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Candidates consider future of economic development

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All six candidates discuss their visions for economic growth in New Hanover County. All six candidates discuss their visions for economic growth in New Hanover County.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Voters have a better idea of where the six candidates for New Hanover County Board of Commissioners stand on economic development.

A forum Tuesday night covered topics ranging from global warming and the arts community to film incentives and Minor League Baseball.

WASTEC

The evening began with the future of the former WASTEC facility. Current commissioner Jonathan Barfield reminded everyone that he supported a deal with Covanta to reopen the incinerator. The deal was voted down 3-2 by commissioners.

Democratic candidate Rob Zapple said the board's rejection of the deal was distressing and a surprise.

"They left us with no strategy for the future.," he said.

Others seated on the forum expressed a concern with last minute questions about flow control that seemed to stop the Covanta deal after months of research and work from staff.

Republican Derrick Hickey was the only candidate to pose an alternate option to refurbishing or rebuilding WASTEC. He suggested the county consider a transfer station that would haul waste to Sampson County.

"They're taking something we don't want, and we're paying them money, and we're creating jobs in Sampson county in return," Hickey said. "That's how the free economy works."

Baseball stadium

All but one candidate explained how he or she does not agree tax payer money supporting a multi-use stadium in New Hanover County.

Barfield said the potential ballpark could lower property taxes and stimulate jobs. He said amenities like what the stadium could provide are what attract relocating business to New Hanover County.

Republican Beth Dawson said it's too soon for the county to support the project which will come to a referendum vote in November. County leaders should focus more on public services like water and sewer, according to Dawson.

Fellow GOP candidate Woody White agreed that elected leaders need to ‘go back to basics.' He said local governments should not be worried about building sports complexes.

"We can't be everything to everyone," White said.

Economic vision

When asked about each individual's economic vision for the area, White commended the current board of commissioners. He considered the county's strategic plan, formed in 2011, a solid start for building a positive environment from commercial development. Hickey echoed the importance of a dialogue with businesses.

"Has anyone asked PPD what it needs?" he asked.

There is also a need at the area around Highway 421, which Hickey considered plagued because of a lack of water and sewer infrastructure.

To that, Barfield explained an on-going effort by Pender County leaders and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.

"You can expect some wonderful things on the way," he said.

Democrat Robert Murray focused his attention on adding more tourist attractions, similar to Myrtle Beach. Wilmington's own ‘Barefoot Landing' or ‘Carolina Opry' would add to the area's beaches, according to Murray.

"If they can't swim that day, let's keep them entertained," said Murray.

Film incentives

White was the only candidate to distance himself from the support of film incentives in North Carolina. He considers the practice a way of ‘cannibalizing the workforce.'

"I don't believe in that," White said.

His fellow Republicans explained them differently. Hickey said he opposes incentives in general, but he can't argue with the entire state subsidizing a crucial industry in New Hanover County. Dawson said the return on investment from film incentives is enough to warrant her attention.

"We cannot keep our head in the sand on incentives," she said. "We need to acknowledge them.

All three Democrats agreed that film incentives are important to the county's future. Zapple added that they provide for an industry that he considers clean development.

Communication

Whether it's a baseball stadium or the rezoning of property, all six candidates agreed that the board of commissioners could use more communication with other leaders in the area, including Wilmington City Council and New Hanover County's Board of Education.

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