Six candidates hoping to win one of three open seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners gathered in the WHQR Gallery last night to talk about the county’s economy.
Sponsored by the Cape Fear Economic Development Council, the candidate forum featured questions from local journalists and audience members. Vicky Janowski, of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, asked candidates to describe the right approach to economic development – and the role they would play as county commissioner. WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn reports.
Jonathan Barfield is the current Vice Chair of the Commission. Until recently, says Barfield, the county muddled through 17 years without a strategic plan.
“And my thought is how can you know where you’re going if you have no road document – no visioning plan to get you there? We took some heat for hiring a consultant to come in and help us with that plan, but it was the right thing to do. And with that, we discovered that economic development was one of our 8 core values.”
Derrick Hickey, a Republican candidate and current member of the New Hanover County Board of Education, says development depends on lowering taxes, doing away with unnecessary regulatory burdens, and seeking input from business leaders.
“What we need to do is to go to all of our businesses. We’re blessed – we have industry in GE, industry in Corning… we need to ask these businesses that are here right now – what can local government do to help you expand?”
Democratic candidate Robert Murray says it’s time for the county to play to its strengths – by capitalizing on the tourism-based economy. His remarks drew some chuckles from the audience.
“We are a tourist destination. We try to draw the tourist people in here. Well, why don’t we have something for them to do? They go to the beach, they get in the rip currents, and they can’t swim. So all they do is end up staying in a hotel.”
Murray proposes bringing a Myrtle Beach style theater to the area and constructing a water park.