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Candidates discuss economic incentives, jobs and tourism at forum


By David Bodenheimer
The Dispatch


Published: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 11:47 p.m.

 
Six of the eight candidates vying for a spot on the Davidson County Board of Commissioners attended a forum Tuesday night sponsored by the Lexington Young Leadership Forum and the Lexington Area Chamber of Commerce.


Democratic candidates Kevin Williams and Ronald Swicegood were absent. The two candidates also skipped a candidate forum held last month by Piedmont Crossing Retirement Home in Thomasville. The eight candidates are seeking to fill four spots

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Tuesday’s forum was moderated by Will Tate of the Young Leadership Forum and Phillip McGirt of the chamber.


The candidates were not provided a list of the questions prior to the forum. Questions dealing with job creation and job retention as well as economic development were popular topics. Candidates also fielded a handful of questions from the audience.


Candidates agreed and disagreed on most questions, but all six — incumbent Republicans Don Truell and Sam Watford and Billy Joe Kepley, and challengers Republican Todd Yates and Democrats Jeff Switzer and Jason Hedrick — agreed on their accessibility, giving the public a green light to call them at home to discuss their candidacy. Their response was prompted by an audience member’s question that was simply, “Can we call you at home?” All the candidates also said they would not raise taxes in the immediate future and would do everything feasible to keep the county tax rate at it’s current rate — 54 cents for every $100 in valued property — for as long as possible.


On the heels of the recent TIMCO Aviation Services announcement — a company that has pledged to bring 500 jobs to the county — candidates were asked what they could do specifically to enhance and or improve efforts to attract and retain businesses in the county.


“I’m not a fan of economic incentives,” said Switzer. “But it’s the game that’s played in every county and every state in this nation. But when we do those incentives, we have to make sure we’re not on the losing end of that stick.” Switzer suggested that the company should pay back whatever incentives were promised to them by the county if they do not meet an agreement, which many economic development contracts already stipulate.


This is without a doubt the most important question in the county,” said Watford. “We’ve got to make county government as business-friendly as possible.”

 
Hedrick agreed with Watford saying, “We need to continue incentives to reach the large businesses and also the small businesses.” Hedrick also said he would like to see more infrastructure and sewer built across more of the county in hopes that it would attract retail shops and restaurants.


Kepley touted the need to enhance the quality of life as an alternative to attract businesses but didn’t oppose the need for economic incentive grants.


“We have events like the Barbecue Festival, Everybody’s Day, the Denton FarmPark has attractions,” said Kepley, “and a lot of employers look for that (quality of life) so they can spend the weekend and get refreshed and come back Monday morning ready to go to work.”


Kepley’s comments lead into a question about tourism, and what the county could do to expand those efforts and promote the county. Unlike Kepley, who has lobbied hard for better county tourism efforts, Todd Yates said tourism is not what the county should be focused on.


“We only have four motels in Davidson County, so to have a lot of tourism here, I don’t know where we would put these people,” said Yates. “We do have some great attractions but most people, when they think about tourism they think of places like Charleston, South Carolina, or Boston. I’d like for us to build on tourism but I just think we’ve got a little ways to go before we can expect that to be an industry.”


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