Our role in the "global economy"

I was inspired to start a thread about economic issues by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen's meeting last night. Dr. James Johnson gave a presentation looking at what a "sustainable community" is and how that factors into and helps create a sustainable economy in a given city. Chapel Hill and Carrboro have many of the qualities of a sustainable community: respect for diversity (ok, that can be argued, but let's not focus on that), good schools, high quality of life. And yet, outside of the university, most folks commute to RTP and Durham and Raleigh for work. As an environmentalist who is concenred with sprawl and pollution, this concerns me.

Is there a chance our future holds more jobs locally? What are Chapel Hill and Carrboro doing right to create more opportunities for citizens to work in town? What are they doing wrong? Is there a focus on a particular type of business that the towns are trying to attract?



Patrick, and Duncan,

We could increase density in Carrboro without doing it right downtown. (Ask current retail and restaurant businesses how good they think it will not be if more space is added to current street and parking configurations -- and much of that parking is privately held and will become more expensive for the town to lease with 5-story zoning.)

Willow Creek and Carrboro Plaza are both one-story spreads that have a lot of room for vertical growth, and without having to stay mired in their current aesthetics. They are a short bike ride from downtown.

(Duncan, it sounds like you DO believe in applying big-city solutions to medium- and small-sized towns.)

Does the desire to preserve neighborhood quality and lower density count only if you live in Northside?

Oops. Wrong Orange County, wrong preservation program. Here's the Triangle Land Conservancy:


Inherited farm land can be a real financial burden on heirs, and there aren't a lot of options. But one of the good options is the conservation easement, which I believe the Nutters and others in the county have adopted as a way of preserving the land and unburdening their heirs:


Otherwise, you get this kind of thing ( http://www.kingfarm.com/ ) which has the audacity to use the word "farm" in its name. This is the development built on the old King Farm in Rockville, Maryland, where I grew up. It was a corn and livestock farm (show-quality Angus with some old Wye blood, I believe).I went through 4-H with some of the extended King family, and that farm was the last, large piece of undeveloped land close by DC with access to the interstate and the Rockville Pike development corridor. Developers had been slavering over it for decades. Finally, the family sold out.

Ironically, some of the very generous proceeds from the sale have gone to bankroll a King family member who (years after escorting my sister when she was a county fair princess) became radicalized at Duke University (!!), quit school, made his name in San Francisco as a hardcore affordable housing and homeless advocate, became the youngest member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and finally embarked on a career of endlessly baiting now-retired crony-pol Mayor Willie Brown:



It's a riddle wrapped in a conundrum.

Based on the numbers Looking For Work and D Murrell provided on real estate professionals and farmers, it seems like real estate and banking are primary industries in Orange Co. It makes sense, but it also explains part of the problem. Our local economy is "property" based, a form of capitol that is surely somewhat at odds with attracting new businesses/jobs. Space costs are high and the labor pool is expensive, therefore we don't attract entrepreneurs. Back in the 80s there was a concept of a business incubator--support for new businesses in the form of shared space, clerical support, office equipment etc. Similar types of incentive plans might be useful strategies for attracting new businesses.

The farm issue I find particularly disturbing--especially the average age of 56. That indicates to me that the county is going to see significant number of large land parcels being available for development in the next 10-15 years. You all may have known this but it's new info for me.

As a Carrboro resident, I believe that the future of strengthening employment in Carrboro lies in providing more workspace in and near downtown. Here's why:

Manufacturing is leaving NC at an alarming rate. Only CA, OH, and TX have lost more manufacturing jobs in the last 3 years than NC. Even if manufacturing growth occurred, it is unlikely new manufacturing firms would locate in Carrboro. The town is far from a major interstate and has higher taxes than many other municipalities in the region.

Carrboro does not have large open tracts of land that can be easily flattened for RTP-style office parks. This will keep many firms who seek that high-mobility but low-accessibility (you're stuck without a car) environment from locating in Carrboro.

Just as there are the professionals other have described who work in RTP or suburbia but locate in CH/C for the good schools and property values, there are surely entreprenuers that would live in town for the same reasons who prefer a walkable downtown as their business location. Right now, those people have little choice as to where to locate their businesses, and consequently, most are in strip malls, RTP, or along arterial roads across the region.

