There is little in Brian Tucker’s world right now that is more important than getting the Georgetown port dredged.
A working port, he said recently, would be a major calling card for potential employers, one that would give Georgetown a leg up over many areas in landing manufacturers who could bring lots of jobs.
He said dredging the port is first and foremost on his to-do list not only now in his job as president of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, but more importantly in the job of director of the county’s economic development effort that he’ll step into sometime next month.
The dredged port would also help Horry County’s economic development, he acknowledged, as would the construction of Interstate 73, which is No.3 on Tucker’s list. But while Horry would be the end of the I-73 pipeline, Georgetown would be the destination for ships to bring in raw materials and ship products for manufacturers that could have thousands of jobs.
Tucker, and Horry County, will have the help of U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, for those two projects. Rice has gotten House approval for a funding mechanism for the dredging and is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get construction permits for the interstate.
No. 2 on Tucker’s list is the four-laning of U.S. 521 to Interstate 95, and that could be a lonely, long-term effort.
But Tucker already has at least one thing going for him in his push to develop Georgetown’s economy, said Brad Lofton, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.
As Chamber president, Tucker helped shepherd a Start-Up Georgetown weekend earlier this year that drew tech-savvy entrepreneurs from across the country, and Lofton believes that tech start-ups is a niche Tucker could exploit.
“I think Brian’s done a good job with that,” Lofton said.
Lofton agreed with Tucker about the importance of a working port and also, like Tucker, he said that Georgetown needs to develop spaces that are move-in ready for new employers.
But Tucker will have one advantage over Myrtle Beach, Lofton said, and that is that Georgetown is closer to Charleston.
“They’re 30 miles closer to Boeing than we are,” Lofton said. “If I were in that job, I’d be looking for Boeing suppliers.”
Another goal Tucker has set for economic development is to make fiber optic networks available countywide. And he hopes to nurture tourism, the county’s No. 1 economic engine and find ways for it to grow, perhaps through sports and nature-based tourism.
“Anything that brings people into the county to spend their money in the county,” is open for discussion, he said.
Tucker said he has no direct experience as an economic developer, but he’s been around economic development in his current chamber job and as president and CEO of the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce.
Jon Dawkins, now chairman of the North Augusta Chamber board, said Tucker worked with the area’s non-profit economic development groups to bring business to town.
“He was great at advocacy and government relations,” said Dawkins. “We hated to lose him.”
Tucker was tapped to lead the Georgetown Chamber last year where one of his prime duties was to be a strong advocate for economic development in Georgetown County.
Tucker said his job as economic development director will be that of a salesman.
“We’re going out and selling a product,” he said.
But his concentration won’t be totally on finding new employers. Seventy-five percent of job creation in any area comes from expansion of existing businesses, and Tucker will spend time helping them grow.
Tucker has been adept at building relationships as the Georgetown Chamber president, said Jenna Jordan, chairman of the Chamber board. She said economic development was among the goals set for him when he took the job last spring, and he’s been successful in pushing the Chamber in that direction.
Perhaps as importantly, though, Jordan said Tucker worked with economic development groups in Georgetown County and helped build a dialogue in which all could participate.
“We’re going to miss him,” she said, “but the board is 100 percent behind him making this move.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.