CAMDEN — Building Camden’s tax base and creating jobs has long been a county priority, but efforts during the economic recession have not yielded the results county officials had hoped.
Camden’s Eco-Industrial Park on U.S. Highway 17 has not yet landed its first customer although it has come close. This week, Camden Commissioners are set to consider another step that could help it land its latest prospect.
If approved, a new policy will allow the county to offer tax rebates to companies that create jobs and make capital investments.
Republican candidates in the upcoming May primary agreed in recent interviews that tax breaks may be a good option, at least to some degree. They also added their own ideas about what Camden can do to encourage more commercial growth.
At-large Incumbent Randy Krainiak said Camden’s focus has been on the Eco-Park recently, but the county’s biggest potential for commercial growth will be on U.S. Highway 158.
“It’s the biggest asset Camden County has and we should take care of the local business now more than ever because road construction is hurting business,” said Krainiak.
Krainiak, a former business owner and service man, said Camden needs to expand its contacts with businesses the county would like to attract. The county also needs to promote its good schools, low taxes, access to the beach and proximity to Tidewater, Va., to bring business in, he said.
“I’m a firm believer that if you don’t ask somebody to come, they will not come,” he said.
Krainiak said offering incentives is a good idea as long as it doesn’t come with too many restrictions.
“If it gives us jobs and opportunities, I am for all kinds of credits,” within reason, said Krainiak.
Challenger Tom White said offering tax rebates to new business prospects is be a good idea for Camden.
Other nearby states and counties are offering incentives, and if Camden wants to compete it may need to make an offer, he said. The incentive would not be automatic and would require commissioners’ approval, which is a good thing, he said. White said the policy allows the county to be selective in attracting “good, clean businesses” that will help expand the county tax base.
Cash flow can be a big challenge for start-up businesses, and the incentive may be what a company needs to make its plan work, he said.
White, a retired bank executive and member of Camden’s Economic Development Commission, said the county is expanding infrastructure and doing other things that should eventually yield success.
Economic developer Charles Bauman is making contacts in Tidewater, Va., and with the state that will help generate interest in Camden, he said. Completion of the U.S. Highway 158 widening is likely to generate more interest as the project gets closer to completion, he said.
“Sooner or later something is going to come through, and you are going to see some good businesses coming,” said White.
Incumbent Clayton Riggs, representing the Shiloh District, said he’s not a big fan of offering large incentive packages indiscriminately. Riggs said he would be open to offering an incentive if it fits within the county’s budget and goes to a business the county really wants to attract.
Riggs said Camden’s Eco-Industrial Park is a good step in the right direction even though it hasn’t yet attracted any new industry. He said the site has generated some serious interest and he expects a company will eventually decide to move there.
“We don’t need to stop our focus on it because of the way it looks just at this moment,” said Riggs.
Riggs, senior analyst for a government contracting firm, predicts U.S. 158 will also land new business once road construction is complete.
“There’s businesses interested in coming to the county; they are just waiting to see what the finished project looks like,” said Riggs.
Challenger Phil Faison said he’s not looked specifically at the incentive policy Camden is considering but believes in concept that “businesses are going to go where the deal is and where the work force is.”
Faison said landing a big industry will be a challenge for Camden because of its size. Even so, the county offers the infrastructure, good schools and “quality of life you cannot beat” that businesses will find attractive. Camden can help attract new industry by offering businesses a trained work force. He said Camden should examine how youth can take advantage of programs offered at College of the Albemarle and its new Aviation Technical Training Center in Currituck that will train them for high-paying jobs.
He said Camden should concentrate on expanding its wastewater services east on U.S. Highway 158 from the courthouse instead of west toward Elizabeth City as commissioners now favor. Faison said only a few landowners would benefit from going toward Country Club Road, but offering services in the other direction offers more options for growth. Faison said the county may have to do the work in phases because of the expense. He said extending the line to the State Employees Credit Union would be a good start.
Faison, a former commissioner and general contractor, sees potential for commercial growth to the north near the Dismal Swamp State Park and would like to see a hotel and restaurants offer services that are now lacking.