The timing of Brad Lofton’s departure from his role as CEO of Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. , and the coming 2015 expiration of the county’s funding commitment to that group may make finding a replacement leader more difficult, Horry County officials said.
Some council members discussed the potential problem during an administration committee meeting Friday, when the topic of future funding for the group came up. The county provides $1.3 million annually to the MBREDC. Councilmen said the county does not think it will be able to continue to fund the corporation once the contract to help fund it expires June 30, 2015.
“I think to be fair to their board, I think they need to be aware of this discussion we’re having right now,” said Councilman Marion Foxworth. “Frankly, I think [Lofton’s] leaving at this critical juncture really leaves them in a predicament because the contract is expiring, the revenue stream is expiring, and there’s nobody there to pick up the ball and get them to another level.”
Foxworth and other councilmen, like council chairman Mark Lazarus who also is on the MBREDC’s executive committee, feared the MBREDC would begin a search for a new leader without secured funding from the county.
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“That’s their challenge,” Lazarus said. “Our challenge is we provided them the funding to move forward. They may have to go a year without a top director and figure out another way until they get a consistent flow of funding or there may be that person out there that says, ‘Hey, I’ll come in and take a chance because I think that I can prove to Horry County that I can bring the jobs in and they’ll want to continue the funding. That’s what’s put on their back today.”
Foxworth said it is important that the county and the MBREDC have open discussions about the funding and the search.
“They don’t need to be signing contracts for four to five years depending on funding,” Foxworth said. “We need to have that discussion at the fall budget retreat: ‘A’ is economic development a core function of government and ‘B,’ if it is, how are we going to fund it? Is it a millage increase dedicated to that, are we going to make cuts elsewhere in the budget, or are we going to find some alternative revenue stream, like the capital project sales tax?”
Councilman Harold Worley said he is not in favor of raising taxes to fund the corporation.
“I can tell you, those guys are going to have to take a cut or we’re going to have to raise property taxes,” Worley said. “And I know for one, I’m not going to vote to raise property taxes.”
Fred Richardson, CEO of the MBREDC board of directors, said the board hasn’t really talked about funding for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1, 2015, because, he said, the EDC and the county are not at any differences of opinion that he knows of when it comes to funding the corporation.
“I think economic development is a component of county government,” Richardson said. “It’s always been funded, as long as I’ve been around, there has been an economic development commission that the county has played some role in funding.”
Richardson said he does not foresee the corporation getting into a contract with a new leader “if we weren’t confident that we would have the funding in place.”
“If there’s a reason to believe there’s not going to be funding, then a different path has to be taken,” Richardson said. “But certainly if we hire someone, we’ll be prepared to fund the addition.”
Lazarus said the timing of securing the funding and finding a new leader may be a challenge.
“When they go out to hire someone to replace Brad, it may be difficult because that person coming in is looking at their future, too, and will say, ‘How long is this job going to last for me?’” Lazarus said.