Business recruiters, elected officials talk economic development at retreat in Myrtle Beach area

jfrost@thesunnews.comNovember 15, 2012 

— Diversification of jobs is important to have a viable economy, including in Horry County, Bob Goforth, a professional industrial/economic development consultant, said during the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.’s retreat Thursday.

Horry County has a good economy, but not diversity, which is needed in generating jobs, Goforth said. Manufacturing is most accessible to Horry County and is the best paying when it comes to the need for good wages of regular jobs, he said.

“Hopefully your efforts will make that happen as it already has,” Goforth said, citing 400 jobs the EDC has announced to date. “You have to get everyone on the same page, say what you want to do, how you’re going to do it and what everyone’s roles will be.”

Goforth was the facilitator at the EDC’s annual retreat at Coastal Carolina University with members of the EDC board, Horry County Council, and area municipalities. The corporation’s meeting was a day before the Horry County Council fall budget retreat, where council members are scheduled to talk about the funding level for the EDC.

Thursday’s retreat was to educate officials about confidentiality matters, the importance of incentives, aspects of the site selection process, and the role of elected officials when it comes to luring businesses to the Grand Strand.

When it comes to the site selection process, Goforth said, clients want a site ready to go and no surprises. There are certain types of workforce and skills that are non-negotiable, and company’s “wants” such as recreation, climate, and incentives that are negotiable, Goforth said.

“The site selection process is a process of elimination,” Goforth said. “[A company is] looking to eliminate sites. The goal is to stay in the game and make sure you don’t be cut.”

The process takes time before a company makes a final decision on a community, EDC board member Richard Singleton said.

“Everyone wants things to happen fast,” Singleton said. “We’re in better shape than before. We didn’t have all the pieces in place like we now do.”

Part of attracting businesses to the area is keeping some matters confidential until a deal is finalized, officials said.

“Confidentiality is more important today than years ago, because it’s much harder to keep a secret today than it used to be,” said Burnie Maybank, a member of Nexsen Pruet, a multi-specialty business law firm headquartered in Columbia. “It’s easier for a competitor to find out because of Google searches.”

Maybank said economic developers care about confidentiality because labor unions could have a way to cause mischief if word got out early that a company is looking to locate in an area, a company doesn’t want its competitors to know about it looking to build a plant in an area, a company could lose its negotiation leverage, there are legal issues where a company couldn’t be named before a certain time, and there are other competing locations.

Horry County Councilman Carl Schwartzkopf agreed that there can be some major consequences when one mentions certain things in passing without a lot of thought of consequences.

“Transparency has no place in economic development until later in the game,” Maybank said.

Elected officials, however, are charged with being transparent when it comes to taxpayers and their money.

So when is the time to inform the public about a company? Horry County Councilman Harold Worley asked.

When is the time to inform the council? asked Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus, who’s also an EDC board member.

Typically third reading is the time to name a company, Maybank said, unless there’s a situation where people need to know sooner than later. For example, a company is coming in to do something environmentally sensitive, Maybank said.

To date, the EDC has 23 active projects – which includes 4,900 jobs – and plans to announce within the next six months a manufacturing expansion, a new manufacturer in the Conway area, a technology project in North Myrtle Beach, and a possible aviation at the International Technology and Aerospace Park, or ITAP, near the Myrtle Beach International Airport, said Brad Lofton, EDC’s president and CEO.

Contact JANELLE FROST at 443-2404.

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