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Business of the Burbs: Established Raleigh Suburbs

In Feature Stories, October 2015 by Caroline BarnhillLeave a Comment

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As Raleigh tops many “BEST OF” lists, the Raleigh suburbs continue to market themselves as hot spots—with booming historic districts, festivals and multi-million dollar recreation facilities.

The competition is heating up across these towns as they pull out all the stops—and the big bucks—to attract new residents. Here’s a look at their strategic messages, what they’re spending and why it’s great news for homeowners.

Businesses follow talent to the burbs.

“There’s been a huge shift in how we approach economic development, even in the past decade,” says Jenny Mizelle, economic development director for the town of Holly Springs.

“For years, small towns focused on luring new businesses so a workforce of future residents would follow. Now we’re seeing that businesses follow the talent. We spend a lot of energy making our town an attractive place for people to live because we know companies will follow, which in turn makes our community more sustainable in the long run.”

Speaking of Holly Springs, here’s a run down of the town and some of the other of the more established Raleigh suburbs.



Population: 29,869

Income: $89,187
Age: 34
Average home price:


holly springs salamanders -


Did you know that Holly Springs cemented its place in the Triangle craft brewery scene long before it caught on in Raleigh or Durham?

Carolina Brewing Company recently celebrated its 20th year in business after finding a home in Holly Springs in 1995. That year, the brewery introduced Carolina Pale Ale, which remains one of the best-selling beers in the Triangle.

“We started scouting for area locations in 1994,” says Joe Zonin, Carolina Brewing Company co-owner. “Since we were self-distributing at the beginning, we needed a spot that would be located outside expensive retail zones, yet central to the entire Triangle. Holly Springs fit that model perfectly. And of course the phrase ‘Brewed and Bottled in Holly Springs’ has a great sound to it. The town has been very supportive of us as we’ve grown together the last 20 years.”

$40 million economic incentive

The town has boomed in the last couple of decades, says Mizelle. The opening of the NC-55-bypass about 15 years ago created a four-lane highway through the town and made Holly Springs a more attractive option for big busi- nesses looking to open new facilities.

The town’s first major coup to its 66-acre Holly Springs Business Park was Novartis’s $1 billion flu vaccine manufacturing facility in 2009, which brought more than 500 jobs to the area. Holly Springs officials offered an economic incentive package estimated to be worth about $40 million to attract Novartis.

The company sold the plant to Australian-based company CSL in 2014.

Down the road from the business park is the new $20 million North Main Athletic Complex, home to the Holly Springs Salamanders. This past summer, the team stepped up to bat as the first Coastal Plain League expansion team in five years. The stadium draws crowds of 2,000 during home games.



Population: 42,150

Income: $88,558

Age: 31
Average home price:


downtown apex



In August, Apex topped Money Magazine’s list of “Best Places to Live in America.” Lauded for its charming downtown area and top-notch schools, Apex has doubled its population since 2000 and continues to see big growth.

“In terms of bringing national recognition to our city, rankings like the one in Money Magazine are absolutely invaluable, says Joanna Helms, economic development director with the town of Apex.

“The Town of Apex has worked hard for years to make sure we have the infrastructure in place and space allotted to bring some big companies out to this side of town,” Helms continues. “Companies often cite the importance of their employee’s quality of life. What better place to set up shop than the best place to live in the country?”

A waiting list for downtown

Apex, a historic train town, is best known for its vibrant to Helms, there is a multi-year waiting list for businesses downtown houses and storefronts.

The Halle Cultural Arts Center, built in 1912 as the Apex Town Hall, opened in 2008, providing a venue for special events, theatrical productions and creative arts classes. The town’s newest attraction, the Rodgers Family Skate Plaza at Trackside, opened this past summer.

Trackside is a $1.1 million, 13,000-square-foot, four-tiered skate plaza that mimics street skating conditions and includes competition skateboarding elements.

