Jobs… but what kind and at what cost?
The proposed Chatham Park Master Plan calls for a massive development. One that would have a population more than twice the density of Cary if built out as requested in their proposal. The impacts of such a large development on such a small community as Pittsboro are as enormous as they are varied. Not the least of which would most certainly include an impact on local businesses and, therefore, jobs.
With any large development we certainly see an influx of “big box retail” and restaurant chains. And while the development of these retailers impacts a community in many ways (such as the need for large-capacity roadways to accommodate the shopping volume, a swap of natural areas for acres of paved parking lot, and a neglect of pedestrian traffic channels), the direct impact on the local businesses and character of Pittsboro, coupled with the poor reputation of job opportunities associated with these retailers, should be carefully considered as the town reviews the Chatham Park proposal.
First, the issue of jobs. Chatham Park LLC has been promoting how their project would mean many new job opportunities for Pittsboro residents. Certainly, this is something our town Board of Commissioners are most interested in for the welfare of our people. However, according to Civic Economics, a consulting firm based in Austin, Texas, big box retailers and restaurant chains, in general pay lower wages and benefits than do locally-owned businesses. Certainly, we’ve all heard in the media for the past few years about the terrible wages offered by Walmart to their employees. So, this isn’t so surprising.
But still, if there would be more job opportunities, that would still be good, right? Even if they didn’t pay as well. Well, not necessarily. The kicker here is, the big box retailers’ business plan demands at least a 30% market share of local product sales. And they have the ability to easily undercut local businesses for these same products, putting these smaller, local retailers and restauranteurs, who are paying the higher wages, quickly out of business. So, we in fact sacrifice our higher paying jobs with our local business community, along with the local character of our town that these retailers provide, in a trade for a greater quantity of lower paying jobs through the big box stores and restaurant chains.
Well, what of the job opportunities associated with the research facilities and the hospital and medical centers that are a part of the Chatham Park proposal? While the hospital may bring an approximate 130 jobs, many of these positions are skilled positions, and UNC Hospital most often has brought their own workers to a new development project to support the facility. Similarly, positions within new research businesses will mostly required specialized skills that will be filled by individuals who are not likely already a resident of Pittsboro. These positions are typically recruited and filled from a national pool of qualified individuals.
And, we should not forget the projected 55,000 estimated new population that is going to live in the proposed Chatham Park. The draw to the research companies that Chatham Park LLC hopes to bring in, is that they will have the living spaces for the employees of these new research firms. They are already pairing housing and a new population to meet the needs of these new jobs. They are not creating new employment opportunities for existing Pittsboro residents.