The Candidates Respond: Economic Development

Nine candidates are running for the Orange County Board of Commissioners in the upcoming Democratic primary election on March 15.

  • At Large (1 seat): Andy Cagle, Matt Hughes, Mark Marcoplos
  • District 1 (2 seats): Jamezetta Bedford, Mark Dorosin, Gary Kahn, Penny Rich
  • District 2 (1 seat): Bonnie Hauser, Renee Price

OrangePolitics asked the candidates to answer five questions, and all provided responses. We're posting the candidates' responses to one question every Monday. We previously posted the candidates’ answers about the county-schools relationship, the 2016 bond referendum, and poverty. Today, we post the responses to the fourth question:

What is your vision for economic development in Orange County?

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Andy Cagle

My vision would be to work with Commissioners and local chambers to promote and attract light industrial development using proven tactics though research of other successful operations. With the expected growth of more than 50,000 new residents in the near future, we must address the growing pains that we will encounter. With this growth we will need funds to expand our public safety services and emergency services. Our new residents will need jobs. It would be in our best interest for our citizens to work close to home. One major benefit from light industrial development, variety stores and restaurants in the County, would be the reduction in greenhouse gases that comes from a long commute to work. This would increase our tax base, fund our critical care needs and help reduce the financial burden to residents for the associated growth. People who live and work local buy local, so this would also boost our sales tax revenue.

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Matt Hughes

My ideal vision for economic development is one that acknowledges how far we have come in economic development, and just how much further we have to go in letting folks know that Orange County is open for business. The establishment of the three economic development districts (EDD) along I-40 and I-85 was a great first step and we are beginning to see the benefits of these districts with businesses like AKG and Morinaga. However, we need to continue the push, not just by encouraging more businesses to relocate here, but to help our existing local businesses. It is about creating more jobs for the people of Orange County, however that can be achieved.

The quarter-cent sales tax (Article 46) approved in 2011 benefits our economic development landscape by placing the necessary infrastructure in our county to lure new businesses in. However, it also aides small businesses as well. Of concern for me is increasing the support given to small businesses through our existing loan and grant programs. These programs are extremely popular and we have businesses, existing and new, that are turned down because of demand. Article 46 allows us to put up to $200,000 annually into the Small Business Logan Program's pool of available money to lend. If we can do more, we should. Therefore, I will continue to support designating this quarter-cent sales tax entirely to education and economic development and will oppose any changes to this designation.

Additionally, we must address our permitting and approval process, which I believe currently makes it prohibitively expensive for businesses to find office space and remain in the county. It is imperative that we diversify our county’s economy in order to create jobs for people of all educational backgrounds: those with college and professional degrees and those without. Diversification of our economy is also imperative from a revenue standpoint, as homeowners currently fund the vast majority of our county’s budget. Increased commercial activity will increase revenue from commercial property taxes and increase sales taxes, thereby taking some of the tax burden off of private homeowners.

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Mark Marcoplos

I believe the Economic Development Districts are poised for more development that will provide jobs and increase the tax base. I view the Buckhorn EDD as a manufacturing and light industry zone, due its fairly sparse population and location relative to both I-85 and the Triad.

In a surprising move, the NC Legislature now allows industrial hemp to be grown and processed in North Carolina. I think we should move quickly to work with farmers who may be interested to see how we can help them benefit from this. Furthermore, in conjunction with the crop-raising effort, we should aggressively pursue companies that process hemp into products to convince them to locate in the Buckhorn EDD. Such a  facility could receive and process hemp from most of North Carolina and areas in neighboring states. There is the potential to create good jobs, host a clean, environmentally sound industry, and build the tax base.

We should use whatever leverage we have to ensure that businesses locating in Orange County will pay a living wage.

Independent, local businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are part of the fabric of our communities and the money they receive recirculates several more times in our local economy than non-local businesses. When I ran for commissioner in 2014, I proposed that the county compile a searchable database of local businesses so that we could actively support and promote those businesses thus boosting our economy with more jobs and sales tax revenue. Several months ago, I received an invitation from the Economic Development office to meet with them because they were beginning to implement my proposal. Soon it should be up and running.

