Area economic development has made significant progress under the leadership of Brad Lofton and now the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. must focus on hiring a new president and CEO who will continue to attract new employers and jobs.
Lofton is leaving the area after three and a half years to return to his native Georgia, where he will take a similar position with the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority in central Georgia on Interstate 16. The presence of the east-west highway eliminates a challenge Lofton has faced here – lack of transportation infrastructure.
The fact that Lofton has landed a dozen developments – expansions and new employers – representing 1,350 eventual new jobs, says much about his abilities and the professional approach with the MBREDC. The agency was reorganized prior to hiring Lofton, who came here after six years with the development authority in Valdosta, Ga.
The progress in area development is summed up by Fred Richardson, CEO of Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority and board chairman of the EDC: “We’re really on the map now in terms of economic development where four years ago we weren’t.” Richardson and Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council, are co-chairmen of the committee that will hire a new president and CEO. The committee members include Doug Wendel, a leader in restructuring regional economic development efforts and was MBREDC board chairman when Lofton was hired.
Eleven members may may seem like a lot for a working committee. On the other hand, the total MBREDC board has 42 members. It is encouraging that the hiring committee also includes Neyle Wilson, president of Horry-Georgetown Technical College; Dave DeCenzo, president of Coastal Carolina University; Marc Jordan, North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce; and Sam Bennett, economic development director for Santee Cooper.
It is disconcerting that the hiring committee made a change in the wording of an advertisement seeking applicants for the president and CEO position, to “economic development experience preferred’’ from “economic experience required.’’ Lazarus says he wanted the change because “you’ve got a lot of people doing commercial real estate,’’ which is a form of economic development, and he didn’t want potentially good applicants to think they must have worked with an economic development entity.
It’s one thing to make an effort to broaden the pool of applicants, the point Lazarus makes, but it’s not acceptable to seek “preferred experience’’ candidates if that so much as hints of returning to a good-old-boy approach to regional economic development. It is imperative to the region’s economic well being that the professional approach continue in attracting new employers and fostering expansion by current enterprises.
Let’s be clear: more economic development is not necessarily a priority of every elective officeholder in Horry County. The county’s average hourly wage is among the lowest in the United States – and that’s OK by some employers.
The members of the MBREDC board are committed to more development along the lines of BauschLinnemann, the German laminate manufacturer in Myrtle Beach; the Accent Stainless Steel headquarters and high-paying welding jobs in Loris; the Star Tek call center taking shape in Carolina Forest that eventually will mean 650 jobs.
The hiring committee members must focus on attracting top-notch candidates, evaluating them and hiring a new president and CEO who can hit the ground running. If they can find another Brad Lofton, the region will be well served.