Video & transcript: Chatham County Commissioner Walter Petty talks about the upcoming local elections

Pittsboro, NC – Chatham county commissioner Walter Petty took the opportunity to talk to some Chatham County citizens at a gathering in Pittsboro on Saturday afternoon, June 23. He talked about Chatham County business opportunities, zoning, the magasites and several other local issues.

Below is the video and transcript of Walter Petty’s comments.

Walter Petty: And we want to thank our host for having us this afternoon. It’s a beautiful event and a lot of good food, and it was a good time. Thank you. Appreciate that. Had to come straight here from work, so the best I could do to clean up was change shirts. My wife met me here and brought that, so I appreciate your patience in my appearance.

Chatham County is a wonderful place, and the people here love it, and people want to move here because of what it is. And that’s a good thing. We’re inviting, and we’re welcoming, and we’re open arms, and all of that’s a good thing. Unfortunately with that, comes a lot of change sometimes. And you’re not going to stop a lot of these changes. One of the things that the previous board did when we came in is, we realized that there had to be growth. There’s really no such thing as status quo. The way it’s always been is not the way it’s always going to be. It’s going to change, and so some of the things that we looked at, we felt like we needed to just try to manage it, rather than stop it.

And unfortunately the current board that we have wants to try to stop everything, and that includes jobs. Now that’s not what they will say. You will hear them publicly, and openly say, “We need more jobs, we need more jobs.” But in the back rooms when you start talking about ordinances, and changes, and things we need to do, there’s so many road blocks that are being developed to stop industry, and stop business.

Now we find ourselves trying to fix affordable housing, we try to fix all these other issues that are true issues, true issues that need attention. My argument has been with the current board is, if we want to fix these problems, the best way to fix them is to give people a job. A good paying job. An opportunity to go to work. And again, on the surface they’ll say that, you’ll hear them say that, but then when you look at what they’re doing, their actions don’t show the same … Doesn’t send the same message.

And we’ve got an opportunity here in Chatham County with the two mega sites, and some of the industry that’s looking at Chatham County right now, we’ve got an opportunity to provide a lot of good jobs for the citizens of Chatham County. We’ve got an opportunity for parents of kids that are growing up here, and have an opportunity to stay in Chatham County, and that’s not been the case in the past. They’ve had to leave home to get a job. And we’ve got some industry opportunities that need to come to Chatham County and I can assure you, Brian and I and Neil get elected, that’s one of the things we’ll do. We’ll try to remove the roadblocks that are being put in place to get industry here. Now, not at the expense of environment but that’s what you hear our opponents say. In fact, if you listen to them, we don’t want to fund education, we don’t really like kids, we want to pollute the environment and whatever else you can think of that’s bad. But that’s not the case.

Look at our track record. Look at their track record. Don’t look at what’s said, look at the performance of the commissioners. County is the closest government to your daily life. Now, you’re affected, certainly, by state issues and federal issues but a county affects your life every day. The taxes you pay, your water, your law enforcement, your education, job opportunities and a lot of that responsibility lies within the hands of the county commissioners. And I have worked with Brian before and I’ve known Neil for a very long time. These guys have a heart for Chatham County, they have a heart for doing what’s right. They do not have a political agenda. None of us really wanted … We never a drive or desire to be elected in a political position but we love Chatham County and we want to do what’s right and we saw an opportunity to help and so we got involved. And I’d like to get these guys on board with me.

I’m running unopposed this year. So we really need to focus on getting these guys elected so we can get the board majority back again and start doing some things that are good for Chatham County. Let me think here … Like I said, I came straight from another job so I wasn’t really prepared for everything but …

Speaker 2: You’re doing great, Walter.

Walter Petty: Pardon me?

Speaker 2: You’re doing great.

Walter Petty: Thank you.

Again, I just know these guys’ hearts. I know what they want to do, I know they want to do what’s right for Chatham County and what’s good for Chatham County and it’s not at the risk of our environment, it’s not at the risk of our law enforcement, it’s not at the risk of education. I think that what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to have balance and that balance includes bringing industry here, educating our kids … By the way, those industries that are coming, that we need, that’s what we need to fund, all these things we have to do as a county. You know, 91% of our revenue comes from individual taxpayers. We need some of that burden shared with industry. That tax burden needs to come off the backs of the individual citizens in Chatham County.

