How a new federal program could help low-income areas along the Grand Strand

The SkyWheel in downtown Myrtle Beach.
The SkyWheel in downtown Myrtle Beach. jbell@thesunnews.com

A new federal program could help distressed areas along the Grand Strand, if an application is approved by Gov. Henry McMaster.

The federal program, known as opportunity zones, focuses on areas across the country that qualify as distressed or severely distressed, and encourages long-term private investments through tax incentives. It was created by President Donald Trump as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Along the Grand Strand there are 13 areas that fall under these qualifications. In the City of Myrtle Beach there are four.

"This is a good program," Jonathan Simons, Myrtle Beach assistant city manager, said. "This is a good opportunity for localities, this is a good program for city's and county's across the country. And so I'm very hopeful, we're very hopeful that we're going to be successful, that we're going to be able to provide this opportunity for folks to invest some, to make some investments."

In order to qualify, zones are set based on poverty and income.

To be distressed, an area must have a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater and a median family income of 80 percent or less of the areas median family income based off of census information.

To qualify as severely distressed, an area must have a poverty rate of 30 percent or greater, a median income of 60 percent or less of the areas median family income and an unemployment rate of at least 1.5 times the national average, based off census information.

In Horry County, the median family income is $52,100, according to 2017 numbers on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website.

After an application is submitted, McMaster must nominate a quarter of the areas that qualify. In South Carolina, there are 534 tracts that qualify.

"We are working with the county, City of Conway, the regional economic corporation to work on a joint application because this is a competitive process in the state," Simons said. "We figured a joint application is better than us competing individually, because all of these tracts have to be ranked as well."

In the City of Conway there are five tracts, and in the county there are four.

"Any opportunity to improve the investments in our city is something that we welcome," Conway Mayor Barbara Bellamy said. "We have an awful lot to offer, various kinds of investments, and I see this as an opportunity to get people interested in us and to give a closer look at what we have to offer."

How could opportunity zones help the Grand Strand?

In Myrtle Beach, the tracts include the areas around the Pavilion, Superblock area, South Ocean Boulevard, the airport and Coastal Grande area and the Convention Center through Broadway at the Beach.

"We have challenges just like all city's have challenges," Simons said. "We're trying to help these areas prosper and this is another opportunity for us to put another tool in our toolbox if you will, if we're successful in getting nominated."

As for the Superblock area tract, Simons said he does not think the program would affect any plans moving forward as city council works to decide on how to redevelop the property.

"The Superblock is part of that tract, yes, but it's not the whole tract," Simons said. "So they can go on Grissom, they can go on Seaboard Street, they can go on 501 and invest those funds."

During a city council meeting last week, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune signed a form allowing the tracts to be submitted for McMaster's nomination.

"They can start new businesses, expand current businesses or develop new projects," Simons said.