Horry County business and political leaders are enthusiastic over the success of economic development efforts in 2013, but likely none are as happy as Calvin Dimery.
Dimery, 42, married and the father of a 16-year-old daughter, had been without a job for nearly a year when he started work Monday at PTR Industries at the Cool Springs Business Park near Aynor.
PTR, a Connecticut firearms manufacturer, is one of two company headquarters to relocate to Horry County during the year, and Dimery was among the first group of 12 to be hired.
“You’re supposed to be the breadwinner,” Dimery said of the thoughts that dragged him down during the months of unemployment. When he learned he had been hired, he said, “I thanked God.”
Dimery is one of nearly 1,000 people who will get a new job because of last year’s work by the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. Besides the relocation of PTR, the new jobs will come at a second gun manufacturer, an aeronautics manufacturer, the expansion of a business that makes fuel additives and a call center that announced in late December that it was building a facility in Horry County and will employ 615 people.
The EDC was reconstituted in 2011 from former, failed economic development groups and charged by the Horry County Council –– which allocates $1.3 million a year to the EDC – to diversify the county’s employment and recruit employers that would pay more than the county’s average wage as well as offer benefits such as health insurance.
While tourism will continue to dominate the area’s economy, leaders wanted to stimulate year-round employment opportunities to keep the financial fires stoked during the offseason.
It’s all about the jobs.
The county’s unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in November, down from 10.4 percent a year earlier but 0.8 percentage point above the national unemployment rate.
More than 2,000 people applied for the first dozen jobs advertised at PTR, said John McNamara, the company’s vice president of sales and administration.
He said EDC officials had told the company to expect a flood of applicants, so it was more encouraged than surprised by the response. The company’s move was made in less than a year, a process McNamara said was eased by the help of the EDC.
“Their communication was excellent,” McNamara said. “We also saw the process was being streamlined by the economic development folks.”
He said EDC CEO Brad Lofton and Brandon Sessions, the EDC’s director of development, anticipated the company’s needs and were ready to tell McNamara and PTR CEO Josh Fiorini about the help the state would give in culling the applications, Horry Georgetown Technical College would give in training and the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology in the development of new products.
The EDC and Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council, worked to develop incentive packages from the state and county that helped solidify PTR’s decision to relocate to South Carolina.
McNamara said the training and new product development tools were huge factors in the company’s decision to move to Horry County.
Like McNamara, Lazarus lauded the EDC staff for its work in bringing new employers. He said that while all its pitches, such as that to land Boeing’s 777X manufacturing plant, may not succeed directly, they can have benefits beyond the initial push.
“Just us soliciting (Boeing),” he said, “has gotten our name out (to other aeronautics companies).”
Horry’s job-hunting successes, said Jeff McKay, executive director of the North Eastern Strategic Alliance, can be a beacon for those looking for locations for business expansions and relocations.
NESA is a regional economic development organization that serves nine counties in northeastern South Carolina, including Horry and Georgetown.
“It’s almost like a subdivision,” McKay said. “A lot of times, you don’t want to be the first person in a subdivision.”
But once you see others who have successfully moved there, it becomes a more attractive place to live.
McKay said that the jobs being created in Horry County benefit job seekers in a 60-mile radius, which he said is the typical spread of a Pee Dee employer’s labor pool.
“As one county goes, the benefits far exceed the county line,” he said.
The successes further attract more area businesses to join the effort, which boosts the EDC’s income and helps it to do things it can’t with the money it gets each year from Horry County, such as take trips to trade shows to meet and recruit prospects or to entertain them when they visit here.
“If I can lend a hand and help the area, I’m glad to,” said John Stillwagon, owner and president of Terra Properties and a 27-year resident of Horry County.
Stillwagon said he got the papers to become an EDC member in December and plans to move forward with it soon. He’s had some experience helping economic development efforts in West Virginia and said he thinks his expertise in land acquisitions, development and construction management could be helpful to the organization.
“There is a need,” he said. “It takes everybody doing something.”
Doug Wendel, the former chairman of the EDC board, said that because of the EDC’s successes, membership has climbed from 30 to 120 since the organization was reinvigorated 2 1/2 years ago. The investment by members went from $100,000 a year to $300,000 a year, including in-kind donations such as printing.
Wendel said that Lofton’s job is more than recruiting new employers to come to Horry County or helping existing employers to expand. It includes helping existing employers wherever they have a need. Lofton and other EDC officials meet with some existing employers every month to determine their needs and how the organization can help them.
“It might be a turn lane,” Wendel said, “it might be a new access road, it might be training.”
Hitting the chord
Wendel said U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, set the EDC’s new direction in place when Rice chaired the Horry County Council.
“I don’t think people realized how much support there was for an effective EDC,” he said. “And Tom hit that chord.”
He called Lazarus, who’s deeply involved with EDC efforts, “Tom Rice on steroids.”
Lazarus predicts more of the same for the EDC this year, as does Fred Richardson, CEO of Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority and the current EDC board chairman.
Laudisi Enterprises, a Little River pipe distributor, announced Wednesday that it would move its tobacco manufacturing operation from North Carolina to Horry County and create 43 new jobs over the next five years. Styles Wilford, the company president, said the EDC helped Laudisi navigate the expansion by steering it to job training opportunities and to state tax credits for the new jobs it will create.
Lazarus said he’s expecting even more announcements in the near future, at least some of which could mean hundreds of new jobs.
“I think it’s going to be more of the same,” Richardson said of the upcoming year.
While the picture looks good, Richardson said it’s not perfect. The area needs an interstate connection and he’s beginning an effort to expand natural gas availability countywide. Lines already run through Conway to Myrtle Beach International Airport, where the EDC has 400 acres to develop as the International Technology and Aerospace Park, but they don’t go to the area around the intersection of S.C. 31 and S.C. 22, where the EDC wants to put a major new industrial park.
Without natural gas, Richardson said, it’s unlikely that a large manufacturer would call Horry County home.
“Obviously we’re not looking for nor could we land a big smokestack industry,” Richardson said.
As with others, he said the EDC had a terrific year in 2013 and, also like others, cited the work of Lofton and his team for the success.
He and Wendel said that the successes have given Horry’s economic development effort credibility not only at home, but with others as well. And that brings the attention of others, which could very well lead to even more jobs.
“I think word’s gotten out that we’re a player,” Wendel said.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.