The Mountaire project that’s coming in Siler City’s going to bring millions of dollars into Chatham County for us to help fund things we need to do. It will be many jobs for people and unfortunately, they’re kind of getting misrepresented because of having to expand and needing more area and they’re getting a bad rap for the mobile home park they just purchased and that’s so they could expand their facility. But that’ll provide jobs and they offered to help these people move and they’re trying to do the right thing. But when there comes change there’s things like that, that will happen and we just have to manage it and find a way to work around it and to work with it.  And they’ve been a very good corporate citizen and done a lot of good things for Siler City. Siler City needs those jobs, Siler City needs the revenue from the water. They lost a lot of their water customers when Townsend went out and that, again, there’s things they need to fund things in the town.

So, jobs are important and industry is important. EDC’s working really hard. We’ve got a lot of projects that are on the table right now. They’re not at liberty to talk about all of them but there’s a lot of good things happening in Chatham County and we can have growth, and we can manage it and we can do a good job with it and we can provide jobs for people and opportunity for people to excel and we’ve got some things working with the schools for skills programs. A lot of things, quite honestly, that you see happening today are things that where the groundwork was laid from 2010, 2014. It just has taken that long to come about. And so, I just really wished we’d had, four years ago, four more years to see it through because it’s been slowed down a little bit. A lot of the things we put in place are starting to be, one at a time, they’re starting to tear them apart and take ’em down and undo a lot of what we had done.

Please get involved and pay attention to what’s going on and get to know the candidates. Get to know the issues. Don’t just depend on what you hear in the circles that [Chat 00:08:04] lists in the newspaper, and the things that get in print. All the details never make it, never make it in print, and they’re never communicated on these bulletin boards and all the other forms of communication. Get to know these candidates and get to know their hearts, get to know who they are because they really want to do what’s best for Chatham County and I think that if we get them on board we can keep moving forward, and we can manage the growth that’s coming, and it’ll be a good thing for Chatham County and I just appreciate your support over the last four years, the last eight years, actually. The last four has been very, very lonesome. I could use a couple of friends on the board with me again. Not that the others aren’t friends, somebody will misrepresent that so, you always have to qualify everything you say because you know somebody’s going to take something and do something with it.

You know, there’s been a few issues we’ve been able to work together on but there are things that were stopped. Brian mentioned, a moment ago, the zoning issue. I have exceeded my two minutes, haven’t I? But, Brian mentioned the zoning issue a moment ago. With the new board, the current board, first came to office they thought the proposal that we had was a good idea, initially. Someone, I don’t know who, has some influence over that board and got to them and all of a sudden it was 180 degree turn, just like that. They changed their mind. They held a meeting, and they said we’re going to stop all the meetings, we’re going to take another look at this. And then, of course, they want to appoint a committee to bring [inaudible 00:09:44] with the nation’s. Well what happens when you appoint a committee? You fill it with people who will give you the answers you want to hear.

They get these committees appointed, and they bring the answers, which they are instructed to bring and all of a sudden, then this is what we need to do, this is what the committee’s told us. And so, I guess what I’m asking you again, I hate to keep repeating myself, but get to know the candidates, get to know the issues, get to know the people that are representing you. Unfortunately counties … Got a question back here.

Chatham citizen: I was wondering, what is the county commissioners so adverse to industry coming in here? Why? Why are they?

Walter Petty:  I don’t … She asked why our current board is so anti-business seeming and I’m not sure that I can answer you any other way other than what I think because there’s no …

Chatham citizen: What do you think?

Walter Petty: Well, they will say that industry will ruin the environment. They say that industry … people think of the industry as big smoke stacks bellowing black smoke and destroying the environment. The world has changed. Industry is a different world today than it used to be. It’s not … that’s the image everyone has but that’s not the reality of it. So many of the jobs today are high paying, high tech jobs, especially that would be interested in coming to Chatham County. Even the chicken plant, a lot of that is high tech stuff now, automated stuff. The work environment is better than it’s been in the past. They change these people out in shifts, the repetitive motion’s not what it … The total workplace has changed from what it used to be and everybody has an image of that old industry when they think of industry. That’s one thing.

I think the other thing is people are afraid of change. They want to see it stay like it is but it can’t stay like it is. Nothing stays like it is. People refer to the status quo thing all the time. Well, if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. If you’re falling behind, you’re not status quo. You’re losing position. We’ve got to train a workforce, we’ve got a great workforce in Chatham County and most of the kids growing up, particularly in the rural side of the county, would love to stay in the county and they’re great candidates for skills training and they would stay at home if they had an opportunity to work at home but there’s no place to use those skills. Now, with the industry coming, we’ve got an opportunity to keep them at home and work here. And we’re working with the community college on some skills training courses. So there’s an opportunity for that now, and that’s what I want to see happen. And I think most of us do.