I think the County Visitors Bureau, led by Laurie Paolicelli, does a great job promoting Orange County as a destination for arts and music, natural beauty, events, etc. This is a boon for our artists, farmers, local restaurants, etc. and creates jobs and tax income.

There are communities in the county that are struggling and would greatly benefit from having some home-grown businesses within them. David Caldwell, the county’s new Community Center Coordinator, shared this idea with me and I think it’s worth pursuing. We should create a program that trains people, especially younger people, in the nuts and bolts of running a small business. We might be able to enlist help from UNC and the local business community. The goal would be to give motivated people the tools to successfully set up a hair salon, a small market, a small engine repair business, an auto repair business, you name it, which could enrich a local community. It wouldn’t cost much, but it could launch some great enterprises.

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Jamezetta Bedford

We need to emphasize clean commercial economic development and change Orange County’s reputation from being business adverse to one that welcomes sustainable business.  We need to enact policies to recruit and retain businesses to diversify our tax base, increase revenue, have less reliance on residential property taxes and to create jobs for our residents.  Good projects would include positions not only for those with degrees, but also for technical workers.  Our lower income residents need these jobs and we could look for private monies to train workers at the Durham Tech campus in Orange County. Jobs are the best remedy to poverty. We also benefit from sustained corporate philanthropy from engaged local businesses who donate to groups and nonprofits in our county.

The small business loan fund, investment grants and the agricultural economic development grants ($360,000 annual funds) are useful in developing and retaining a very small number of businesses; we need to do more to recruit business.  Orange County has designated three economic development districts. $4 million has been spent/committed to the Buckhorn EDD phase 1 for a backbone water and sewer utility line and $4.9 million for phase 2 was approved by the Commissioners Feb 2.  I support this investment.  We are decades behind our neighboring counties.

Another $100,000.00 is allocated from county funds to support LaUNCh Chapel Hill as an innovation and incubator for entrepreneurs via a 50/50 interlocal agreement with the Town of Chapel Hill.  UNC and private sponsors also contribute.  There is much interest in supporting these new firms and we need to plan for the next phase to keep these burgeoning companies located in Orange County as they expand. This presents an incredible opportunity for Chapel Hill and the county to collaborate.  Similarly there is area along 54W before the rural buffer in Carrboro that could benefit from planned clean economic development via collaboration.  

There were also pros and cons to changes for “agricultural support enterprises” (ASE) to increase allowable uses for farmers to increase farm-related income to better enable farmers to stay in the business of farming, particularly in the rural buffer.  This needs to be monitored. Supporting agriculture and local farmers builds a stronger community and economy.

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Mark Dorosin

Economic development efforts should include identifying, seeking out, and then providing support for businesses that meet targeted needs, including job creation, local entrepreneurship, and market demand.  We have very successful small business loan and grant programs in the county, but there is no specific recruitment or incentivizing of businesses that would better meet the priorities of the residents, or reach underserved communities. “Big-game hunting” is a model of limited utility for Orange County, but the successful recruitment of the Morinaga factory demonstrated that continued development and focused marketing of the economic development districts is critical.  We also need to reframe the way we promote the county to potential businesses.  If we allow the property tax rate to be the determining factor for recruitment, we will lose out to neighboring counties.  We offer unique advantages that our neighbors cannot match, including great schools, environmental quality and cultural capital that should attract desirable economic development.   We also need to find ways to expand broadband and internet access further throughout the county.  Finally, we should continue to promote the payment of a living wage as broadly as possible.

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Gary Kahn

My vision for economic  development for our county is continue to make Chapel Hill and Hillsborough as examples of what need to be done in our county.

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Penny Rich

Orange County needs to approach Economic Development as multi-faceted, and be willing to take risks to create a diverse economic base and to meet the challenges of a changing county. My goal is to foster programs that assist all types of business at all stages of development with hopes that they come to, and remain in Orange County.

