Mike Payment represents District 3 and serves as the vice chairman of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners (BOC). He was elected in 2014.
In addition to serving on the BOC, Payment owns and operates CT Mechanical Inc., a heating and air-conditioning company that serves customers in Hampton Roads and Northeastern North Carolina.
Payment is also a volunteer fire fighter in lower Currituck, a member of the Currituck Wild Goose Rotary and on the board for Currituck Kids. He's also spent time on the field coaching soccer for the school system and recreation leagues. He lives in Grandy with his wife.
As part of our "Meet Your Commissioners" series, we spoke with Mike Payment about the past, present and future of Currituck County.
How did you end up in Currituck?
In the early 1970s, my mom and dad bought property here. I don’t think my parents intended to stay forever, but they settled here and this is where I’ve been ever since. I’ve lived in Grandy all of my life.
After I graduated high school I joined the U.S. Navy. After that, I went to the College of the Albemarle for a few years. I took some business courses and heating and air-conditioning repair classes. I’ve been working in that industry for 35 years now.
I worked for some bigger, global companies (Honeywell, Johnson Controls) before deciding it was time to do my own thing. I opened my own business, CT Mechanical Inc., in 2008.
How did you first get into politics?
In 2010, I ran for the Currituck County School Board. There was a member of the board who was retiring and I got a call asking if I’d like to run. I threw my hat into the ring but came up short. Even though I didn’t win, I really enjoyed the experience. I liked meeting people and letting them know what I was all about.
A few years later, some people asked if I was interested in running for a spot on the Board of Commissioners. They thought the Board could use someone who was also a local business owner. I thought about it for a bit and decided that the timing was good. I had the time to give and I wanted to give back to the community.
The top two items on your 2014 political platform were “Support local businesses” and “Attract new businesses.” Why are those a priority?
Growing up here, we never had a lot of big business. Throughout the whole county there just wasn’t a lot of business growth. That needed to change.
Getting elected to the Board of Commissioners, put me in a position to help. I wanted to make sure the county was going in the right direction.
A chair gets the finishing touches inside Built to Last, a furniture manufacturer in Currituck County.
How can the county support and attract business?
By making sure that local government has the right individuals who can work with prospective businesses. It really starts with that staff. They need a good knowledge of what businesses need. We also need to improve our infrastructure and offer the right kind of resources to convince outside businesses to come here.
What kind of businesses would you like to see in Currituck County?
The county has always been looking for a hotel. We have all kinds of youth group events and tournaments and we have no place for people to stay. So lodging is important.
I don’t think we’re going to get big manufacturing. I see more opportunities in distribution and healthcare, and maybe some potential in recreation and entertainment. We have to think about what we have to offer.
I’m convinced that there’s something that we can do to capitalize on the growth of the terminals at the Port of Virginia. There is so much product coming to the area and we’re in an ideal location to serve the port with distribution and communication support. We’ve also got a great railroad network here, and not everybody has that.
What are you thoughts on the two biggest projects in motion for Currituck County right now: the Mid-Currituck Bridge and the Moyock Megasite?
The Mid-Currituck Bridge has been talked about for years and years. I think at this point, most people will believe it when they see the first pilings going in. I think it could bring a big boost to the local economy and, if done properly, can be a win for everybody.
The thing about the Moyock Megasite is that, right now, it’s just a vision. But a vision is a great thing to have. If you don’t plan and have a vision, you’re not going anywhere.
We want to attract new businesses to Currituck County, and we can’t do that if we have nothing to show them. We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to have a vision and a plan. That plan also has to be flexible, it has to adapt and change when faced with new opportunities.
When it comes to the Moyock Megasite, I think what we have is a great starting point and a sign that we’re going down the right path.
Is it an issue for you that these projects will take some time?
Look, I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve seen where we were and I’ve seen the progression to where we are. That progression has always been a nice, steady, slow growth.
Change takes time. But what we have now, compared to 20-30 years ago? It’s night and day. It’s unbelievable how far we’ve come.
Do you get the sense that some folks in Currituck County aren’t happy about change?
I think everybody wants growth… they just don’t want things to explode and have everyone forget what Currituck County is all about.
We’re going to have growth, but it has to be planned growth. We want to grow, but we also want to keep a sense of what we’ve always been known for.
Currituck County has always been a great place for hunting and fishing… back in 1975 we even hosted the Bassmaster Classic. Some people want to make sure that we don’t forget our history and our rural roots.
So development is a priority, but it’s also important to maintain our heritage.
Did you come to the board with things you definitely wanted to get done?
I want to keep taxes low, spend wisely and keep improving our schools. But no, I didn’t come to the Board of Commissioners with a personal agenda. I came here to share my experience and know-how.
There was a huge difference between what I thought the job would be and what it is. That was a big eye opener. It took a lot of learning and about a year for me to get up to speed. Learning about working with the government and the state and figuring out what we can and cannot do. There’s a lot of learning that takes place, including understanding that sometimes we’re limited on what we can do.
Do you ever feel like you’re up against misconceptions about the Board of Commissioners?
What I hear sometimes is that people feel that the Board of Commissioners are swayed by big developers and money... and that’s not true. This board, in my opinion, isn’t driven by personal agendas. What people need to understand is that sometimes—for legal reasons—there are certain things we have to do and certain ways we have to vote.
But overall, we have great discussions and everyone works hard to do what’s fair and best for the people in the county.
We have a good mixture of business owners and people who have worked in Currituck County for a while. And there are a lot of new individuals with open minds and fresh ideas. They’re not set in their ways.
Payment accepts a donation on behalf of Currituck Kids.
Keeping young people here is important to you.
That’s a big goal of mine, kids are the future and I want to make sure that they get every opportunity to succeed. I want kids to be able to leave high school and have better paying career options available to them right here in Currituck County.
If they don’t have any choices, they worry about what’s next. I’d like to ease that mindset, because it’s been like that for a long time in the county. It’s all about improving quality of life here so that they don’t need to go somewhere else.
How do you spend your time when you’re not busy with work or county business?
Mostly I like to spend time with my grandson and my wife and family. I love to get out in the boat when I can. I’m a hunter, so I do a lot of hunting in the fall. I love the outdoors… it’s a big part of who I am.
My dad was 100% Chippewa and my mom was also Chippewa. I’m 80%. My first cousin is the Tribal Chairman of the Sault Tribe and we’ll go visit him and our tribe in Northern Michigan. I love my Native American heritage.
What would you say is your main goal as a commissioner?
I want to support our existing businesses to help them grow and be successful while attracting new business.