Sanford - Homegrown Tools

Sanford, NC

Updated: 2022

A small yet strong manufacturing community grows through diverse industry recruitment, strategic partnerships, and intentional leadership in Lee County, NC.

Median Household Income2020$47,017
Poverty Rate 202020.5%
Proximity to Urban Center 42.6 miles
Proximity to Interstate Highway 38 miles
Case Study Time Frame
Municipal Budget FY2021-202259.8 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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In the late 1960s, similar to many parts of rural North Carolina, traditional jobs in textiles and tobacco continued to decline in Sanford, NC (located in Lee County). At this time, local leadership began to intentionally strategize how they would replace those jobs. Sanford and Lee County leaders have worked to recruit industries to the area over time, including those in manufacturing—industries that continue to grow and economically support the community. Overall, Sanford’s specific strategy has been diverse industry recruitment, strategic partnerships developed between the local government, the community college, area businesses, and existing manufacturing companies, and intentional leadership.


Intentional leadership matters. In addition to recruiting diverse manufacturers to the area since the late 1960s, Meg Moss, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, says that local leadership has intentionally worked in other ways to grow the town and county. “We have worked extremely hard to get a tourism development authority in Lee County,” she says, “We’ve brought in businesses and tourism, and have also expanded the civic center.” In addition, there is now a campaign to renovate the historic railroad depot into a Welcome Center: one central location for tourists to come and shop, eat at nearby local restaurants, etc.


Don’t underestimate positive partner relationships. Sanford’s Existing Industry Development Manager, Jimmy Randolf, works with the local industrial community, so he has been able to see the success of these firms over time. He notes that, in addition to community leaders recruiting companies to the area, “Once you have the business here, it has to be profitable,” and the manufacturing firms in Lee County are demonstrating just that. For example, pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, recently announced plans for a $500 million facility expansion at their Sanford location, projected to add 300 jobs to the local workforce. This decision to expand did not happen overnight. The original company has been in Sanford since ‘86. Pfizer purchased the company within the last decade, and now has 650 employees after downsizing from 1500 after the Great Recession. This had a dramatic impact from a tax base perspective, but Pfizer assured leaders in the community that the downsizing was necessary, and this proved to be true. As Randolf shares, “We’re now the beneficiary of their decision to expand.” In addition, the local site leader for Pfizer said that with the vaccines franchise, he expects to add another 200 jobs in the next few years.


Support community partners. The manufacturing community also has a positive impact on smaller businesses in Lee County. Meg Moss adds that the small Sanford businesses are supported by larger industries who gain local, quality service: “For example, we have four to five print shops that are printing materials for manufacturers such as businesses cards, etc. Our janitorial business also wouldn’t be around without the larger industries.” Thanks in part to these relationships, Sanford has been able to completely revitalize downtown with improved sidewalks, outdoor spaces, and a historic preservation program. Within the past two years, two breweries have also sprung up in Lee County, bringing in many additional visitors—and now there is a third brewery on the way.


Value strategic partnerships. As mentioned, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance (SAGA) has been a significant asset for the community with the Lee County Economic Development Corporation and Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce all being housed under one umbrella. SAGA offers opportunities to build local leadership and strengthen the local economy through programs such as Leadership Sanford. In addition, SAGA recently partnered with CCCC and Downtown Sanford, Inc. to launch Real Investment in Sanford Entrepreneurs (RISE), an 8-week course which will be offered for entrepreneurs interested in starting a local business. After the course, potential grant money for rent and utilities will be available for the business that presents the best business plan.