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Jobs group asks Horry County for $1 million

The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. asked the Horry County Council at its spring budget retreat Thursday to consider a three-year contract to fund the agency with $375,000 annually.

The corporation presented a plan to improve the agency, which has drawn criticism in the past few years for neither meeting job creation nor business relocation results expected by the county.

The corporation is also asking Myrtle Beach to chip in $40,000 and wants private investors to give $160,000 annually. The contract would replace a five-year agreement signed in 2006 to fund the corporation that ends in June, at the end of this budget year. The group received about $222,000 from the county last year.

Dodd Smith, president and chief executive officer of Metglas Inc. and a development corp. board member, presented the plan and the funding request.

"Competition is fierce. When you look at who's competing for economic development, the competition is fierce for obvious reasons. It's jobs; and people desperately need jobs. We need to compete," Smith said.

The corporation proposed expanding the board of directors from 10 to 17 members, who would have three-year terms and meet every two months. There would also be an executive board, members of which would have a one-year rotating term and meet monthly. Smith said the group has been discussing a change in organization and in efforts that would require hiring a president to replace Hugh Owens, who resigned late last year.

He said the three-year commitment would help entice better candidates for that position because they would know there was some stability andcommitment to economic development.

Development corp. representatives and council members said they hope that the terrain provided by the International Aeronautics and Technology Park proposed adjacent to the runway at Myrtle Beach International Airport and the Bucksport Marine Park change the game plan for the organization. Smith said the county has to help provide flexible incentives for potential companies and allow the EDC to be marketers instead of developers.

In his presentation, Smith said the group needs more input from the County Council on a regular basis and on selling the commodities in the county.

The group said one of its goals was to communicate more about progress and leads, and to increase partnerships with other economic development groups including the North Eastern Strategic Alliance, a group that handles economic development for a 10-county area including Horry and Georgetown counties.

Councilman Howard Barnard asked whether the group had thought about how to realistically measure its success. The group did not have specific goals to share, but members said they wanted to work with the council to develop criteria for measuring success, although Smith said it might not be best measured "by shovels in the ground or jobs."

Board Chairman Jimmy Yahnis said the past two years had been a wash in terms of relocating companies, but the council should not expect quick results. Smith told Barnard that the group wanted to be challenged, and wanted to work with the council to come up with a reasonable expectation for results if the council would be willing to fund the more than $1 million over the next three years.

The council went into a closed session to discuss the points of the potential contract, but did not vote on a contract afterwards.

In the county's preliminary budget, which passed an initial vote Thursday, the county would not cut economic agencies' funding.

An industrial parks fund would be cut by enough money to fund the current property manager position instead of funding it through the general fund.

Property manager Jim Papadea focuses much of his time on economic development related activities.