July 25, 2014

Lofton takes experience to rural Georgia economic development effort

Scott Beasley said people in Dublin, Ga., are feeling real good that they are getting somebody like Brad Lofton to lead the county’s economic development authority.

Scott Beasley said people in Dublin, Ga., are feeling real good that they are getting somebody like Brad Lofton to lead the county’s economic development authority.

“It was hard to find a qualified person who wanted to come to rural Georgia,” said Beasley, chairman of the Dublin Laurens County (Ga.) Development Authority. “That was the most impressive part (about Lofton). He wanted to come back home.”

Lofton resigned this week and hopes to leave the CEO’s post at the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. toward the end of the first week in August.

He has to start work at his new job Aug. 14 and needs to find a home to rent, he said.. His departure is to be finalized at an EDC meeting Wednesday morning.

Lofton and his wife Tiffany are both from the central Georgia area -- Dublin is about 50 miles from Macon -- and family pressures led them to leave the Grand Strand.

Beasley said Tiffany Lofton has taken a job as the head of a new school for the Dublin school system.

Brad Lofton said he believes he’s leaving Horry County’s economic development effort in good shape. But he thinks that a drawn-out process to hire a new EDC leader could cause the area’s interest in economic development to wane.

He would have liked to leave with a permanent funding source for the MBREDC, but is pleased that all of Horry County’s municipalities and an increasing number of businesses are financially contributing to the organization.

Only the city of Myrtle Beach supported the effort financially when Lofton arrived more than three years ago, he said.

He also would hope that the area finds a way to increase its supply of product, meaning buildings and land ready for new employers, and he includes the need for natural gas in that.

“It’s a huge, huge challenge,” he said.

On the other hand, Lofton said the area’s water, sewer and telecommunications services help Horry stand out to prospective employers.

Lofton noted that Laurens County has natural gas service as well as an interstate highway running through it. He said the Development Authority has sites and buildings ready, as well as the commitment and leadership to drive economic development.

Beasley said the authority will announce Monday that a new industry is taking the last of the authority’s land bordering Interstate 16, which runs from Macon to Savannah. At the same time, the authority is in the process of acquiring a large tract where new industries can move.

He said that the authority’s funding is a line item in Dublin and Laurens County budgets, and that its annual spending plan is around $650,000, less than half that of the MBREDC.

“We’d like to have the staff like (Lofton) had in Myrtle Beach,” Beasley said. “We’d like to have a budget like he had in Myrtle Beach.”

The authority office has just one staff member other than its president, but Beasley said he can see the potential for expansion.

He said that Laurens County, an area of about 30,000 people, competes primarily with metro Atlanta and South Carolina in industry recruitment. But while Atlanta is a competitor, it also is a draw for those who want to be nearby but not deal with the expense and other hassles of the metro area.

The expansion of the port in Savannah, about 100 miles east of Dublin, is another draw for the Development Authority, Beasley said.

He said the Authority has six projects it is working actively, so Lofton will be expected to hit the ground running.

Lofton had some disappointments while he was here -- the withdrawal of a large call center and one gun manufacturer among them -- but there were successes that he was proud of, he said.

There were 11 new and expansion projects announced during his tenure, a pace that had not been seen before in Horry County.

The EDC now has a strategic plan that outlines the prime industries recruiters should seek, there is an incentive ordinance that structures local incentives to lure new employers and, perhaps most importantly, the community now has experience in structuring deals.

Lofton said the EDC has developed a good sales team and has a staff that knows how to handle the business, as well.

To some extent, at least, he will miss Horry County and the MBREDC.

But, he said, “I have to admit I’m looking forward to being closer to home.”

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765 or on Twitter @TSN_sjones.

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