A search committee looking for a replacement for Brad Lofton as CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. expects to narrow its list of applicants this week, but one Horry County councilman thinks there is another discussion that needs to take place first.
“Do we need someone to recruit business in Horry County?” asked Councilman Harold Worley. “Yes. (The question is) how much money do we want to throw at finding $10 a hour jobs?”
Worley said he thinks the council needs to decide first how it will fund the job of the job searcher and then look for the person to do it.
Worley, for instance, said he thinks the economic development effort should be made a part of county government overseen and assisted by county staff.
Now the organization is semi-independent, getting the lion’s share of its funding from Horry County, but with its own board of directors and staff.
The conversation over future funding could come during a one-day council budget retreat on Nov. 14, a timetable that could delay the search committee’s timetable.
Lofton left the EDC last month to return to Georgia, where he took a job as the head of Dublin Laurens County Economic Development Authority in the middle of the state. He came to Horry County in 2011 from an economic development job in southern Georgia.
The EDC secured promises for about 1,500 new jobs last fiscal year, at least the majority of which paid more than $10 a hour. New employers in that time included Startek, which has promised more than 600 jobs in its new call center, Bausch Linnemann and PTR Industries, a gun manufacturer that had formerly been located in Connecticut.
Of the total number of jobs promised on three-year to five-year timetables, 579 had been filled when Lofton left for Georgia. He told the EDC executive committee in his final meeting with the group that the annual economic impact from the 579 jobs was about $300,000 more than the annual funding the organization gets from Horry County.
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, who is a member of the CEO search committee, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Fred Richardson, chairman of the EDC board, said the EDC received about 110 applications for the job and that at least 40 of them came from people who met the organization’s qualifications for a new CEO.
He expected the search committee to meet this week to narrow the number to a smaller list of candidates who will be interviewed by telephone. After that, the committee will narrow the list again to a final three to five candidates who will be brought to Myrtle Beach for face-to-face interviews.
Richardson said candidates will have to be told that the funding for the organization after the end of this fiscal year has not been decided, understanding that it could impact their decision on the job.
He said some of the applicants are from the Myrtle Beach area, but others have been submitted from coast to coast. A number came from people who already head economic development efforts elsewhere.
“I think the Southeast is looked at as quite attractive (for economic developers),” Richardson said.
Richardson said that many if not all of the qualified applicants come from people who operate in semi-independent organizations similar to the MBREDC. He said he thinks that’s the best model for job hunting organizations.
For instance, he asked, how many corporate executives would want to have a substantive conversation about locating in an area with a head of a county department rather than the CEO of a semi-independent organization.
Further, he wondered if the EDC effort would get funding from Horry County municipal governments and private sources if it were a county department.
Horry County has given $1.3 million a year to MBREDC for several years, but the contract on that mechanism runs out on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. The EDC gets about $200,000 in funding from other sources each year, Richardson said.
But Worley said the only way the county could continue to provide that level of funding would be to raise property taxes, which he opposes. He is also against holding a referendum on the funding, saying that it’s an issue the council should be able to decide on its own.
He said he’s probably in the minority of the council in thinking the EDC should be a county department, but believes the board may be evenly split on the referendum.
Richardson said that if the EDC is made a county department, it could work.
He doesn’t think that will happen, but he thinks the decision should have been made before the CEO search got underway.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to leave a comfortable job to go somewhere the funding is uncertain,” he said.