Myrtle Beach metro area among nation’s fastest growing

sjones@thesunnews.comMarch 27, 2014 

Being the seventh-fastest growing metro area in the nation is not just something the Myrtle Beach area can brag about.

It’s also a dynamic that causes concerns and deliberations among those who provide the services to keep up with that growth.

“It’s not like this is a surprise to us,” said Joan Carroza, spokeswoman for Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, which has expanded its facilities and programs to meet the growing demand.

The Myrtle Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area was the 7th fastest growing metro area in the nation between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013, according to statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Myrtle Beach statistical area, which includes Brunswick County, N.C., added more than 10,000 residents in that year -- 7,626 of them in Horry County. Horry’s population as of July 1, the Census Bureau reported, was 289,650, more than 20,000 more than in the 2010 Census.

The one-year growth in 2012 and 2013 gave Horry a 2.7 percent growth rate. At the same time, Brunswick grew at a 2.8 percent clip to a total of 115,301 residents.

The Census Bureau said that Horry County grew 7.6 percent between April 1, 2000 and July 1, 2013, more than double the state’s 3.2 percent growth.

That kind of growth creates a need for a host of things from homes to schools to roads to firefighters.

For instance, Horry County last year added 6 mills to the property tax rate of unincorporated residents to hire more firefighters and buy new equipment.

“I think it’s obvious,” County Councilman Gary Loftus said of the pressures of growth, “the biggest strain is on public safety.”

But the county also must consider how growth affects the needs for locally-funded roads, such as the current widening of S.C. 707 from Socastee to Murrells Inlet, as well as new and expanded libraries and recreation facilities.

Horry County Schools are in a similar position with the strong breath of growth constantly on officials’ necks.

Since 2010, said schools spokeswoman Teal Harding, the system has opened a new elementary school, an Early College High School at Horry Georgetown Technical College and the Scholars Academy at Coastal Carolina University.

The system hired a consultant to make school construction and renovation recommendations for the next 10 years and in February 2013, its plan said the schools should be prepared to spend $633 million on a host of things including three new middle schools and two new elementary schools. The plan further recommended additions and renovations at a number of schools, including an overhaul of North Myrtle Beach High School and additions at Aynor, Midland, Homewood and Conway elementary schools.

The plan also recommended demolition and replacement of the Horry County Education Center and the Myrtle Beach Family Life Center plus a 25,000-square-foot addition to the central offices.

Other entities also feel the need to construct and expand facilities to keep up with growth.

Fred Richardson, CEO of Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority, said it felt a good deal of strain during the last Horry County boom, so it took the down time after the economic bust to assess what it would need in the future and make sure it was ready when growth resumed.

Richardson said the Authority found 40,000 lots ready for home construction that already had water and sewer connections, a need he said it can meet. In addition, it is building a new sewer treatment facility on its land at the Bucksport Marina that will provide service for an additional 10,000 homes when it comes on line.

Much the same is true at Horry Electric Cooperative, said spokeswoman Penelope Hinson.

The co-op was one of the fastest growing in the U.S. from 2001 to 2007. It ground to a halt in 2008, but the company is again projecting growth, just not as fast as earlier in the century.

“We are comfortable with our long range planning and we are confident our system is ready for the future power needs of the communities we serve,” she said in an email.

Horry County government may have been the only local entity that outpaced the schools in construction over the last four years.

Since 2010, said county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier, Horry County opened new recreation centers to serve the North Strand, South Strand and Carolina Forest areas. In addition, new libraries were built in Myrtle Beach and Carolina Forest and an expansion was added to the Socastee Library.

Other county construction included new and replacement fire stations in Bayboro and Juniper Bay, a $55 million addition to J. Reuben Long Detention Center and new recycling facilities for Aynor, Socastee, South Strand and Carolina Forest.

Like others, Grand Strand Regional Medical Center constantly assesses future needs and plans growth to meet them. For instance, Carroza, the medical center hired a new vascular neurologist in January and will add another neurosurgeon and two obstetricians to its staff later this year.

In recent years, it has been repeatedly recognized as having the best cardiac care in the state and has become the area’s only Level 2 trauma center.

Carroza said Grand Strand has plans to expand quite a few areas in the next year, but it’s not ready to make any announcements yet.

Loftus acknowledged that there may come a time when added growth will necessitate a general property tax increase.

He said that while the addition of second homes and commercial buildings pay for themselves in the county’s current tax revenues, full-time residential construction does not. For instance, while the influx of new residents in the South Strand area necessitated the four-laning of S.C. 707, the growth in the Carolina Forest area has created the need for a five-lane Carolina Forest Boulevard all the way from U.S. 501 to International Boulevard.

That, he said, likely will cost in the neighborhood of $100 million.

Facts and figures, needs and wants aside, though, growth is really about individuals and how they see the Grand Strand when they move here as new residents.

Christine Bonaparte, a communications professor at HGTC, moved with her husband to Murrells Inlet from Charlotte, N.C., in January.

It’s easier to make friends here, she said, explaining that she frequently meets people who know others she met and a connection is established.

What about the traffic on U.S. 501, though?

Bonaparte said she was advised to take S.C. 544 to work each day because of the number of vehicles crowding 501. But her impression is that it’s not all that bad on 501.

“Traffic isn’t at a complete standstill,” she said. In Charlotte, it would routinely take her an hour to drive one-mile during rush hours. “So this isn’t that bad.”

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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