The top candidate for the top job at the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. has a lot to learn, said his current boss, Jeff McKay, executive director of the North Eastern Strategic Alliance.
It’s not that Jim Moore isn’t qualified to fill the CEO’s job, it’s that every day is a learning day for economic development professionals, no matter how many years they are in it, McKay said.
“You have to be a generalist in this business,” McKay said, explaining that industry hunters must constantly update their knowledge of businesses, their needs, new technology and changes within industries to succeed in an ultra-competitive environment. “You have to be knowledgeable about so many different things.”
Moore, 47 and currently NESA’s director of business development, likely will be hired for the MBREDC job at a special meeting Monday of the EDC’s executive committee. If all goes as expected, he’ll replace former CEO Brad Lofton, who left the agency earlier this year for an economic development post in middle Georgia.
Moore didn’t return phone calls last week seeking comment for this article.
EDC’s board leaders characterized the about 50 candidates as falling into one of two groups of candidates: those who weren’t as qualified as necessary and others who were well-qualified but dropped out of the running because of the agency’s year-to-year operational funding from the Horry County Council.
Like McKay, EDC board leaders have praised Moore’s qualifications, indicating he’s one of the latter group willing to take the job regardless of the funding process.
In a brief interview after he was introduced to the Horry County Council last week, Moore said that dedicated, ongoing funding is the way many successful economic development organizations operate, but he’s aware of the cards in the MBREDC CEO’s hand and is prepared to play with what he’s dealt.
“When (EDC professionals) bring good, high-paying jobs,” Councilman Harold Worley said, “the council is going to fund them.”
Moore faced similar funding challenges when he headed what was the Caldwell-Lyon Economic Development Partnership, now called the Lake Barkley Partnership, said Jeff McDaniels, president of Farmers Bank and Trust in Princeton, Ky.
McDaniels said he worked with Moore during the latter’s last six months in Kentucky and he found Moore a good communicator.
On the other hand, McDaniels said he thought Moore tried too hard to satisfy the wants of leaders in the two counties and its municipalities who often complained when new jobs would go somewhere but their own backyards.
“He had a tough job here,” McDaniels said.
The Kentucky agency gets more than 50 percent of its approximately $130,000 budget from public sources, and McDaniels indicated that there would be regular battles over how much the Partnership would get and who would pay what.
He said he thought that the funding and other uncertainties were at least part of the reason Moore left the Partnership for the job at NESA.
While McDaniels said he thought Moore may have tried too hard to please everyone, he added that he knows from his own job what it can take to satisfy a board of directors.
Overall, he gave Moore high marks for his job in Kentucky.
“In my time with Jim,” he said, “I felt he was very knowledgeable and I was very comfortable with him representing our community.”
For the last three years, Horry County Council has given MBREDC $1.2 million a year, split about half and half between money to fund operations and that to develop sites ready for new employers to move into.
This year in particular, some council members have been vocal about the amount of money the EDC gets and have said they want to lower the output.
Worley said too much has been going to the operations side, but he calls recent cost-cutting measures announced by Council Chairman Mark Lazarus “a little whitewash.”
Lazarus said that council members have talked about a realignment in which the county will provide all legal and accounting services for the EDC, both of which will cut out dollars that had been spent hiring those services elsewhere.
The move also will give the Council more scrutiny over how the EDC is spending its money. Additionally, county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier will work with Morgan Dendy, the EDC’s director of marketing, on public relations projects, potentially cutting even more dollars that may have gone to outside consultants.
On the performance side, Worley and Councilman Paul Prince said they want information that tells them that average employees in recruited businesses are making a living wage.
Specifically what both would like to see is a report of median rather than average wages for new and expanding businesses.
Average pay can be skewed upward by the pay of a few executives who can earn several or more times as much as lower-level employees. Median pay, which is defined as halfway between the highest and lowest pay, would give them a better idea of the pay picture, the two councilmen said.
“If we’re going to be buying jobs,” Worley said, “I think we need to at least have a median wage people can live on.”
Prince would narrow it even more.
“I don’t want to see (salaries for) the administrative part,” he said to describe supervisory and higher-level jobs.
‘No’ familiar to EDC pros
If all that sounds like Moore could be hearing a lot of “no we don’t want this anymore” and “no we don’t want that anymore” in the short term, it’s probably something he’s used too, according to McKay’s description of an industry hunter’s job.
McKay said that at any time, there may be 300 companies looking to move or expand, offering some place the opportunity to pick up jobs. There are 6,000 economic development organizations that want them.
“You can imagine the competitive spirit that’s out there chasing them,” McKay said.
He said that industry hunters will land about one in four prospects, a 25 percent success rate.
“It’s a tough gig,” McKay said. “You’ve got to spend a lot of time away from home.”
But he also said that Moore has earned his stripes.
Moore, for instance, was the NESA lead on negotiating the location of a Frontier Communications call center to Myrtle Beach. That operation has been cited repeatedly by EDC officials as one that has surpassed hiring goals set when it moved here.
McKay said Moore has the sales experience, knowledge of industrial construction and the collaborative spirit needed to get jobs.
He also has the wherewithal to continue knocking on potential employers’ doors enthusiastically after hearing so many tell him no.
“He can handle a tough challenge,” McKay said.