I think change is the main thing, environmental is one thing that we’ll always talk about. They’ll always talk about water quantity, not just quality, but quantity. Afraid of running out of water and where we’re going to get it because we’ve had some dry spells, some dry years in the past and the lake gets really low and that always seems to be an issue. In most cases, it’s not water quantity, it’s the … we’re limited by the ability or the capacity to produce it. It’s not the lack of water, it’s the lack of ability to produce enough because of the growth so we need that infrastructure to grow and, again, with industry, that would help cover that infrastructure cost. We’re going to have to build a water plant and we’re going to do a joint plant with a couple of neighbors and just our portion, just Chatham County’s portion of that plant, is $800 million dollars. But things like that are so expensive to do that you about have to do them jointly but the water’s there.

Siler City’s got sewer capacity. Everybody talks about Siler City’s water and their sewer, the ability to deal with waste water and that’s the reason they don’t want the industry but they’ve got capacity but they might have to upgrade their systems a little bit. And there’s water, especially since we lost Townsend several years ago. And we’ve got contracts in place with neighboring counties to buy water so we’re doing the right things to try to meet the needs for industry but then we turned around and put things in place that are roadblocks and slow them down. You know, in industry, time is money and if they can go to County A and be up and running in six months, County B is going to take them 36 months, they may miss their window of opportunity to produce a product that the market’s ready for. They’re going to County A where they can get up and running quicker.

There’s a way to do it right without sacrificing our air quality and our water quality and our capacity in our water plants and our water plants. There’s a way to do it right and I think we can do that and I think Brian, Neil, and I will do that but the current board uses those things as excuses to slow it down.


Chatham citizen 2: What’s going on with the two mega sites? I know one is ready and one is not quite ready. Do you feel like businesses are coming to the mega sites or do you think that’s something that you all can improve if you get these people elected? What’s going on? Are they not coming …[crosstalk 00:15:59]

Walter Petty: We have a few things, and again, we don’t always know what they are. EDC knows them. A lot of times these projects are given names that … code names because companies don’t always want people to know who they are when they’re looking in an area. So, there are companies that are looking at the area and at these mega sites. So, I feel like we will eventually get someone. We’ve missed a couple of opportunities. Quite honestly, I think, the state wasn’t ready with incentive programs and things. Which is another thing, let me mention this … I hate to get side tracked but people talk about the incentives that are given to industries to come here and it’s going to cost us a million dollars to get a business here.

What they don’t understand, what a lot of times is not understood, the county and the state both … and the town of Siler City, they’re not giving money up front to these businesses to come. These are tax … I don’t think you can call them rebates … tax … what’s the right terminology?

Chatham citizen 3: Credits.

Walter Petty: Credits, yeah. So, actually the money they get, or the credits they get come from revenues they pay in. So, we’re not coming up with a lot of money to give these industries to come here and the state’s working on that very hard now. That was, I think, one of the problems early on with one of the first projects we had, we just weren’t ready on the state level. But, industries want to know they’re ready where they are coming, and I think that’s been a problem. I think industries don’t see a welcome mat at the door here in Chatham County right now. And I think we can do something to change that image, and they’re going to want to come here. I think we’re going to have some opportunities, and I would like to have many opportunities, so we can choose the type of industry we want.

There’s been a lot of money spent on these mega sites getting them ready, and we’re in a good location geographically where they are in proximity to the airports and interstates and so we’ve got a good opportunity for some industry here. When we look at an automotive plant, just to give you some idea of what kind of impact that is … we were looking at an automotive plant a couple of years, the one we didn’t get, they would bring something like a billion dollar investment in facilities. Can you imagine what the tax rate would be on a billion dollars? Not to mention the … we did an income study that showed that, that would bring about a million dollars a day … one million dollars a day additional revenue in the pockets of the workforce in Chatham County.

