Congressman Tom Rice talks about the I-73 road project
Horry County employees are not getting paid as much per week as workers in other large counties in South Carolina, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary report.
The report found on average an Horry County worker earned $602 a week during the first quarter of 2019, a 3.3 percent increase from the same period in 2018. The average in South Carolina is $901 per week, growing 3 percent from last year.
Horry County’s weekly wages are growing faster than the average of all major SC counties, but the real amount of average salaries is the lowest of major SC counties.
BLS notes that the data for economic growth may be a little off due to changes in how SC reported its data.
US House Rep. Tom Rice said these numbers show the need to bring more diverse, higher-paying jobs to Horry County. Currently, most of Horry County’s economy is dominated by tourism and the construction business.
Charleston, Lexington and Richland counties are making more money than Horry County because they’re connected to the interstate system and are able to attract bigger companies, Rice said. While protecting the tourism industry is important, he said, the entire Pee Dee region needs to improve its infrastructure and Interstate 73 is imperative to improving mobility.
“We have to diversify our economy and companies are not going to come to a place where they don’t have the ability to move their product. It’s common sense,” Rice said. “If we ever expect for our children when they graduate to not move somewhere else to get a high-paying job, we got to have infrastructure.”
Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Davis said Horry County has younger workers willing to take manufacturing jobs. She said one of the region’s selling points is having programs at Horry-Georgetown Technical College that trains and places students in the workplace.
But Horry County needs more manufacturing jobs for those students to take, Davis said.
Horry County has industrial parks ready to house new businesses. The recently opened Inland Port Dillon could make the Pee Dee region a major spot for international commerce if the infrastructure is there to support it, Rice said.
The International Technology and Aerospace Park in Myrtle Beach’s Market Common is one such site that did not see the initial growth local leaders hoped. Over $2 million was invested by local governments, but the high-paying jobs did not come.
Davis said the Atlantic Center For Industry and Business is full, and she is working to fill up the others around the county. .
It is hard to determine how many businesses did not choose Myrtle Beach because of its lack of an interstate, Davis said. Typically, if a business needs interstate access, it won’t even consider Horry County, so she does not know how many businesses Horry County has missed out on.
Construction could begin on I-73 relatively soon depending on the outcome of a dispute over hospitality fee collections between Myrtle Beach and Horry County. The county hoped to use the fee’s revenue to build a portion if I-73, but Myrtle Beach filed a lawsuit saying the county did not have the authority to collect the fee inside municipalities.
Earlier this week, Horry County Council gave municipal leaders an ultimatum to either contribute to I-73’s construction costs or the county will cancel a contract with the SC Department of Transportation to build the road.
Some companies have visited Myrtle Beach and decided the area was a good fit despite the infrastructure. The low cost of living in the area, low taxes and local average wages can be a comparative advantage in getting businesses to come to Horry, Davis said.
“Our average wage is lower here than they will pay somewhere else,” she said.
Of the South Carolina counties listed in the report, Horry County workers fared poorly on weekly income compared to the other major ones. The second lowest is Lexington County with $851 per week, an increase of over 40 percent increase compared to Horry County in the same time period.
The report itself was a collaboration between the State of South Carolina and the U.S. government. It looked at the spending power and economic growth within major economic centers across the United States.
Major counties are defined by having a population over 75,000 permanent residents.
Charleston workers are on the higher end in S.C., making an average of $1,013 per week with Richland workers making $966 a week.
Horry County also lagged behind Virginia Beach employees, who were paid $834 per week on average.
Rice said not having an interstate gives Virginia Beach and other vacation spots an advantage in terms of getting people to travel. The traffic getting from Florence to Myrtle Beach can be a deterrent when deciding where to vacation, he said.
“How do we expect people to come to the Grand Strand through the Pee Dee when other areas have world-class infrastructure connected to the interstate system?” Rice said.