Just as we do every election season, encore sends out questionnaires to all candidates running for office in hopes of getting their thoughts on matters that affect our lives foremost. As promised, we will run these questionnaires verbatim so voters will be informed and educated on every candidate’s platform. Election coverage begins this week with 15-year NC resident Rob Zapple, a democratic candidate for New Hanover County Commissioner.
encore (e): Have you ever worked for a small business—which one and in what capacity?
Rob Zapple (RZ): I am a small-business owner for Rob Zapple Design and Build Inc.—a residential and commercial construction company, specializing in custom home-building, historical restoration, and renovation and small commercial building. My wife, Michele, also is a small-business owner for Carolina Gymnastics Academy, which offers recreational and competitive team gymnastics training. Both businesses are located in New Hanover County, so our family is very familiar with the challenges and rewards of being responsible for day-to-day operations and long-term strategies necessary to run a successful business.
e: Does your platform support small business?
RZ: Yes. Small business, like all business, needs government to operate efficiently. Government’s goals and rules should be clear, and it should look to the future. New Hanover hasn’t always done this, and that’s something that needs to change. Our local governments often feud when they should be working together. My number one goal is to change that. As a county commissioner, I will ask if the rules are clear. I will encourage and support cooperation between local governments, and I will communicate with the citizens to understand the needs and concerns of small and large businesses alike. Let’s have the county leaders focus on how the pieces work together for us.
e: What is your position on the collection and remittance of sales tax from online retailers?
RZ: The different application of sales-tax laws put local retailers at a real disadvantage compared to their online competitors. The folks who provide jobs, pay property taxes, employ workers and participate directly in the life of our community are at an unfair disadvantage when competing against an online retailer. This isn’t fair, but it’s not a situation that can be fixed on a county level. We must encourage state and federal officials to take a hard look at this issue.
e: What is your vision for the future of main street in North Carolina’s economy?
RZ: We have a number of beautiful and productive “main streets” in our area, and I applaud that kind of economic development. Business and industry are vital for any growing economy, but I also want to make sure that we support those kinds of enterprises that create the atmosphere and quality of life that is so important to our region, as well as opportunities for people to strike out on their own. Shopkeepers, small businesses, arts organizations and entrepreneurs all contribute to the character of our area. I encourage cooperative efforts between businesses, business groups, the cities and the county to help create a climate that makes such endeavors possible.
e: Where do you stand on incentives, such as the film industry?
RZ: Our recent history has taught us that these incentives are absolutely necessary to keeping the film industry in NC. When the state lost the incentives, the business and the people who earn their livings in it went elsewhere. When incentives were reinstated here, the business came back. Now we’re seeing a projected $200 million in film and television activity this year, along with hundreds of clean jobs and a core group of skilled professionals who call this area home. We are also gaining a heightened national profile that brings attention to and interest in this area, which has the added economic benefit of increasing tourism activities in New Hanover County. I firmly support this important contribution to our economic strength and diversity.
It provides jobs directly for the people who make the films, and indirectly for those many businesses that support that industry. These can range from lumber suppliers to restaurants. It also provides us with workers who have a unique and diverse set of skills that are attractive to other employers. These professionals contribute to our active arts and cultural scene. My economic development platform is about leveraging the skills of our workers to bring in more and more diverse employers.
e: How does your platform support the return of NC manufacturing?
RZ: Our economy’s strength lies in its diversity. We need to support businesses that are in keeping with the vision we have for our future. We need to protect our unique environment, while at the same time making sure our citizens have meaningful work for which they are well-equipped. Education is one of the keys to providing a workforce that can support the manufacturing jobs of the future—looking to the fields of marine biotechnology, software development, medical device technology—to name a few that already exist in New Hanover County and are positioned to grow in the near future.
e: What is your position on offshore drilling?
RZ: An area as dependent as New Hanover County is on its natural beauty and tourism cannot afford to take chances on a catastrophic oil spill. This is not an idle concern. North Carolina has been called “Hurricane Alley” for a reason. We should instead focus on our potential leadership as an alternative energy center.
e: What is your position on fracking?
