Horry County Council asked to consider changes dealing with confidentiality in economic development

bdickerson@thesunnews.comNovember 16, 2012 

— Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation head Brad Lofton on Friday asked the Horry County Council to allow the economic development body to reveal the names of potential companies looking to expand into the area by the time the issue is up for third reading at County Council meetings.

This request came at the end of Lofton’s presentation on confidentiality in economic development during Friday’s fall budget retreat.

“Hopefully, you’ll allow us to set that up,” Lofton said.

By the time an ordinance supporting job growth through funding gets to third reading, it is also up for public hearing. Lofton pointed out it’s hard to go through public hearing if the company is still called by a code name.

Lofton said the importance is to try and strike a balance between the County Council’s duties to its constituents, and the confidentiality needed in economic development.

The reasons for confidentiality, Lofton said, include possible impacts on stock prices if word gets out a publicly traded company is looking to locate somewhere else, and the competitive nature of economic development.

“We don’t want to tip our hand to Florence, and other counties we’re competing with when we have a project,” Lofton said. “They’re just as hungry as we are.”

He added that 50 percent of counties in South Carolina have third reading on economic development ordinances while still using code names for companies.

Lofton felt keeping the code names in place for the first two readings is sufficient. No decisions were made by County Council at the end of the presentation.

This talk was originally scheduled for an October County Council meeting, but was pushed back to Friday’s budget retreat.

With a lot of information involved in trying to lure companies to the area – a majority of it confidential – Lofton previously said the talk is an effort to help educate both the council and the public about the need for such secrecy.

One of the 15 active projects at the center of the presentation is Project Blue, which would bring 1,020 jobs to the area, and is awaiting third reading. The name of that company has still not been officially revealed.

Economic development was far from the only topic at Friday’s budget retreat. The issue of green lasers again came up, and the council passed first reading of an ordinance that would regulate the lights in Horry County.

The proposed ordinance limits the sale of green laser pointers to those under the age of 18, and the strength of the devices can’t exceed 1 milliwatt. Additionally, those using lasers for professional purposes, such as educators, contractors or public safety officials, would be exempt.

County Council originally was going to take up first reading at the Oct. 2 meeting, but it was deferred so the state delegation could take up the issue.

Arrigo Carotti, Horry County attorney, said at a joint meeting of city, county and state representatives, it became apparent there was some concern as to how quickly the state legislature could enact laws to regulate green lasers.

At the request of Councilman Al Allen, it came back to the council for first reading, Carotti added.

The proposed ordinance comes after several incidents in which green lasers were pointed at helicopters flown by the U.S. Coast Guard during search and rescue missions on the Grand Strand, most recently in Garden City Beach the first week of August.

In August, Cmdr. Gregory Fuller, commanding officer at Air Station Savannah, which provides air support for the Grand Strand, said the Coast Guard may not help with search efforts on the Grand Strand because their rescuers’ safety is in jeopardy.

Carotti told the council on Friday the Coast Guard considered the Grand Strand a live fire zone.

Despite the passage of the ordinance’s first reading, there was concern from some members of the council as to how the regulations would be enforced.

“Let’s not assume that our business owners aren’t going to look at this and try to find ways around it,” said Councilman Marion Foxworth.

The ordinance has to pass two more readings before it’s formally adopted into law.

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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