“I have heard multiple skaters who live all over are visiting the park and saying that it’s the best skate park in the state,” says Kyle Denis, Apex resident and owner of downtown business Apex Outfitters and Board Co. “I’m very proud to live and work in a town that listens to the needs and wants of its citizens. The area is better because of it.”

A third of the population goes here

The town hosts events throughout the year. Apex PeakFest, which is held every spring, is the town’s largest and most anticipated event. Attended by more than 15,000 people – more than a third of its population – the arts and crafts festival includes live music, food, games and other activities.

Helms hopes the town’s recent recognition will be a big draw for companies looking to move into the area, even over bigger cities like Raleigh or Durham.



Population: 23,655

Income: $59,000

Age: 36
Average home price:


Downtown Fuquay-Varina



In 2014, Fuquay-Varina signed a $95,000 conTract with Raleigh-based advertising agency Clean Design to develop a new town logo and get a better sense of the town’s identity.

“Clean Design gave out a survey for people in our town to take and then were absolutely blown away that 1,300 people actually took the time to respond, says Susan Weiss, communications director for the Town of Fuquay-Varina.

“That wasn’t a surprise to us. We know that we’re a super involved and engaged community. People who are drawn to that kind of small-town-feel love it here.”

Two downtowns

Fuquay-Varina wants to play up one of its most unique features – the two distinct downtown districts that were preserved after Fuquay Springs and the town of Varina merged in 1963. Both downtowns are home to frequent street festivals and art shows. Each spring, the town hosts the “En Plein Air Paint-Off” where local artists compete in bringing downtown landscapes to life by painting live in front of a crowd. Winning art is auctioned off, and replicas are used as street art throughout the town’s historic districts.

Splash on demand

The town’s local government relies heavily on feedback from the community on what they want to see, says Weiss. And when 30 percent

of a town’s population is under the age of 18, family friendly attractions are in demand.

In July, the town opened a 6,000-square- foot splash pad that features multiple jets of streaming water from more than 35 water features.

“The splash pad was built due to requests from our residents,” says Weiss. “We love to offer things that are free and open for people across the Triangle to enjoy.”



Population: 37, 046

Income: $75,050
Age: 35
Average home price:


Downtown Fuquay-Varina


When Wake Forest University left the town of its namesake in the 1950s, the effects were devastating. “We went from a bustling town one day to a ghost town the next,” says Chip Russell, planning director with the town of Wake Forest. “Our town lost nearly half its population. It took about 20 years to bounce back.”

A quest for jobs

After the university announced its departure, the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce was formed to help advertise and recruit manufacturing jobs to the city. During the 1960s, large manufacturing companies like Schrader-Bellows and Athey Products chose to establish manufacturing centers in Wake Forest, bringing hundreds of much-needed jobs to the area.

“It was a total shift in the business landscape in the area. Prior to the 1960s, Wake Forest was a college town with businesses that catered to the needs of college students. Those manufacturing jobs were pivotal to bringing us back to life,” Russell says.

Dedicated to the arts

Downtown is a big part of Wake Forest’s future, says Angela Bendorf Jamison, downtown business owner and vice chair of Wake Forest Downtown, a nonprofit organization committed to keeping downtown vibrant.

“We put a lot of time and effort into our historic and downtown districts – widening sidewalks, installing new streetlights and expanding parking areas,” says Bendorf.

On the second Friday of every month, shops, galleries, restaurants and other establishments along the town’s historic South White Street, known as the arts and entertainment district, stay open late as part of Art After Hours. Paintings, photography and other crafts are on display while street artists and musicians perform.

In 2013, the town opened a $1.3 million, 10,000-square-foot performing arts and event venue, Renaissance Centre, as a place to host exhibitions, workshops, community theatre, classes, concerts and other events.

“We want people from across the Triangle to come see what downtown Wake Forest has to offer,” Jamison says

Read the companion piece to this article: “Business of the Burbs: “Up-and-coming Raleigh suburbs”.

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