Business leaders see better economy for the Grand Strand in 2014

sjones@thesunnews.comJanuary 9, 2014 

Grand Strand business leaders at a Thursday morning meeting expressed cautious optimism for the Grand Strand’s 2014 economy -- with an emphasis on “cautious.”

Marc Jordan, CEO of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, said he cautiously budgeted for this fiscal year to have a 2 percent to 3 percent growth in operations, but that the city’s overall economy has jumped more than his projections. The fiscal year began on July 1, so Jordan was looking at six months growth.

But he doesn’t see any reason that 2014 shouldn’t also do well.

Jordan and other business leaders gave their forecasts prior to the annual meeting of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. The news at the meeting was of a record-setting year in job recruitment by the EDC, with commitments for 960 new jobs since Jan. 1, 2013.

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Quincy Collins, a Vietnam prison of war for 7 1/2 years, was the keynote speaker at the meeting.

Jim Apple, CEO of Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. and chairman of the EDC’s Prospects Committee, said he hopes to see continued economic improvement this year driven by the area’s real estate rebound and the new jobs brought to Horry County by the EDC.

Indeed, the annual economic outlook from the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business said that the Myrtle Beach metro area led the state in retail sales and residential building permit growth from October 2012 through October last year. The Grand Strand also ranked second among the state’s metro areas in employment growth, but at the same time tied with Charleston for the state’s smallest decline in unemployment.

Theoretically, the unemployment numbers will improve with the EDC’s business recruitment, but the promised jobs are to be created over a period of five years so the effect likely will be minimal on any one year.

But the new jobs, employers and the money they’ll spend will help to stimulate growth of small businesses, said Laurence Bolchoz, CEO of Coastal Carolina National Bank.

The Moore School’s outlook predicts 1.7 percent job growth statewide in 2014, which means tens of thousands of new jobs. The forecast calls for this year’s expansion to be led by growth in construction, financial services, retail trade and leisure and hospitality spending.

As did Apple, TD Bank vice president John Rutenberg used the word “hope” in his vision for this year. He said that businesses are still feeling out the economy, uncertain if it will continue upward or if something could upset the momentum.

But Rutenberg, TD’s North Strand area executive, said his bank is seeing businesses seeking more loans than they had been since the recession.

“Help with something other than to buy a piece of land,” he described the new activity.

Conway Mayor Alys Lawson said her city is seeing investment from national chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts. The town’s Wendy’s is remodeling, another positive sign, she said.

Mike Phillips, CEO of BauschLinnemann North America that moved its headquarters to Myrtle Beach last year, said he feels good about 2014 because of the things the company has done in the past few years.

During that time, it bought companies in Myrtle Beach and Quebec, has closed its Greensboro, N.C., plant (and former headquarters) and is still integrating the Conway operation into the Myrtle Beach plant. As each step is taken, Phillips said BauschLinnemann becomes more efficient in its operations, which lowers its costs and increases its opportunities for greater profit.

“It’s going to be good for us because of where we are as a company,” he said of 2014. “Things that we have been putting in place the last few years are coming to blossom.”

Areawide, Phillips joked, he foresees “Blue skies, roses, Cadillacs in every driveway and a diamond on every pinkie.”

Jordan said all the signs point to a good 2014 economically.

The tourism business, which ultimately determines the financial pulse of the Grand Strand, was up for this holiday season, he said. He said that’s based on seeing more people around town as well as more calling the chamber about accommodations. Accommodations tax collections are up as well, he said.

The city’s new sports tourism complex will open this spring and add even more impetus to the number of visitors.

“Right now,” he said of reservations at the complex, “it’s way above projections.”

All are cautious about specifics.

“I hate to underestimate,” Lawson said of the outlook, “but then you don’t want to overstate it either.”

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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