CHINA GROVE – Council member Rodney Phillips views China Grove as an ecosystem in which schools, businesses, churches and residents all play a part.
That ecosystem is about to change in a major way.
On Thursday, it was announced that Macy’s will invest $ 584.3 million in the construction of a 1.4 million-square-foot e-commerce fulfillment center at the intersection of US 152 and I-85 that will account for 30% of the retailer’s digital supply chain capacity once fully operational. The fulfillment center is expected to add 2,800 jobs in a town of just over 4,000 people with an annual budget of about $ 4 million.
“It’s going to transform China Grove,” Phillips said.
That transformation will be positive, Phillips said, but is likely to come with a few growing pains. While 2,800 people won’t be moving into China Grove overnight, the fulfillment center will over time lead to significantly more people relocating to the town or at least passing through on their daily commute. That means more students in China Grove’s schools, more people eating at restaurants and shopping at stores and more folks driving on China Grove roads – the last of which seems to be the primary concern most people have about Macy’s arrival, according to Phillips.
“Traffic has to be addressed,” Phillips said.
Mayor Charles Seaford said the good news is that most people working at the fulfillment center won’t be driving through the heart of China Grove to get to the Macy’s site.
“Traffic is going to be a problem, but the good thing is most people are going to be traveling up I-85 or Highway 152 or major highways and not actually being in the town,” Seaford said.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is currently working with Macy’s and the company developing the fulfillment center to determine the best way to improve roads to accommodate additional traffic. A traffic study is also underway, with initial projects indicating that the fulfillment center could generate 8,000 cars per day during the peak season, which would be around the holidays.
Kelly Seitz, a NCDOT district engineer, said additional roundabouts or a traffic signal will need to be added on US 152 to accommodate the influx of cars. Turn lanes will almost certainly be added as well. There will likely be two entrances to the fulfillment center on US 152, Seitz said.
Shelly Corriher, owner of Wanderer’s Rest Home Emporium and president of the China Grove Board of Trade, said she is in favor of Macy’s growth will bring as long as traffic doesn’t become a major problem.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing as long as the traffic is thought about over there,” Corriher said.
Corriher said she isn’t sure if the fulfillment center will have a ripple effect for downtown businesses like hers.
“I don’t know if it will have much of a downtown impact, except people shopping on their lunch breaks,” Corriher said.
Nonetheless, Corriher said she is in favor of growing as long as the town maintains its “hometown charm.” Seaford said he expects the town to keep its character.
“We’re going to try to accommodate (Macy’s) however we need to, but I don’t see the town changing a whole lot,” Seaford said. “This town is a small town and that is our ambition to keep the town itself as a small town.”
Jason Overcash, who is currently working to open a brewery and restaurant downtown, isn’t as keen on the new fulfillment center as others. He expressed as much at the Town Council’s February meeting during which it approved an incentive package that will have the town return 80% of new taxes paid by Macy’s over a 15-year term. The incentive agreement is dependent on Macy’s meeting certain job creation requirements.
Overcash said he’s in favor of growth in the town, but didn’t like the way the council handled the incentive package. Overcash said the council had its mind made up on approving the package before the meeting started and questioned whether the town could’ve negotiated a better deal.
Overcash said he’s also concerned about the potential strain the fulfillment center may have on the town’s small police and fire departments and worries about tax payers having to foot the bill.
Phillips said the town will need to adjust in the future to accommodate the growth Macy’s will bring, including the potential impact on town services. He pointed out the council recently approved several new housing developments in anticipation of a major economic development project coming to fruition.
Last year, the council approved plans for the Liberty Grove subdivision and the Kensington subdivision, which combined would bring several hundred homes to the area. The council also gave the green light to an apartment complex on Shue Road and gave more time to developers planning an apartment complex at the end of Ketchie Estates Road near I-85.