Following a summer that was marred by high-profile violence, a downtown under contested reconstruction and a declining economy, one person will soon be playing a key role in resurrecting the city.
It could end up being incumbent Mayor John Rhodes or one of the four other candidates working to unseat him.
Rhodes, who said that the city has already brought in nearly $500 million worth of new businesses over the past year, plans on continuing on the same path of drawing in more tourism jobs.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction and we’ll continue moving in that direction,” said Rhodes, who is being challenged by businesswoman Brenda Bethune, construction management consultant Ed Carey, former mayor Mark McBride and C.D. Rozsa in the Nov. 7 election.
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Looking forward, Rhodes said that he is pursuing investors who will bring corporate entities to the area while still acknowledging that tourism will remain the major driving force in the economy.
“This is a tourist area,” he said. “We have a few locations we are able to bring in businesses that are not tourist related. Everything we do here in creating new businesses, 90 percent is going to be related to tourism. There are certain types of industries we won’t be able to get here.”
Popular areas like The Market Common and Grande Dunes were built with the idea that they would attract tourists, he said.
Rhodes said that city council is working directly with the Myrtle Beach Redevelopment Council to bring in businesses such as Veterans Affairs to the area in order to diversify jobs in Myrtle Beach.
He also said that new developments already underway include Tidelands Medical Center, which will help to bring more medical jobs to the area.
Mayoral candidate Brenda Bethune also hopes to attract a Veterans Affairs facility as well as other types of corporations such as call centers. Bethune agrees that there are certain types of businesses that Myrtle Beach will not have due to the area’s lack of an interstate and port.
However, areas such as the International Technology and Aerospace Park, a 400-acre lot that is owned by Horry County located off Farrow Parkway, are places that Bethune hopes to grow.
She does hope that by cleaning up the downtown area, Myrtle Beach will gain a mix of small and large businesses.
“It’s not just about small businesses,” she said. “It needs to be a balance of smaller businesses and larger businesses.”
Now, with a common theme of cleaning up downtown Myrtle Beach, four mayoral candidates are working to unseat Mayor John Rhodes, and each has their own ideas to bring new jobs and businesses to the area.
Bethune suggested closing Main Street in downtown Myrtle Beach to vehicles and making it for pedestrians only, as well as creating space for a park and focus on urban living and draw in entrepreneurs.
The changes will help to clean up the downtown area and prevent crimes, which will also help to draw in more tourists, she said.
“With the number of visitors we get, it’s great to have that quantity, but if we’re not giving them a quality experience we’re going to lose them,” Bethune said. “It’s very sad to see that that is our welcome to Myrtle Beach message. It needs to be the hub of activity. Anytime you have a place that is thriving, it’s going to help with our crime rate.”
Ed Carey believes attracting new business will start with cleaning up crime in the city.
“We need to make the area safe for business and we need to make the area transparent for business,” Carey said. “Nobody wants to open a business if the area isn’t safe.”
He suggested changing the city process in order to ensure that the best staff is in place and that first responders are paid fairly and given proper work hours.
On top of that, he hopes to regulate how much involvement the local government has in business.
“The overreaching government we have right now, that whole process has got to change,” he said. “Government shouldn’t be the one that brings jobs. They should make an environment that welcomes jobs and businessmen bring the jobs. The government basically has to stay out of the way.”
Carey used the boulevard properties as an example of the regulations, stating that businesses were not allowed to expand by adding additional floors or extra parking.
To start, Carey plans on focusing on businesses that are already in the area.
“Once we get all of the city safe, industry will come to this town,” Carey said. “If you don’t clean up that part of the economy and the city, we’re wasting our time talking about new businesses.”
Former Mayor Mark McBride said he wants to model Myrtle Beach after the Charleston Digital Corridor, a tech business development program.
He has suggested replicating the incubator spaces the CDC established for tech start-ups inside buildings on the downtown superblock, along Nance Plaza and 9th Avenue North. The properties were acquired by the Downtown Redevelopment Corp. months ago as the city sought to build a new library and space for a children’s museum.
Instead, McBride suggested creating a new business development office that could run the incubator spaces and encourage start-ups. He said a director and assistant in the new city office would cost between $200,000 and $250,000, and that he would seek state grants to retrofit the buildings into work space.
“Good, bad or indifferent, we now own a building, and I think there’s a better use,” McBride said.
McBride said the local economy needs to diversify as high school and college graduates are forced to look elsewhere for jobs outside of the service industry. New businesses outside of the dominant local tourism industry, he said, “need a place to hang their shingles and open.”
Last week, Ernest Andrade, the founder of the CDC, spoke about his experience in tech business development in Charleston at an event held by McBride.
He said that when the CDC started, many people were hesitant to sign on to the program in another city where tourism is also a significant sector of the economy.
“I think to some extent if you looked at the economic development philosophy … back in 2000, there was this mindset of ‘I’m not sure we can make this work in Charleston.’”
C.D. Rozsa plans to begin with improving the tourism jobs in the area. After that, bigger corporation will follow, he said.
“One of the things that would bring more jobs in here is if we could get the tourism back,” he said.
After, Rozsa hopes that bigger businesses will be enticed into coming to the area.
“We’re really lacking on professional jobs like corporations,” Rozsa said. “First you have to have development and you have to have big businesses come in. We’re a tourist area, but we need something other than tourism. We need professional jobs to make it a well-rounded place.”