North Myrtle Beach chamber aims for a new state grant to market destinations

sjones@thesunnews.comDecember 7, 2013 

— The North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce wants to get more state money to leverage its new marketing dollars, but it’s already facing a closed door from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

“Here we are one of the major destinations on the East Coast and they’re telling us there’s no money,” said North Myrtle Beach Chamber CEO Marc Jordan when he heard that PRT has no plans for additional grant programs. “I think that’s preposterous.”

The chamber wants PRT to create a new grant program that will allow medium-sized organizations like it to get more than the $90,000 limit of current grants for local destination marketing. PRT said last week that’s not likely.

“Developing a new grant program is not in the cards,” PRT spokeswoman Dawn Dawson-House said.

Jordan will have to work to convince at least some Horry County legislators and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to endorse the plan before he officially presents the North Myrtle Beach chamber’s plan to the state.

“I would be concerned about the impact locally,” said Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach.

Jordan wants the new PRT grant money to come from increased accommodations tax revenue the state will collect from a growth in tourism and is emphatic that he doesn’t want to take anything from separate grant funds for local marketing organizations or for regional marketing organizations such as the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

Should either of the two groups feel threatened by the North Myrtle Beach proposal, the opposition likely would be impossible to overcome.

$6 million to market the Grand Strand

The Myrtle Beach chamber and other regional marketing organizations now get $6 million a year from a two-for-one grant program that was created by state law and must use the money to market a regional destination such as the Grand Strand rather than a local destination such as just Myrtle Beach.

PRT also awards grants up to $90,000 to smaller, local marketing organizations.

Rankin noted the state-mandated program came after the city of Myrtle Beach imposed a 1 percent addition to its accommodations tax for marketing. Sen. Greg Hembree, who like Rankin said he needs more details before he decides on his support, said that the push to get the two-for-one program through the legislature took three years of “diligent, persistent, intensive lobbying.”

The current effort in North Myrtle Beach, where some businesses have agreed to voluntarily add a 1 percent fee to bills for increased marketing, is the same way that Myrtle Beach’s tax addition started. Rankin, though, said that a voluntary 1 percent contribution from some businesses is just not the same thing as a tax that affects all businesses, whether they support it or not.

Hembree said that as long as North Myrtle Beach wants action from PRT, it might as well go for a state law mandating the new grant program as to seek nonbinding legislative support for it. He said that even if PRT agreed to create the new grant program administratively, it could as easily decide to take it away.

He said also that the Myrtle Beach chamber can partner with other organizations – as he said it’s already done with Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday – on marketing the area. The North Myrtle Beach chamber could go the same route, he said, but any money it would get from the Myrtle Beach chamber grant would have to be used to market the whole area, not just North Myrtle Beach.

And if it got that money, it would have to give up the $90,000 PRT grant it now gets.

The North Myrtle Beach chamber sought $250,000 of the Myrtle Beach chamber’s two-for-one grant money and ultimately was offered $100,000 from funds the city of Myrtle Beach gives the chamber, Hembree said.

Jordan said the North Myrtle Beach chamber turned down the offer because it thought the money was coming from the Myrtle Beach chamber’s PRT grant money and would run afoul of PRT’s rule against one organization getting grants from two PRT sources. He acknowledged that Myrtle Beach chamber officials told him that the PRT had cleared sending the city’s money north without jeopardizing what the state already gave his chamber.

But Jordan said uncertainty over the Myrtle Beach money led to the refusal.

State grant funds plummeting

Jordan said the North Myrtle Beach chamber and other local marketing organizations used to get as much as $200,000 from annual PRT grants, but that the size of the pot has taken a nosedive in recent years.

“Every year, it has gone down 30 percent, 40 percent,” he said.

Jordan repeatedly said he has no beef with the Myrtle Beach chamber or the state money it gets to market the Grand Strand. In fact, he said more than once how much North Myrtle Beach benefits from that advertising.

He said he hopes to get an endorsement from the Myrtle Beach chamber for establishing a new PRT grant. But as with the state and area legislators, Jordan’s going to have to do some selling before that will come.

Brad Dean, CEO of the Myrtle Beach chamber, came closer to giving support to the North Myrtle Beach chamber’s proposal, but like Rankin and Hembree, he stopped short of giving it an official thumbs-up.

“Filling so many rooms amidst increasing competition is a constant challenge, so we value the efforts of those who join us in this important endeavor,” Dean said in an email. “The North Myrtle Beach community is a vital part of our destination, and visitors generally ignore political boundaries, so we all win each time a visitor arrives, regardless of where they stay. Any net increase in the promotional budget of the Grand Strand can help to leverage the destination’s brand and ultimately bring more visitors to our region.”

Dean also pointed to the fact that some of the accommodations tax collected in Horry County law is distributed by state law to counties that have little or no accommodations tax collections. He said that it isn’t easy to reduce the amount of the donation, but he applauds any effort to get more of the money back to the Grand Strand.

Jordan will greet legislators and PRT officials not just with his best salesman suit, but also a study from Coastal Carolina University that details the economic benefits of more money spent on marketing. Each additional $500,000, the study says, generates an extra $836,000 in accommodations tax collections plus nearly $65 million in direct spending and economic impact.

Jordan said the North Myrtle Beach chamber knows it could take some effort to convince everyone that a new program is a good idea, but it won’t back away easily.

“We’re going to do what we have to do,” he said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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