The volunteer leaders of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. resigned themselves to a hiatus of industry hunting when former CEO Brad Lofton left the agency last September.
The group had seen a string of successes over the three years prior to that with new and expanding businesses promising to create more than 1,300 new jobs in Horry County, capped by the grand opening of a StarTek call center that committed to hiring 616 employees in its first five years.
The overall job creation number was trimmed by 150 with the recent closing of AvCraft, which had started the string of successes, and leaders like current MBREDC board chairman Fred Richardson feared a temporary industry-hunting dormancy with the loss of the charismatic Lofton and two new employees left to man the office.
No one recognized the raw talent of Sandy Davis, the newly-hired director of operations and project management.
But Davis became the epicenter of the agency's activity after Lofton's departure and is credited with ushering two new businesses and up to 70 new jobs to Horry County already, with a third she hopes will announce its relocation here by the middle of this summer.
“I really didn't think it would pan out like that,” Davis said recently of her first year in economic development.
A native of Summerville, N.J., Davis and her mother moved to Horry County - her mother grew up in Loris - after her father died when she was 2 years old. She matriculated through Horry County schools, graduating from Loris High School, and received an associates degree in secretarial sciences from Horry Georgetown Technical College and a diploma from Coastal Carolina University in interdisciplinary studies for business education.
She worked at HTC while a CCU student, and said the company arranged her work schedule to mesh with her studies. At HTC, she was part of a team that assisted companies with new communications services, and it was in that job that she said she learned about customer service, a skill she carried forward in dealing with Star Lite Health and Little Spider Creations, Horry's two newest employers that she helped recruit.
“Even though the customer may not be right,” she described the role, “you make them feel that they are right. You deal with them. You work with them and make it right.”
That is exactly what Marc Brawner, Little Spider's owner, said Davis did for his company when it decided to relocate here from Colorado. Davis tackled every hurdle, Brawner said, even going so far as to arrange a kind-of date for one company employee to show him that he'd be comfortable living in South Carolina.
Following her graduation from CCU, Davis went to work for Carolina Southern Railroad where she was the controller.
“I handled everything there,” said Davis, 38, married and the mother of a 10-year-old son.
The job also gave Davis her first experience with direct sales, which she said was a matter of finding out what potential customers needed, figuring out how the railroad could help and getting them to sign a contract.
As controller, she also was the railroad's accountant, no doubt a difficult position to be in as the company struggled.
She said that railroad owner Ken Pippin continually praised her work and maintained his loyalty to her even during Carolina Southern's financial troubles.
In March 2014, Lofton offered Davis the job as his second in command, and she made the move undoubtedly thinking there would be plenty of mentoring time with an experienced industry hunter.
Richardson took over as interim CEO in Lofton’s absence and Davis credits him as being key to her success.
When officials from Star Lite came to visit Myrtle Beach, Davis was assigned to give them the tour.
“I was really nervous,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to say.”
Further, she wasn’t sure how male industry executives would react to a female negotiator in a world dominated by men.
Not to worry.
“They were really laid back and fun and excited to be here in Myrtle Beach,” she said.
Two days later, they decided to open the facility near Myrtle Beach International Airport. The next step was to shepherd an incentive package through Horry County Council, and Davis’ fear of public speaking meant that Richardson stepped in for her at the Council meeting.
It’s a skill she needs to learn, Richardson said, immediately adding that he has no doubt that she will.
Other than that, he had nothing but praise for her, calling her good at communication, follow-up and sales and saying that she is very aggressive in the most positive way.
She is naturally likeable, financially capable with good analytical skills, Richardson said.
It is the latter that Jim Moore, the MBREDC’s new CEO, has found among Davis’ valuable traits.
“I’ve been able to lean on her and say, ‘What do you think of this?’ ‘What’s your experience with that?’”
He called Davis the detail-oriented person who complements his big-picture vision.
Moore recognized that Davis was forced by circumstances to be the go-to person for the county’s economic development effort.
“She didn’t shy away from anything,” he said. “I think she’s going to play a big role in our success.”
Davis is rightfully proud of what’s she’s accomplished, but she’s not resting on any laurels.
“I want a big win,” she said, hoping to use it to silence EDC critics who say the agency shows few results for the nearly $2 million it spends each year. “I’ll be happy with 150 jobs.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765 or on Twitter @TSN_SteveJones.