North Carolina Surveyor Leads Charge for Custom Vanity License Plates

Thanks to the efforts of a Morganton man, surveyors in the state can now have a vanity license plate customized for their occupation.

Chris Witherspooon, who operates Witherspooon Surveying out of Morganton, was the driving force behind the design and the approval of the license plate.

“The idea was originally (brought up) seven or eight years ago,” said Witherspoon. “Our surveying group — the North Carolina Society of Surveyors — pursued getting a tag and we had the initial effort, but it never got followed through on. I was just looking through some old papers and saw it and thought I’d revisit it.”

The renewed effort, which began around February last year, soon began to gain traction, Witherspoon said. The purpose of the plate is also to help support future surveyors.

“Ultimately, we came up with a whole lot better design with VanNoppen Marketing’s help and kind of took it from there,” Witherspoon said. “The whole reason behind it is the education foundation for our surveying group. Fifteen dollars out of each tag ($25 total cost, $55 with personalization) each year it gets renewed will go to that group moving forward.

“So it’s a pretty substantial amount which can be made if these (surveyors) keep their tags and we get more people signed up. So that was kind of the thinking behind it. It’s a revenue source for our group.”

Witherspoon has been a member of the Foothills Chapter of the society for 15 years. That chapter sponsors an endowed surveying scholarship at Western Piedmont Community College.

“We actually set up an endowed scholarship at Western Piedmont called the Ed Mallonee Endowed Scholarship,” Witherspoon said. “It’s a separate fund — the tag won’t fund that — but the foundation that the (license plate) money will fund will help with scholarships we fund throughout the state.

“Basically, we just have to have applicants and Western Piedmont actually has a degree program for surveyors. So, if (students) apply and get awarded a scholarship, (the proceeds from the license plate) would directly affect them. The only four-year (surveying) degree program in the state is at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, so we see a lot of scholarships go there.”

The toughest part of the process, Witherspoon said, was getting the design approved by the state and pushed through the North Carolina General Assembly. Some big-time help came through for the project late in the going, however, and the application was submitted in November.

“The process we had was (difficult),” he said. “They re-did the law before we did it. Basically, you present a concept to the state. You have to get it through the general assembly. You have to have a representative work with you on that.

“Hugh Blackwell, the local (representative) here, was a tremendous help in getting it through. He came on board at the 11th hour or we would have been delayed a year before the process even began. Once you get that done, you have to get 500 minimum applications, which we secured. We actually turned in 565 or something like that when we delivered them to the DMV in Raleigh.”

Witherspoon was thankful for the rapid success of the project, saying the group “knocked it out of the park.”

The design of the license plate draws from various areas of surveying history, Witherspoon said.

“The surveyor depicted (on the license plate) … shows pretty much what we do day-in and day-out,” Witherspoon said. “The curvy lines depict a topographic map, which is trying to relate a 3-D drawing on a 2-D piece of paper. The ‘Following In Their Footsteps’ is kind of the charge that surveyors today have to retrace the steps of the surveyors who were there before us.

“(The phrase) is also the name of a book that was published by the North Carolina Society of Surveyors, which depicts a lot of the surveying history of North Carolina.”

Witherspoon said the reaction to the license plate among surveyors has been very positive. He has high hopes for the project moving forward as well.

“The guys who signed up for the tag love the plate that we had designed,” Witherspoon said. “It will be displayed with pride. We had one firm in Raleigh — McKim and Creed — they signed up 55 vehicles, I believe, so they did their entire fleet. That’s what you’re going to see — the response from the surveying group has been great.

“I think we’ve only breached the surface of what we have potential for having. My goal would be to see as many as 3,000 plates by the time this whole thing is done. That may be unrealistic, but that’s my goal.”

To learn more about the initiative and what the North Carolina Society of Surveyors Education Foundation does, visit