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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Koka Booth, July 6, 2004. Interview K-0648. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Drawing businesses to Cary, North Carolina

Booth remembers Cary in the early 1970s, a small town with two traffic lights and not much of an industrial base. He and other community leaders decided to draw businesses there, and found a great deal of success, attracting industrial and technology companies. Booth's goal was to make Cary the kind of place that would offer his children jobs if they wanted to start a career in their hometown.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Koka Booth, July 6, 2004. Interview K-0648. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What was Cary like when you first joined the Council, and then how did it change?
KOKA BOOTH:
Couldn't buy a pair of shoes for my boys here in town. Two doctors, I think we had two traffic lights. There was not a sidewalk from Ashworth Drugs to the elementary school. Great community. People were absolutely wonderful. The school was good. Just what you would expect with a small town atmosphere. It was here. A lot of new people. What was interesting, everybody, a lot of people were new and so you didn't feel like the new kid on the block, and our kids did not feel like the new kid on the block because there were so many new people. So it was easy. Everybody was looking to make new friends, so that was very easy for everybody. A lot of people from many different locations came here.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
But there really wasn't an industry base at that time?
KOKA BOOTH:
We had Taylor Biscuit Company was located here. There was W.R. Grace had a facility that, they filled the drums with chemicals for agriculture next to that plant. Other than that in the "city limits" that was about it. We had some facilities relatively close, but they weren't in the city and so the city didn't get any taxes out of them.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
So at that time, the only tax base that we really had…
KOKA BOOTH:
It was 9% non-residential and 91% residential.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Wow. Was there a lot of development going on yet?
KOKA BOOTH:
Building was a very active business in Cary. When I moved here, shortly thereafter, Pirate's Cove started to be built. You can see the size that turned out to be. Then in about '72, '73, Kildaire Farms announced their development. MacGregor, we were not the ninth house to be built in MacGregor, but we were the ninth family to move into MacGregor. So that's kind of the trend that you saw suddenly develop. There was a development off of Maynard Road called Wishing Well Village that they developed a number of homes. There was a development off of Pamlico Drive that built some homes. That's, you see where the areas were being located. Nice homes but everybody was traveling someplace else to work.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
So when and how did that change?
KOKA BOOTH:
As I remember it, I think when the, there was a group of a hundred people got together at MacGregor one day and said, we had to do something to change directions here in town. They agreed to put some money together and buy some land and have it rezoned for industrial development. They bought land over off of Old Apex Road and the first company that built there was the pharmaceutical aerosol group that built over there from England. Then the land between U.S. 1 and 64 across the street from MacGregor was zoned for an industrial park. There was a great deal of raised eyebrows about that, but the very first industry we recruited there was Firetrol from Erie, Pennsylvania who made fire suppressant equipment. You can go there today and it looks like an office building. Then Container Graphics, of course the Lord Corporation built a research facility there. We got a company out of California that built sprinkling equipment called Hunter Industries. There are just so many really top notch, high quality industries that were attracted to that park. That was kind of the turning point. We were shooting for a goal of 60% residential and 40% non-residential. Came close two or three times to retaining that, but it was always a goal and we never quite met it. But when we raised that bar and started getting industry, and getting good industry, it made so much difference. Of course now, places like SAS came to Cary in 1980 and just absolutely made all the difference in the world for being here. When they moved here, they came here with twenty people from Raleigh.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Only twenty? How many employees does SAS have in Cary now?
KOKA BOOTH:
4,000 plus here today with 900 acres and 24 buildings. The company is 10,000 employees worldwide, almost. Now you can see what that difference makes to a community. People like SAS contribute so far more than tax base to a community. It is unbelievable what they do. The employees who are making good salaries and things, they can contribute so much. They like the arts, they like professional sports, they like college sports. They like for their kids to have nice soccer fields, like SAS Soccer Park and things like that. It makes so much difference. So that was the vision that we had. Most of the people on the Council had young children and we kept saying, we just want it so our kids can stay here and work if they want to. That was our goal.