Creative-work firms in architecture, graphic design, etc. might make sense, and the location of several such firms in houses on Weaver St suggests this is a niche that could grow if more space were available. Anyone who needs an office with high-speed internet and not a lot of floor space makes sense.

The Carrboro Mayor and Aldermen have been moving in the right direction by considering more density and taller buildings in the downtown area. By doing this, hopefully we can open up new office space and leverage the town's superior livability to attract new business.

Does anyone know how many people in Orange Co are employed through some type of real estate business (sales, management, appraisals, etc.)? How about farmers? I'd love to know how to find this info myself if someone can educate me.


2829 employees in Finance, Insurance and Real Estate and 530 in Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry. Orange Economic Development publishes these, but the data is from Employment Security Commission of NC, 3rd Quarter 2001.

Using this site, I found 689 licensees (salespeople and brokers) in Orange County:


Using this site, I found 18 appraisers in Orange County who are also members of a board of Realtors in North Carolina. That number sounds low:


Chapel Hill Board of Realtors:


According to the state, there are 485 farms in Orange County, the average farm size is 150 acres, and the county is ranked 60th in total cash receipts from livestock and crops. The average age of farmers in Orange County, according to state statistics, is 56.


Higher and denser is great--unless you are in the little one-and-a-half story house with an enormous duplex on either side. It's interesting--it appears that politically, infill in "white" neighborhoods is considered good and progressive--while in-fill in traditionally African American neighborhoods is considered evil and worth stopping.

Just something to think about!


NOTE--Carrboro did not HAVE a multi-year comprehensive plan in 1984. And West main had NO sidewalks--or even storm sewers and gutters. It was very much a "country" style road--with large swales and ditches. The DOT curbed and guttered--I think it was 1991?

ALSO--I don't have a problem with PLANNED density--I think Southern Village is great. The streets and services were PLANNED for the density of housing. My problem with infill is that,often, it's like pulling TEETH to get the infra-structure upgraded.

I'm just glad I moved to Chapel Hill. We may have to contend with the University--but at least the council listens to the residents. (Witness the temporary ban on duplexes...)


When buying a house, sometimes it pays to look at the various multi-year/comprehensive plans (every town has a different name for it) that towns develop for future growth, not just the current zoning. To insist that zoning never change is consistent, perhaps, but not at all realistic. The towns we live in today would be unrecognizable if they were frozen in 1950s-era zoning, which often meant no zoning.

Plus, I'm a fan of in-fill. Higher and denser, baby! No sleep till Brooklyn!

You may be right about the non-opposition...When I lived on West Main it was PRIMARILY owner occupied. I believe, as my elderly (former) neighbors passed away their houses were turned into rentals. I know the Dark's and Mrs. Gibson's house are currently rentals.

In my experience, rental property owners are less invested in the "feel" of a neighborhood--so long as the valueof the property and it's market desirability are maintained. Northside in Chapel Hill is a PEFECT example of this--as the older homeowners passed away or left the property got snatched up and turned into humongous duplexes which TOTALLY dwarf the rest of the houses.

If you re-read my post you'll notice that I said IF 605 had a variance and IF I lived on West Main I would have been ticked. If those conditions had been in place, you'd best believe there would have been at least ONE complaint. Not that it would have done any good. But I WOULD have protested...but ONLY if the building was more than existing zoning allowed. I can't remember what the zoning for that area is. It may have been fine and no variance needed--in which case I would have said nary a word.

I will say that I have a problem with in-fill that needs zoning changes/variances. When I buy a piece of property, I DO look at how it is zoned. That is my assurance that the neighborhood I am purchasing in will be the neighborhood I LIVE in. There seems to be a movement abroad to allow variances/zoning changes for in-fill--and then to label the neighbors who protest the changes as NIMBYs. THAT I have problems with.



Actually, the Town of Chapel Hill is 8th on the list with 665, BCBS is 4th with 1373 (let's hope we keep them from continuing to move to Durham). This is 2001 data from Orange County Economic Development.

But you're conclusion gets us back to the point: too many people will continue to commute out of Orange County for work each day. And sure, more mass transit would be nice to move them.

