CONWAY — Horry County is considering a local vendor preference resolution that would grant local businesses another opportunity to bid a contract if it is close enough to the lowest bidder not from the area.
The measure, which is estimated to have been visited about four times in the last 12 years, is met with mixed reaction from County Council members who recently talked about it at a committee meeting. Approving a law just isn’t as simple as gathering ‘yea’ votes for the local economy. And based on the low number of past projects this would actually impact, one councilman questions if all the hubbub is even worth it.
“I just don’t support this,” said Councilman Harold Worley, who is also a businessman. “We had a contract ourselves and I tell you what... when I sit down to do a bid on a commercial building or any building, sometimes I can spend $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the bid, putting it together. And if I’m up in Wilmington or Raleigh, out of town, and they have a local vendor, I’ve seen a lot of these where I’m not interested and I know other contractors out there that feel the same way.”
The resolution County Attorney Arrigo Carotti drafted for councilmen to consider targets contracts between $25,000 and $100,000. It states if the lowest bidder on a contract is not from Horry County but the second lowest bidder is and the local bid is within 5 percent of the lowest bid, the local company would have an opportunity to match the lowest bid. It’s a law that places like Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Georgetown and Charleston County use to encourage local companies to bid projects and keep jobs local.
The county’s Infrastructure and Regulation committee will discuss the issue at its next meeting at 9 a.m. Oct. 3 in the second-floor conference room of the Horry County Government and Justice Center in Conway.
Brad Dean, president/CEO of the myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, supports a local vendor preference law.
“We encourage and support the county’s commitment to protecting local businesses,” Dean said in an email when asked for comment. “When governments strive for a level playing field for area business owners, we see it as a positive thing. Whenever there is doubt, we always believe governments should think about and give to local businesses.”
Councilman Carl Schwartzkopf said he would support the resolution if it also allowed the out-of-county lowest bidder to win the bid if it included local businesses as sub contractors.
“There were a lot of qualified contractors who are not local who wouldn’t bid because basically the odds were stacked against them for getting a bid,” Schwartzkopf said of his past experience on other boards. “This way, the non-local vendors are willing to participate and I would be willing to support that motion.”
Councilman Marion Foxworth said it comes down to details for him, like why the county would put a cap on the financial size of a contract.
“I like the idea. I think it’s easy to support taking care of the folks back home,” Foxworth said. “The devil’s in the details, though, in how you define things... It’s hard to not look like you’re protecting just a select few.”
“If it’s a good idea, it ought to be a good idea across the board, not for just a handful of specific vendors.”
Handful couldn’t have been more accurate. Of the 72 contracts Horry County awarded in a two-year span, 18 were awarded to companies outside the county. Five of those projects would have fallen within the percentage parameters of this proposed law.
When the issue was last visited in 2011, Steve Gosnell, assistant administrator for Infrastructure and Regulation, recommended to council not to approve the measure because of the minimal impact it would have. He said about 80 percent of the county’s building projects from 2008 to 2011 went to Horry County contractors and all local road improvement projects during that time frame stayed local.
Chairman Mark Lazarus asked Carotti to bring examples of pros and cons from other communities that have local vendor preference so councilmen can consider that when making their decision.
“I think there’s a way to make this happen and I think there’s a cry out there for it,” he said. “I think the dialogue is good, but I don’t think we’re there by any means.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.