Chatham leaders, schools and residents are ready for the population boom that new businesses will bring ::

The most recent census showed that 80,000 people lived in Chatham County, a density of 112 people per square mile, or about 10% of that of Wake County.

Friday’s announcement of a new Wolfspeed semiconductor chip factory — the latest major project planned for the county and the largest in North Carolina history — will mean the addition of thousands of jobs, new residents, families, homes and drivers.

Vinfast, a Vietnamese automaker, plans to build electric vehicles in the county. Toyota has promised a nearby battery plant in Randolph County, and Boom Supersonic, an airliner maker, will invest $500 million to build high-speed jets at a facility based at PTI Airport.

The Wolfspeed plant, which will be located on land between Zion Church Road and Old U.S. Highway 421, precedes a population boom that county political and school leaders predicted.

“We’ve been preparing for this moment for a decade now,” Chatham County Executive Dan LaMontagne said.

He sees the future as “a place where your kids can go to school, come back here to work.”

“Right now we don’t have that,” LaMontagne said. “We see a lot of our young people leaving the county. We expect that to change.”

It’s a vision that Chatham County native Lisa Stout can believe in.

“I welcome new growth,” she said. “The place where I grew up – it’s dying and drying up. I hope it brings business and people back.”

While Stout appreciates what she called the “smallness” of her Siler City community, she can imagine a balance of economic benefits and small-town spirit.

“I hope it doesn’t make us really fat,” she said.

At a town hall meeting on Tuesday, NCDOT leaders presented plans for several proposed road projects in Chatham County.

Chris Blice, assistant superintendent of operations for Chatham County Schools, acknowledges the challenge. “There has never been this level of growth,” he said. “That level of growth is not what school districts are experiencing.”

There are already renovation projects underway at a middle school, the construction of two new elementary schools and more.

Blice called the changes exciting and said the school system was “pampered by our relationship with the county government.”