Business of the Burbs: Up-and-Coming Raleigh suburbs

In Feature Stories, October 2015 by Cameron Walker1 Comment

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Population: 13,871

Income: $71,066

Age: 32.7
Median home value:



In 2013, responding to fierce competition from other Raleigh suburbs, the town of Knightdale spent $62,000 to hire North Star Destination Strategies, a company that specializes in city branding. The company spoke with residents at length to get feedback.

At the time, the median age in Knightdale was 30.8 years, the youngest in Wake County. Interviewees liked the idea of the town’s youthfulness and a tagline, “Start Something,” was born. Knightdale was the place for new beginnings, whether starting a family, a new business or starting over, says Brian Bowman, Knightdale’s communications director. The slogan forms the core of the town’s marketing and what it hopes to project as its identity. North Star’s research also uncovered a challenge. While the residents liked living there, they said they felt no sense of community, pointing to a dearth of local businesses and the absence of a true town center.

Central park fills void

The new 76-acre Knightdale Station Park will fill that void. The park provides new opportunities for large community gatherings, farmers’ markets and movie nights.

More is coming. The next project may develop mixed-use space on several town-owned acres between the park and the historic district. The vision includes two-story brick buildings that will house small retail and coffee shops. The Mingo Creek Trail will one day be accessible from the park.

Knightdale Station

Knightdale Station, a new 300-acre master planned community by Cary-based Preston Development Company, was able to tie into the existing Knightdale Station Park, already functioning as the town center.

The town has invested over $5 million in the park so far, with more projects planned. The park and its amenities are a big draw to potential homebuyers.

Developers were instrumental in bringing the Y to town and donating money and land for an aquatics center.

Knightdale Station consists of 835 lots and will be a mix of apartments, townhomes and single family homes.






Morrisville Indian DancerMORRISVILLE


Population: 22,772


Income: $98,856


Age: 33.3 Median home value:





Morrisville is in the middle. It’s equal distance from Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, smack dab in the center of Research Triangle Park, which explains much of its rapid growth from a 250-person village in 1980 to a town 96 times that size today. But this Raleigh suburb was suffering from an identity crisis. Its location on the map was a draw for people moving to the area, but that wasn’t enough to sustain growth and retain residents as other suburbs competed for them. Who are we? The town spent $50,000, or .2 percent of its budget, hiring Raleigh-based consulting company Mottis to map out a branding strategy. It has already identified diversity as one of the town’s core strengths. According to Morrisville Chamber of Commerce President Sarah Gaskill, one of every five residents is of Asian Indian descent, compared to Wake County’s ratio of one in 50. Much of this is because the community lies at the intersection of education, science and technology. “We cannot highlight diversity enough,” says Gaskill. “It’s a powerful thing.” Knowing they can find places of worship and food that remind them of where they came from helps newcomers feel at home. Diverse communities like Morrisville attract businesses whose workforce and customer base are increasingly global, Gaskill says. The town’s major employers include Oracle and Lenovo, and its average household income of $98,856 is well above the North Carolina average of $63,707. Morrisville’s Parks Department has worked to become more inclusive, introducing a free English as a Second Language class, a Bollywood dance program and culturally sensitive, women-only swim lessons. Morrisville faces the same challenge as Knightdale: lack of a city center. However, Morrisville Planning Director Ben Hitchings says its implementing a Town Center plan, having already added a street and greenway and created a history center. Future plans include a Healthy Food Hub with farmers’ market and educational garden and what Hitchings calls a “town center core” or “mini Main Street.”



Clayton Sculpture


Population:: 18,445

Income: $57,456

Age: 34.8
Median home value:



Sixteen miles south of Raleigh, Clayton is experiencing a population boom. Already home to major employers like Caterpillar and global healthcare companies Grifols and Novo Nordisk (which recently announced plans to build a new plant in the area, employing an additional 691 people), the town expects to welcome over 6,000 new residents in the next 10 years.

Like kudzu on a power line, unchecked growth can overwhelm a city’s resources. To combat this, Clayton drafted a master plan to handle and shape the community’s expansion through the year 2040, streamlining government and improving transportation.

One major focus is on strengthening downtown to serve as city center—a common denominator for most burgeoning burbs.

It’s important, says local Realtor Katie Spalding. One of the misperceptions about Clayton is that it’s still just a bedroom community for Raleigh. Efforts to revitalize downtown are working, she says, making it walkable and home to local businesses and restaurants.

Downtown Sculpture Trail

Nine impressive pieces rise from downtown locations, from Adam Walls’ steel orb “Mother and Child” outside Town Hall to Corey Lancaster’s chainsaw-carved, tuxedo-wearing “Fiddle Frog” in front of the library. The collection is a mix of colorful abstract construction, whimsical wood carving and powerful works in bronze and steel.

Scannable codes allow visitors to watch a video about the art and the artist on their mobile device.

This year’s sculptures will be on display through May 1, 2016.

Stretching a dollar

Spalding says the area is attractive to homebuyers because of the land they can buy with their dollar. Many of her clients are relocating from bigger, traffic-clogged cities up north, so they don’t mind a commute, and they’re taking advantage of the current 4.25 percent interest rate to snap up large lots on the outskirts of town. She says the area will become even more of a seller’s market after the Novo Nordisk expansion.

Wendell house



Population: 6,182

Income:  $40,968

Age: 39.6
Median home value:



Wendell was once the economic hub of eastern Wake County. Tobacco farmers moved from Granville County, where their plants were dying, seeking new land for their crops. Tobacco was big business, but as demand for the gold leaf dwindled, the town did too.

Before the recession, the future Wendell Falls community was expected to become an economic jumpstart for the town, but after some infrastructure was built, the project stalled. The original investor was foreclosed upon.

New investors

In late 2013, Newland Communities and its investor, North American Sekisui House LLC (NASH), bought the property for $34 million and began building again. When complete, the community is expected to more than double Wendell’s current population of 6,000 residents.

According to Mayor Tim Hinnant, the town is prepared for the influx, having worked on the project for 10 years.

“Since the economic downturn in 2008, there has been time to refine details of the development which we believe will create a more vibrant community than the one originally planned,” he wrote in an email.

He points to the water merger with Raleigh in 2006, expanding the town’s planning jurisdiction in 2009, and hiring a professional planning team to work with Newland.

The town is also boosting communication capabilities, adding cell phone towers and installing free Wi-Fi downtown.

Wendell welcomes development but is also serious about preserving its past; the town has two historical districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Wendell Falls

The 1,100-acre community, which has its own exit off I-540, will bring to the town an additional $1 billion in taxable property. Wendell Falls will have over 4,000 homes and 2 million square feet of commercial space.

Newland Communities and NASH chose the property because the previous developer had already spent almost $100 million in infrastructure and land, and Wendell is one of the last areas to be developed in Wake County that’s still close enough to Raleigh to attract homebuyers.

The company won’t disclose how much it plans to spend on the project, but says its strategy is to invest money early on, focusing on amenities to create a sense of community where potential buyers can see themselves living.

Trails, parks, a live music venue, fitness studio, saltwater pool and the only coffee shop in town are just some of the features already in place. Lake Myra Elementary School is on-site.

Read the companion piece to this article: “Business of the Burbs: Established Raleigh suburbs”.

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