Horry County Council will do no more work on proposed Covation call center

bdickerson@thesunnews.comDecember 18, 2012 

— The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation is discontinuing work on trying to lure a call center that would have brought 1,020 new jobs to the area.

That was the update EDC head Brad Lofton gave to the Horry County Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The deadline was established by the EDC related to the completion of the company’s Fortune 100 client contract and other due diligence items. Since the deadline passed and multiple other prospects are in the pipeline, a decision was made to focus on the other projects,” Lofton said.

The company that was trying to lure is Covation, which formerly had been referred to as Project Blue. The plan was for Covation to open the call center in the Carolina Forest area.

County Council Chairman Tom Rice previously said the county gave the company until Nov. 15 to finalize details on its development package.

“I have not heard that Covation has made any progress,” he said.

The council had agreed to put up $1.8 million of county funds to help Covation locate in an as yet unbuilt location in Carolina Forest. Additionally, the state was in line to help with the incentives as was Horry Georgetown Technical College, which had agreed to give the company space to train employees.

Also, the council had taken two votes to borrow $8 million in general obligation bonds for the effort, but tabled the final vote at the request of Covation.

Candace Howell, EDC marketing manager, said at the time that Covation wanted to have a signed contract with AT&T before the bond sale was finalized.

Lofton said the EDC still has two dozen other projects they’re looking at, including some call centers.

Carolina Forest was the focus of another hot topic the council took up Tuesday.

The County Council unanimously approved a resolution allowing for a mining permit in Carolina Forest, but not before several residents stepped up to the podium to oppose it.

The mine will be located off U.S. 501 near West Perry Road in Carolina Forest. The resolution does not allow for the company, RCPS Properties LLC, to mine more than 10 acres at a time.

Wendy Gilbert, who lives in the Lakeside Crossing subdivision near where the mining will take place, addressed council and said she and her husband just moved to Horry County a year ago after reading in a retirement magazine that Carolina Forest is the No. 1 spot to retire in the state.

Gilbert said retirement to her meant living in a safe and peaceful place. Now, she’s worried about noise, traffic and dust.

“I’m totally opposed to the mine, whether they do five acres or 10 acres,” Gilbert said.

Fellow resident Mary Pickle said the area where the mining would take place has a lot of children and worries about one of them being hit by a dump truck hauling sand.

“We’ve all learned this weekend the kind of pain we all felt losing children, even if they’re not ours,” said Pickle, referencing Friday’s elementary school shooting in Connecticut.

Rob Shelton, who represents RCPS Properties, said the mine has been in existence since the 1950s and there hasn’t been an accident or incident.

After council passed the resolution, a large portion of the audience made for the doors and left.

Following talks on economic development and mining, the council took up the topic of green lasers.

Council members passed second reading of an ordinance that would regulate the sale of green lasers in the county’s unincorporated portions. The ordinance must pass a third and final reading before formal adoption.

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 its Oct. 2 meeting, but it was deferred so the state delegation could discuss the issue.

Ultimately, first reading passed at the county’s fall budget retreat.

Arrigo Carotti, Horry County attorney, previously said a joint meeting of the city, county and state representatives ended with it becoming apparent there was concern as to how quickly the state legislature could enact laws to regulate green lasers. The ordinance then came back to County Council for its consideration.

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 because their rescuers’ safety was in jeopardy.

The council’s long agenda and numerous public comments pushed the meeting’s length to almost three hours. Before adjournment, Rice officially announced his resignation as chairman, effective Dec. 31.

Rice was elected in November as the U.S. representative for the state’s new 7th Congressional District.

He was first elected as County Council Chairman in 2010. Rice took Tuesday night to say a special thanks to the citizens of Horry County.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your trust in me,” he said.

Contact reporter BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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