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Future looking bright for Horry County

The 2009 economic downturn could force a cash-strapped Horry County government to cut some public services, but some economic development officials said the future remains bright.

"The question is what's going to happen in the short term as well as in the medium term," said Hugh Owens, the president of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., which markets the area to businesses. "The short-term outlook of our economy, as well as the national economy, is serious, but the medium-term outlook for things is quite positive."

The short-term outlook for the county budget is indeed grim. The county has already cut $2.8 million of improvements out of the $134 million operating budget for fiscal year 2009, which ends June 30, and more cuts could be in store for fiscal year 2010.

Fees from building permits and documentary stamps from the register of deeds' office have taken a major hit from the sluggish economy. The county budgeted about $4.5 million in revenue for both the permits and the stamps, but each are likely to come in around $2.5 million. Another wild card is fees from business licenses, said Westley Sawyer, the county's budget director. Sawyer said that revenue could be down because a portion of the license fee is based on businesses' gross income.

In addition, changes to the state property reassessment laws could end up costing the county millions more in property tax revenues. All told, the county may need to slash up to $12 million from its budget for fiscal year 2010.

Employees have already taken a 2.2 percent salary cut this fiscal year, and about 150 vacant positions are not being filled. Those jobs, Sawyer said, could simply be eliminated permanently.

Though the downturn will pose a challenge to recruit new companies, Owens said the Myrtle Beach area still has its perks. It has a 10,000-foot runway at Myrtle Beach International Airport, the Intracoastal Waterway and a high quality of life - all attractive resources for businesses.

Owens said his group would continue to focus on recruiting aviation, marine and information technology businesses.

Efforts to build an aviation commerce park at the airport and a marine industrial park in Bucksport will continue in 2009, and Owens was hopeful companies could be in place at the air park by the end of the year.