However, this thread was framed as a discussion of the role jobs play in a sustainable communities. Are we really satisfied with having almost 20% fewer jobs the people who want them? I don't think that fits anyone's definition of sustainability. If we aren't satisfied with that, the question isn't whether we should endeavor to generate more, but what kind do we want, how do we get them and where do they go?.

PS The really scary part of the jobs issue isn't where we are today, but the trend to move jobs over seas. This isn't just a manufacturing phenomenon anymore. White collar jobs in high tech and - very meaningful to our community - health care are beginning to be outsourced to well qualified folks in other parts of the world. That can, and will, affect the previously safe base of employment with our largest employers. What are we doing to prepare for that? It's real and it's coming fast.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there was any opposition to 605 West Main from neighbors. IF that's true, I'm not sure I buy into the idea that people should be "ticked" about it. It adds office space to the core of the city which could encourage more people who live in Carrboro to start businesses or work in Carrboro.



Of course there are more jobs than 22 years ago.

In other ways, things haven't changed that much. 21,061 jobs at UNC and Hospital. Next largest employer, Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools at 1500. So, most people still work at UNC. Many others still commute to RTP and elsewhere. That's hardly progress.

We can have more jobs here. It's a matter of choice. I was referring to Orange County. There are currently designated economic development zones planned to accommodate them. Even in southern Orange, we have current commercial districts which could stand some more density, if we value the increase in jobs that would result. And, if we can solve the attendent transportation issues, Carolina North provides a great opportunity to allow more people who live here to work here.

Don't forget the local governments. I think the Town of Chapel Hill has more employees than the school system. Also BlueCross BlueShield. They are major employers, although it's true they pale in comparison to the University. And so tons of folks are going to continue to schlep into suburban RTP every day. I wish they could schlep by train or high-speed bus instead of I-40 and NC-54!

There are a few commercial properties along the bypass, and I do mean "few" that have kept their integrity as far as rent control who have not prostituted themselves when the market goes south. Most of the new apartment communities are not affordable. However,I truly believe there are sufficient safe/affordable/decent rentals available in town. Again, not everyone can own a home. If that were the case then by golly we need to annex the moon!

There are a lot of homeowners who have jumped on the rent bandwagon...Just drive thru Carrboro and see the "for rent" signs everwhere.

I have to pay tribute to Mr. Marcoplos when he posted that building a home is an expensive process. Let's pay people more so that they can afford a home (one that is probably built by labor that is paid minimally). <--not his exact quote but something close.

I would certainly welcome a tax increase to pay a teacher or police officer more $$$ so they can afford to live here.

Well, I was thinking more of MANUFACTURING jobs--not office space, per se. My big problem with 605 is that it is on the very edge of the residential neighborhood--and will TOTALLY loom over the house next door. That said, it's their property. DId they have to get a variance--or was the property zoned for that? If they got a variance I'd be TICKED if I lived on West Main...which I no longer do!


Nick, come to Carrboro! Just kidding . . . it is getting to be darn near as expensive as Chapel Hill.

Melanie, I think the points you make illustrate just what the issue is with developments like (your favorite) 605 W Main Street. New place to work in downtown Carrboro, but having a very real impact on adjacent neighborhoods . . .

Trish, there is a very real problem with overbuilding in the rental housing market. It seems like everyone (that can) has moved up to nicer rental digs in recent years and that the bottom of the barrel is largely vacant. This is what the Stock Market types call a market correction. Rents have indeed come down in some places (especially along the bypass).

This is causing some real problems in the marketplace. There are constantly a dozen or more Bolinwood condos for sale on the MLS. Likewise there are a bunch of University Commons units for sale at virtually all times. Some of these condos have even undergone foreclosure because their investor landlords are overleveraged (they owe a lot and they are getting no rent). In a few cases, there are landlords who are renting at a loss in order to staunch the hemorraging of money. I hear your sympathetic sobs (not).

Particularly along the bypass, the landlords have let their properties get into shameful condition and they are now reaping what they have sewn. But do not confuse this with Affordable Housing. We often talk about affordable housing, but we mean safe, decent affordable housing.

-Mark Chilton

Looking--I don't know how long you've lived here---but there are more jobs here now than there were 22 years ago. Back then people either

A: worked for the University or

B: commuted (largely to RTP)

I myself used to commute to Durham, and my husband to RTP.