Now, if you can imagine, all the citizens of Chatham County walking around with an extra million dollars to split up between them, whoever’s employed there to spend at grocery stores, automotive, recreation businesses, arts, music, entertainment … Can you imagine what that would do for the area if people had that kind of money to spend? An automotive industry might mean 2,000 jobs but the support industry multiplier is like five times that. So, if we got an automotive industry that brought 2,000 jobs, it would equate to about 10,000 jobs because of additional businesses and industries that come up to support that. You know, maybe it’s tires, maybe it’s steel, maybe it’s transmission. We’ve got a company that used to be in Chatham County that’s not now. It’s in a neighboring county, but they did a lot of drive train work for an automotive company, transmissions, things like that. They manufactured parts for automotive.

Well we have the opportunity for that again for companies like that to locate here and to manufacture parts that are used in the manufacturing process or in the assembly process for automobiles. So, industry is important. We’re going to get some industry here eventually. I’d just like for it to be on our terms, and I’d like for it to be a place that’s open and welcome enough that we have a flood of opportunities, so we can kind of choose the industries we want. The ones that would best suit Chatham County and not just have to take what comes our way.

We’ve got some agreements in place with water and sewer for both mega sites. They’re well on the way. There’s utility engineering and infrastructure engineering has already been done for Siler City. The infrastructure does not have to be in place at the time for a company to look at it. The engineering just has to be done. And, in fact, which brings up another point, we had some land in the business park in Siler City, and it wasn’t being sold. Nothing was happening. We had a buyer that wanted to come and buy it to put it in land preservation. We thought well, it was close to the river, he took all the areas that were most susceptible to environmental concerns, he bought those, put it in land preservation. We agreed … this was back when Brian, Pam and I were on the board, we agreed to take that money and reinvest it in economic development, and we got a little push back on that. But that is what paid for the engineering to get water and sewer to the mega site in Siler City.

There’s the kind of things your county commissioners can have an impact on. How that money’s used, what it’s used for, being good stewards of the money. We’re about to borrow $100 million dollars for three schools, and you’ll want a good steward looking after that money ’cause you want to make sure it’s spent wisely and used in the right place and goes as far as you can make it go. And that’s one thing I think you find that this current candidate group would do for you. We would be good stewards of that money and make sure it’s properly used, get as much for it as we can. We’re over budget on one of the schools or two of the schools by about $8 million dollars. I can identify about $4 million dollars of that. The other commissioners won’t budge. So, that’s the kind of thing that you need like minded thinking to get things accomplished, and I know that Brian and Neil and I think enough alike that we could keep things moving forward and get things done that we need to do as economically as possible, create an environment for business and industry, educate the kids, fund law enforcement.

All those things that need to be done, we can do it. We’ve proved it, we did it, we did it four years ago or ’10 to ’14 and it works. Unfortunately in ’14, the candidates at that time wanted to bring national issues down on the county level and, really, it was things that didn’t have anything to do with Chatham County but people were sensitive to the state, they knew what was going on, they were sensitive to federal issues and knew what was going on and so they knew that if they could bring those issues down on a county level it would invigorate and fire up their voter base, and it worked, and they turned out. And we got beat. But, things are changing, and it’s a different year, it’s another opportunity and one of my favorite sayings that Brian just loves is, as my granddaddy says, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s hind end all the time.

So, 2018 is the year. November’s the month and we’re going to have another vote and hopefully we can get the voter base out. You guys, what we need to do … it’s going to take a lot of work, it’s going to take a lot of boots on the ground, it’s going to take people like you communicating with the people you know to ask them to get involved and educating them on what the issues are, and we can win this thing. We didn’t lose but by …

Brian Bock: 1,200.

Walter Petty: 400?

Brian Bock: 1,200.

Walter Petty: 1,200 votes. 1,200 votes.

Brian Bock: Those Democrats, they voted earlier than all of us.

Walter Petty: Yeah. Last time around and we can make that up, but there were 2,000 … 2,000 registered voters that we know, based on how they’re registered and …

Brian Bock: Registered Republicans.

Walter Petty: They were registered Republicans, so let’s just call it what it is. 2,000 registered Republicans did not vote in 2014, which would have been enough to win.

Brian Bock: They voted in ’12 and they voted in ’18 … or ’16. They didn’t vote in ’14, so just those people alone would have been enough to win the race.

Walter Petty: I get so tired of hearing people say, “My vote doesn’t count. My vote doesn’t count.” It does count and if enough people say, “My vote doesn’t count.” It won’t count. So, we’ve got to encourage people to get out and vote and let them know how important their vote is and then make them aware of what the issues are and who the candidates are so that they’re well informed.