APEX — The six candidates running for three seats on the Apex Town Council agree the town needs more jobs so residents don’t have to commute to work.
What they don’t agree on is how to bring in those jobs.
Incumbents for the Nov. 5 election say they are reluctant to add town staff, while challengers are pushing to hire liaisons, ombudsmen and a part-time or full-time economic development position.
The town has no full-time staffer dedicated to economic development, an anomaly in the Triangle for a town its size. With a population of about 40,000, Apex is the third-largest town in Wake County.
The candidates’ ideas range from using economic incentives and contracting with the Apex Chamber of Commerce to maintaining a low tax rate and high development standards.
The completion of N.C. 540 and the new Apex Friendship High School could bring more residential rooftops, and retail development likely would follow.
But the town needs to do more to attract small businesses, industrial manufacturing and high-tech jobs, according to some candidates.
Currently, Apex’s tax base is 80percent residential and 20percent commercial. That’s one of the lowest commercial rates in Wake County, and it means the burden of the town’s property taxes mostly rests on homeowners.
“I think you have to be balanced,” said Nicole Dozier, a paralegal and advocate for the N.C. Justice Center. “For a town to be healthier, more viable, it needs to be more than a bedroom community. We have to have more things for people to do to keep us here. I work in Raleigh, I buy gas in Raleigh, eat in Raleigh, buy groceries in Raleigh.”
Dozier said she would like to see a healthplex, kid-friendly businesses, some professional offices and clean technology and start-ups in Apex.
She’s willing to look at incentives, especially for start-ups, she said, but she isn’t likely to consider a tax increase and is wary about tax breaks.
“When you talk about giving tax breaks it becomes hard to balance,” she said. “I’m looking at, is there money available through the town to attract ideas and take burden off homeowners?”
Until about four years ago, Apex was against offering tax incentives. During the economic downturn, town leaders began to change that way of thinking. In 2009, the town offered EMC a cash grant to expand its site and bring 64 jobs.
Earlier this year, the town passed an official incentives policy and included it in Wake County Economic Development’s guide for prospective businesses.
Several other candidates said they would like to see the town add an economic development staff position to attract industry and work in partnership with the chamber.
Town Manager Bruce Radford doubles as the director of economic development, and Public Information Officer Stacie Galloway is expected to spend 30percent of her time on economic development.
“I’d like to see more industrial, manufacturing, more large business,” said Jennifer Ferrell, a stay-at-home and former business development manager who is running for a seat on the council. “Not commercial, not retail. More like a SAS, IBM, Lenovo, to take on the tax burden and to keep people working and living here.”
That would allow parents to spend less time commuting and more time with their kids, she said.
If the town can find money to buy road signs promoting its status as the ninth Best Place to Live in America, then it can find money for economic development staffing, Ferrell said.
Apex High School teacher Denise Wilkie brands herself as a fiscal conservative.
“Nobody wants to hear, ‘Let’s spend more money,’” she said. “I’m thinking private-public partnerships. Let’s pay the chamber or pay someone on staff, let’s shift some monies. Sometimes you have to do that to make money.”
Wilkie said she would be willing to consider reinstating the contract with the Apex Chamber of Commerce. Before 2009, Apex paid the chamber for economic development and business recruitment.
“I do hear people say they would like to be able to work here and live here,” Wilkie said. “We have a lot of talented people who would like to have an office here and not drive out of town. They would like a medical complex here.”
About 24,000 residents in Apex commute out of town to higher-paying jobs, according to town data collected during the comprehensive plan process.
Candidate Chad Price, vice president of sales and operations at CRC, a disaster restoration company, lives and works in Apex.
“I like the idea of having a true liaison between the town and a potential new business owner. Someone to help guide you through the process from start to finish,” Price said in his candidate survey for the Apex Chamber of Commerce.
Marketing the town
Attracting business isn’t about spending money, said incumbent Councilman Eugene “Gene” Schulze.
“The way you spur economic development is to promote business-friendly policy such as low taxes,” Schulze said. “I think we could do a better job to promote ourselves. That we ranked number nine (on Money Magazine’s Best Places to Live in America list) says a lot about us. We need to make sure that message gets out.”
While Schulze said he would like to see the town do more work with the chamber, he didn’t provide specifics. He did not commit to spending more money on economic development, having an official contract with the chamber, or spending more money on marketing.
“I’m not an economic developer,” Schulze said. “I’d rather people who know business do the work. How much do we financially support (the chamber)? I want to revisit it. I think we need to consider it.”
Incumbent Terry Rowe said Apex hasn’t spent much on economic development over the past few years because of the slow economy.
“The town couldn’t afford to spend a lot of money,” Rowe said.
Like Schulze, Rowe said the town needs to do a better job of marketing.
“I think we need to encourage more communication about the things that are going on,” Rowe said. “More things are going on than (people) are hearing about.”
Along with getting a policy plan listed in the Wake County recruitment guide, the town considered getting certified sites near Veridea where the town could provide infrastructure.
Veridea, a 1,000-acre mixed-used development with commercial and residential, is expected to attract about 20,000 residents over the next 20 years.
“We used to have a contract with the chamber.… I think it’s time we need to look at that again,” Rowe said. “Whether it’s a part-time employee or partnership with the chamber. As the economy begins to pick up, we need to supplement that effort.”
At the same time, Rowe said, Apex can’t loosen its design standards to attract business.
“The economy is changing, and I think there are opportunities out there,” he said. “We need to put extra effort to make sure Apex is getting their fair share. We can’t grow and lose sight of design standards. We do have above-average requirements, but that’s why we’re able to preserve good growth.”
Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews