open downtown.

"We need a wide variety of things to keep local citizens engaged here locally," said McCraney.

Addressing that is a focus of town officials; this spring, it hired its first economic development specialist.

"A major reason for Zebulon was the building and the location. This downtown, I think, has an opportunity to be something really special. We've got two main traffic arteries for the state running right through downtown main street," said McCraney.

"(The) primary goal is to work with corporations that are here to make sure that they have the opportunity to expand, as well as bring in new employers, not only in the industrial side, but also the commercial side as well," said Planning Director Michael Clark.

Clark, who previously worked in Apex and Knightdale, anticipated the impact of the town's Unified Development Ordinance, which went into effect in 2020, would start being felt in the next six to eight months.

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"The biggest change is really encouraging neighborhoods that are constructed for everybody, where it's not just a cookie-cutter style neighborhood all of the same, but it's the combination of townhomes and single-family detached. More of your traditional development or next generation that is going to be pushing for more mixed-use development. So you'll have things such as apartment complexes near commercial centers, getting back to the way things were developed before cars became such a dominant force and creating that sense of community, whether you're downtown or you're north of the freeway, and creating those walkable, vibrant neighborhoods," Clark explained.

As other areas of Wake County have seen large-scale development, there's an anticipation the same can happen in Zebulon sooner rather than later, especially at price points that are more easily attainable.

"The new subdivisions that are taking shape are really nice, and that's fairly recent. If you're a developer, (you) still find land at a reasonable cost where they can develop it and get this housing under under $350,000," said Clark.

On the commercial side, developers have noticed the same opportunities. The question now: how do current businesses fit into the town's future? Armstrong said the building he operates out of was sold and he is now working on a month-to-month basis as he explores other locations.

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"We don't want to leave Zebulon and go to Wendell or Knightdale, because we're in a community. We have a lot of people here that we take care of and the community, we don't want to leave them," said Armstrong, who supported greater economic support for existing businesses who are forced to relocate.

Clark said the town plans to create an economic development strategic plan this fall, considering feedback from residents regarding future growth opportunities.

Zebulon isn't alone. Click here to see what other areas are booming in North Carolina.