RZ: The NC Legislature recently voted to begin a two-year period of study and research on this mining technique, which is used to extract natural gas and oil. The intent of the legislation is to gather as much information as possible, and use the data to create mining regulations that will protect the landowners, nearby homeowners, and communities and the miners from short-term and long-term harm. No fracking will be allowed in NC until 2014. Fortunately, the coastal areas, including New Hanover County, do not have the geological formations that are suitable for the creation of natural gas or oil and are not a physical part of this debate. My concerns are for the safety of the citizens, the miners and our drinking water.
The fracking process has had several well-publicized accidents where workers were injured, which caused negative, unintended consequences—an uncontrolled release of large quantities of gas into the atmosphere and the contamination of individual water wells and community water sources. Until there is a proven method to safely control the mining process—and sufficient long-term data to show that the aftereffects of this mining technique will not pollute our most valuable resource, clean water—I cannot support the efforts of this industry to expand in North Carolina.
e: Share your thoughts on NC’s role in energy production in the next 10 years.
RZ: I believe our area has the opportunity and responsibility to be a leader in environmentally sensitive energy production. New Hanover County recently had such an opportunity when it considered the Covanta/Wasted, sustainable energy facility project. That initiative would have addressed three pressing concerns for our area: solid waste disposal, recycling and energy production. We had the opportunity to reduce the impact on our landfill and turn our trash into enough energy to power 3,000 homes per year, all in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable way. I would hope that in the future we would have the vision to take steps to bring about such changes for our area.
e: What are your thoughts on NC’s agricultural history and what role do you see for agriculture in NC’s future?
RZ: Our part of the state has a long agricultural history. One of the most encouraging trends in recent years is the “eat local” movement. It shows up in our restaurants that serve seasonal fare, in our farmers’ markets, grocery stores and co-ops. My family gets a box of fresh fruits and vegetables every week, delivered by NC Farm Fresh. It’s a wonderful reminder of how important agriculture is, not only to our history, but the future of our region.
e: How does your platform support small agricultural producers?
RZ: We should look at how local rules affect our local farmers. Many of these farmers sell in small quantities or use unique distribution networks to get their product to individuals and restaurants. Farmers’ markets in Wilmington, Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach are good examples of the new distribution methods. We need to be sure that our rules don’t discriminate against these new approaches. The health department should comprehensively review its rules with the local famer in mind.
e: When was the last time you visited a farmers’ market?
RZ: My family visits and enjoys the [Riverfront Farmers’ Market] regularly—it is a wonderful asset to the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County.
e: What role do you see for fishing in NC’s future?
RZ: Seafood is one of the precious resources of our area, and it must be protected. A properly prepared piece of fresh fish is one of life’s delights. Just as with local farmers, local fishermen contribute to our economy by paying taxes and employing our neighbors. They also serve as a pivotal part of our tourism economy through recreational fishing opportunities. We need to make sure that industry is not just a part of our past but of our future.
e: How does your platform support fisherman and protect wetlands?
RZ: We need to make sure that we protect the environment on which so much of our life rests in New Hanover County. That includes supporting local farmers and fishermen and protecting the wetlands and other sensitive areas. We must always seek to balance the needs of growth and progress with an eye toward sustainability.
e: What is your position on local purchasing preferences?
RZ: I believe in supporting our local merchants and producers wherever possible, and I think we have a wealth of local producers from which to choose. But I’m also aware that cost is—and should be—an issue in every governmental decision. I believe in using our money wisely, and I will always try to make sure the citizens get full value for their tax dollar.
e: Tell us about your thoughts on multiuse (cycling, walking, paddling) infrastructure?
RZ: Multiuse infrastructure can be a wonderful asset to a community. We’ve made great strides with the cross-city trail and increasing numbers of bike lines, but I would like to see that trend continue and expand. It serves our area in so many ways: increased health of its citizens, varied options for transportation, eco-tourism and recreational opportunities. Of course, these issues are challenging in an area as old as ours, but I believe we can be adaptable and create a county that takes advantage of our past while implementing the possibilities of the future.