Myrtle Beach area jobs agency getting pressure to improve performance

The Myrtle Beach International Technology & Aerospace Park (ITAP) in The Market Common remains empty years after being developed.
The Myrtle Beach International Technology & Aerospace Park (ITAP) in The Market Common remains empty years after being developed. file photo

Horry County leaders are feeling pressure to improve the job creation efforts of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.

Council members Mark Lazarus and Gary Loftus stressed their concerns to EDC President Jim Moore during Wednesday’s meeting of the EDC’s executive committee. Lazarus, Horry County Council’s chairman and an EDC board member, said local officials want to see new companies making announcements and hiring workers.

“We need some winners, Jim,” he said. “There’s a lot of heat.”

His comments came after Moore’s presentation about the EDC’s progress during his first six months as CEO.

Moore told board members the group is pursuing seven companies that could create nearly 300 jobs and close to $75 million in investment. But Moore acknowledged that four of those leads came from a West Coast recruitment trip just last week.

“So in six months we have three?” Lazarus asked, referring to the number of companies courted. “How substantial are those projects? ... How real are they?”

Moore remained positive.

“They are more than halfway in terms of the odds, in terms of being able to bring them in,” he replied. “We’ve got a reasonable chance for them to be here.”

During his West Coast trip, Moore said he met with five companies, two aerospace-related businesses and three metals manufacturers. He expects some of those firms to visit Myrtle Beach this summer and the others to travel here in the fall.

“It was good trip,” he said.

After the meeting, Lazarus said Horry County Council members need to see more jobs being created by the EDC, which annually receives $1.3 million in county money.

“We approved a budget last night for funding of the EDC and we want to see some results,” Lazarus said Wednesday. “We just need some [deals] that are going to be nailed down instead of just talking.”

Moore is the second CEO to head the jobs agency since local officials reorganized the EDC in 2010. His predecessor, Brad Lofton, left the post to take a job in Georgia last summer.

Lofton announced more than 1,500 jobs during his three years running the agency, but about half of those positions have not been filled and some never will be, according to the county’s April 30 jobs report.

The first industry expansion Lofton announced was for AvCraft Technical Services, which filed for bankruptcy in March. Another, Ithaca Gun Co., never signed a contract with the EDC and withdrew from the area. Those firms accounted for 270 of the jobs on Lofton’s press releases. While Lofton did have some successes — a Star Tek call center has welcomed more than 340 employees — several firms have been slow to hire or have seen setbacks, including layoffs.

The next jobs report is scheduled to be released in July, said county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.

Since Moore started in January, the EDC has announced the arrival of two companies: Star Life Safety, which implements hospital life safety systems, moved from New York to Myrtle Beach with plans to create 36 jobs; and Little Spider Creations, a prop-making business, migrated from Colorado to North Myrtle Beach and aims to hire 35 workers.

When asked about his performance after the meeting, Moore seemed upbeat. He said he’s been improving the agency’s marketing and adjusting to the transition in his early months.

“They’ve gone smoothly,” he said. “We have put some new systems and other things in place that have allowed us to get ready to kind of go to that next level.”

Next on Moore’s to-do list will be recruiting industry to the Myrtle Beach International Technology and Aerospace Park (ITAP).

The park has about 400 acres and local officials have spent millions adding utilities, roads and signs to make ITAP ready for businesses to move in. But for three years, the property has remained empty.

“It’s a great park,” Moore said. “Now it’s a matter of we’ve got to market it and get somebody in there.”

Some EDC leaders want the city to lower business license fees for companies that locate in ITAP, but creating such a fee-free zone isn’t possible in South Carolina, said city spokesman Mark Kruea.

“It’s simply not an option,” he said. “You can’t treat some people differently than others. You have to treat everybody the same.”

During Wednesday’s EDC meeting, the committee agreed to develop a detailed proposal for promoting the ITAP property and present those ideas to the city.

“It’s better to bring a proposal to them and let them react to your proposal versus saying, ‘What can you do?’” said Fred Richardson, who chairs the EDC board. “So I think we need to get busy putting together a plan of what we think is reasonable and we think would work.”

Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.