In 2014, the BOCC was happy to announce the successful recruitment of Morinaga, a Japanese candy manufacturer. The company has invested 48 million dollars in a new facility that will employ 90 people, most of whom will live in Orange County. I believe this kind of light manufacturing is a perfect match for our EDD areas. Our Economic Development Director, Steve Brantley continues to look for new opportunities, but we need to be mindful of our neighbors who are often in the running for the same company relocation. It is important for the county to continue to invest in Economic Development District infrastructure, and support efforts that increase the attractiveness of Orange County for company relocation, such as the availability of roads, utilities and water.

I would like to develop a program where start-up companies that graduate from our 5 incubators can call Orange County home for 3-5 years, with hopes they will remain after establishing their business. MidWay Business Center, Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center, The Cube, LaUNCh Chapel Hill and 1789 host 142 enterprises. We need to make every effort to retain this talent and help grow their companies with incentive based solutions and affordable office space.

In March 2015 the BOCC approved the creation of two small business grant programs to stimulate agriculture and non-farm small business. These grants are funded from the Article 46 tax and are an important tool to support diversified economic development. Through these grants, Orange County supports existing business and invests in early stage venture growth and entrepreneurial development. A great example of this is Taylor Fish Farm, which shipped its first order of farm-raised tilapia to Weaver Street on January 28, 2016. We often hear President Obama say that small businesses are the backbone of the economy. I agree with the President, and will continue to push for more support for local small business start-up efforts. I support a full time position in the Economic Development office specific to business retention.

Another facet of a diverse economy is tourism, which generates income from outside of the county. The Chapel Hill and Orange County Visitor’s Bureau’s mission includes programs that will enhance the economic activity and quality of life in the community through catering to visitors. Each year we have an estimated 3 million visitors to Orange County, who spend approximately $185 million dollars on hotels, restaurants and local shops. Over 17,000 people work in the local hospitality field, adding $31 million dollars to the Orange County payroll. In addition to tourism, we must continue to support our agriculture economy and Orange County’s vibrant local food scene and our local farmers markets. Farm-to Table is another perfect example of an existing industry that promotes a rural-urban balance and contributes to a diverse economic base.

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Bonnie Hauser

I’m committed to policies and partnerships that help attract jobs and businesses to Orange County. A good foundation was set with Morinaga – an environmentally-friendly manufacturer that brought nearly 100 jobs to the county. Morinaga proved that the county can work with Mebane and with Durham Tech to develop a workforce for the new plant.

The project also demonstrated that zoning and permitting in the county’s economic development districts need work to attract businesses and investors. The zoning and permitting process is ambiguous and expensive, and improvements can reduce development costs and risks. I believe that the county’s economic development and planning team are ready to move things forward – if the commissioners make this a priority. I’ve already started conversations with the Efland community to identify opportunities and obstacles to economic development to the area. For more, click here.

I’d like to specifically explore the option to work with communities, landowners and developers to create a business park which would be a “permit ready” site for businesses that are looking to locate in North Carolina. Since there’s thousands of acres available for development and sewer infrastructure is already in place, the Buckhorn Economic Development District would be a great location.

I’m also interested in ways that local businesses can work with the county to provide services and jobs. On the grandest level, I can imagine using $200- $300 million in school repairs as the basis for creating new businesses. Wake County claims that every $1 million in school repairs creates 9 jobs.

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Renee Price

My vision for economic development in Orange County is one of prosperity and success, based on a diversified commercial, office and industrial foundation in which residents of all ages and interests are able to prosper and achieve personal success. I would like to see a bourgeoning entrepreneurial spirit, and thriving small businesses and family farms, while larger industries and institutions continue to be a vital part of the economic fabric of Orange County.

The Economic Development team was successful in bringing Morinaga America Foods, Inc., to Efland/Mebane, thus providing at least 90 manufacturing jobs with competitive annual salaries of $38,000 or more to area residents. We also have put further emphasis on the Small Business Loan Program, a revolving loan fund, as well as the Business Investment and the Agriculture Economic Development grant programs, made possible from the proceed of the Article 46 sales tax. The OCED team furthermore is making a special effort toward business retention.



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