While I would LOVE for there to be more work HERE--I don't think the populace will supprt the kind of industrial park/office space needed to GENERATE jobs. Nor do I think thee is anyplace to PUT it. Even A Southern Season has their warehouse in Hillsborough...


This may be off topic but, has anyone looked into the mass vacancy rate in apartment communities lately? That is what I call "affordable housing". Judging by all the signage up and down 54, they are practically giving them away (and I don't mean Meadowmont or Southern Village units @$900 per month or the dumpy apts. at $300 a month). Not everyone on the planet can "afford" a house, and there are many benefits to apartment living. Why do we have to keep building more and more and more. Also, maybe locals should consider making room by deconstructing the old and run down before crowding the town with more infill projects.

I believe I heard that there are only 84 jobs per 100 workers in Orange County.

About 40% of workers residing here commute to jobs in other counties.

We may need more affordable housing, but we need jobs, too.

Good points, Nick. I think my point is that the issue of diversity IS tied to sustainability and livability and quality of life, and ultimately, to the survival of a town/city. However, I was trying to narrow the debate a bit, which I think is sometimes necessary in order to focus and create action rather than be paralyzed by the enormity of large problems all tied together with othe problems. I said that there is a lack of jobs in the town, and I'm sticking by it. I haven't looked at the statistics lately, but I'm pretty sure we have turned into bedroom communities because of the desirability idea that Nick pointed out PLUS the fact that many people who live here must work elsewhere or have spouses who must work elsewhere. They'd rather not have the commute, but the big offices aren't here. And when a company gets big enough or interesting enough, it gets bought out or moves to bigger digs somewhere in another town (Mammoth Records comes to mind). Anyhow, I think that diversity is an important issue that we aren't addressing very well in our community (although I think the Northside Conservation District is a step in the right direction), but I also think sometimes it's important to try to step back and look at the multiple factors at play that make our community what it is and try to address them individually. Anyhow, I'm talking way out of my area of expertise, so I'll shut up now.

And I agree with Ginny that we have a big need to bring the environmental community into a room with the developers and talk about common ground. I'll be at the meeting you mentioned and I hope other folks that are interested in green building and green development will attend as well! Ginny, have you heard about the NC green building certification program that the NC Solar Center is piloting? Might Chapel Hill-Carrboro be a good place to implement this?


I don't necessarily think there is a shortage of jobs in Chapel Hill or Carrboro, so I really couldn't make any suggestions for how to stimulate the local economy. What I do know is that the average single-family house, in Chapel Hill at least, goes for $320,000. I don't see the problem as being that we have no jobs for all our citizens, it is that they aren't paid enough to afford housing inside the town(s). The leaders can, and shamefully didn't in the past, place some controls on new developments that do nothing but breed exclusivity. Your environmental concerns, it seems to me, stem from the congested roads around here everyday. Rightly so. Very few of our local service or blue-collar workers can afford to live here, so their cars clog the roads when they head home to durham, chatham, or northern orange after each workday. The lawyers and business folks in the triangle CAN afford homes here, so they move to move to Chapel Hill and put up with the commute because of the benefits you mentioned (schools, quality of life, low crime). After all, Durham had six murders in a week during the middle of January, CH and Carr have about six each half decade - where would you want to raise your kids? However, you did briefly mention diversity and then quickly dismissed it in your post. I think that is a key issue in our towns. People are giving less and less of a shit about diversity and seem to want to live in a bland, single(simple?)minded suburban enclave. Please, don't argue about diversity issues later, argue about them now. The sink-or-swim sucker attitude that Chapel Hillians have adopted as the town becomes more and more elitist and lily-white is creating a domino effect that is degrading the "quality of life" in nearly all facets.


Thanks for the info on the when and where.

Peace be upon everyone,


If anyone missed Dr. Johnson's presentation, he will be speaking at the Chamber's Sustainability and Green Building Workshop from noon to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, February 24, 2004. Lunch is by Whole Foods Market, and there are a series of workshop presenters in the afternoon. It will be at United Church of Chapel Hill.

Registration is $15, and I'd be happy to pass along any additional information you need. I really would like to start a dialogue between the business and environmental communities (WHO ARE NOT THAT DIFFERENT IN CHAPEL HILL-CARRBORO) about sustainability and how we can all work together on it and benefit from it.



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