MYRTLE BEACH — How close the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. is to meeting the goal of creating 500 jobs in the area by next summer depends on who you ask.
The EDC counts jobs that have been announced but often are created over three- or five-year periods, while some members of Horry County Council -- which partially funds the public-private EDC -- say the jobs should be defined by the number of people who have been hired.
“In my opinion, a job is one that is going to produce a W-2,” Horry County Councilman Harold Worley said. “Without that, it’s not a real job, it’s a promise.”
Brad Lofton, who started in April 2011 as the EDC’s president and chief executive officer, pledged to bring 500 jobs to the area during his first 18 months on the job, stating that the search committee that hired him wanted some accountability and numbers put into his contract.
The 500 jobs creation deadline is Oct.15 per Lofton’s contract with the EDC, but Lofton has extended that date to next summer - the time Horry County gave the EDC to achieve that goal. The county’s agreement with EDC is for the corporation to create at least 500 jobs from new company relocations or existing industry expansions in Horry County by June 30 or risk losing county funding.
But the agreement – in which the county will give the EDC $1.8 million in annual funding for five years - does not make it clear whether those should be committed jobs or actual hires.
County councilman Gary Loftus stated during a May EDC executive committee meeting that some of his fellow council members would count actual hires and not announced hires toward the job creation goal, according to meeting minutes.
It was also during that meeting that committee members voted in favor of Lofton continuing to strive to meet the Oct.15 deadline for the 500 jobs creation, with the final deadline being June 30.
For Councilmen Marion Foxworth and Jody Prince, jobs are positions that have been filled.
“To me, that’s somebody in that position working X-number of weeks with a paycheck,” Foxworth said.
Doug Wendel, EDC’s executive committee chairman, said the 500 jobs refer to hiring plans by companies that are announced during the 18 months, not jobs that have been filled.
“I don’t think anyone would think it’s humanly possible [to lure and fill that many jobs] in that time frame,” Wendel said. “Any reasonable individual who thinks it through would come to the same conclusion we have.”
Lofton said last week that he still could reach the 500-job goal by Oct.15, noting that the EDC – which counts jobs committed, not hires - has announced 394 jobs so far, and is working with two companies that could potentially bring a combined 1,075 jobs. But the deadline to reach 500 jobs “needs to be consistent” with the county’s June date, he said.
And the EDC board will determine how it feels about that when evaluating Lofton’s performance since he was hired, Wendel said.
“Clearly he’s done a phenomenal job and I feel good about what he’s done,” Wendel said. “We have so many businesses in the pipeline. A goal is a goal. He’s made substantial progress toward that goal for us to keep him on. We have about 400 committed jobs, which is significant. There’s one with 1,000 he’s still working on. All these things take time and patience.
“I will vote for him to continue on and go for that June date. We’ll be above that [500 jobs] come June.”
The EDC has announced 394 jobs since December, with some of those already filled and others promised over the next few years.
Last week, officials announced that Native Sons, a locally owned screenprinting business in Myrtle Beach, would create 79 jobs, with about 30 of those already filled and the rest coming in the next three years. And next week, officials will ceremoniously mark the arrival of other jobs that had been previously announced. Frontier Communications, which the EDC announced in May would renovate its building on Lumber Street in Myrtle Beach to house a call center, will have a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday at the new call center. Frontier has hired 116 workers, a little more than the 110 jobs it committed to, Lofton said.
The EDC has had two other jobs announcements since Lofton’s arrival. BauschLinnemann North America, a producer of surfaces and edge bandings for furniture makers, plans to bring 55 manufacturing jobs next year to a new facility the company will build in Myrtle Beach. Officials announced the move in August.
And in December, officials announced that AvCraft, an aviation maintenance and repair company in Myrtle Beach, planned to add 150 jobs and improve its building on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
In addition to another call center that could bring 1,020 jobs to the Carolina Forest area, the EDC has another project in the works: Project Volunteer, as business recruiters are calling it to keep the company’s name secret to protect negotiations, could bring 55 manufacturing jobs to the area, with EDC officials having received a letter of intent and working to finalize the deal, Lofton said.
“I hope [the EDC board is] happy with what we accomplished today,” Lofton said. “We’re just trying to create jobs for the community. And we’re waiting to finalize all agreements.”
County Council Chairman Tom Rice, who’s also an EDC executive committee member, said he is pleased with what Lofton has accomplished so far. Rice said he counts hires, not announced jobs toward the 500-job goal.
The EDC has had a “great start from being standstill to running in a very reasonable time,” Rice said. “When Lofton came we had nothing. He had to start from scratch. I think he’s done an exceptional job. I think momentum is building and will continue in a way where I will be comfortable with EDC moving forward.”
As for some other council members, there are mixed feelings about whether the goal of luring more higher-paying, quality jobs to Horry County is being met.
“I have a lot of respect for EDC’s board,” Foxworth said. “They are working hard. The jury is still out.”
Worley said the council is going to review not just the number of jobs, but also the quality of jobs.
“I don’t think the council is into buying low wage, low paying jobs with no benefits,” Worley said. “They have not done what they promised they would do. These low-paying jobs they keep bringing to the table are not part of the deal. They have to be above Horry County’s wages.
“I just want them to fulfill their promise to us and the people of Horry County, but for them to keep bringing these minimum wage jobs and give them tax incentives is not something I’m interested in.”
The average county wage is $14.31 per hour, Lofton has said. Average wages for the jobs EDC has announced range from $8 to about $25 per hour.
“I’ve been a bit skeptical,” Prince said. “I think my constituents want me to be skeptical. I should be conservative and look at everything twice. I don’t like the concept of buying jobs, but counties around us are doing it. If we want to get and attract jobs to the area then I feel like we don’t have a choice. We got to put our feet in the water and see what happens. I want it to work. I’m keeping a watchful eye.”
Contact JANELLE FROST at 443-2404.