With little fanfare, Horry County Council signed off on a two-year contract Tuesday that will pay the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation $2.6 million.
The move was largely a formality. Council members included $1.3 million for the job-recruiting agency in the budget they approved last month. The same amount of taxpayer money will go to the EDC next year.
But the agreement follows the recent resignation of the organization’s CEO Jim Moore, who left after fewer than six months on the job. Some council members have also expressed frustration with the agency’s job creation efforts and two voted against the contract on Tuesday.
“That’s just too much money for the number of jobs that we’re buying,” said councilman Harold Worley, who also voted against the budget, in part, because of the funding for the EDC.
The EDC has seen mixed success since local leaders reorganized the agency five years ago. Moore’s predecessor, Brad 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 Company, 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 – other firms have been slow to hire or have seen setbacks, including layoffs.
Despite the challenges, the EDC’s supporters remain upbeat about the organization’s future.
“We’re going to be fine,” said EDC board member and County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus. “We’re going to take our time and make sure we get the right executive director. Unfortunately, Jim moved on to something else, but we will survive and our goal is to let the EDC prosper.”
Between Lofton’s resignation last summer and Moore’s hiring in the winter, the agency turned to Sandy Davis, the EDC’s director of operations, to pursue industry. Lazarus credits Davis with recruiting several companies to the area, including two announcements in recent months.
“They had some good success during that period of time,” he said.
Fred Richardson, who chairs the EDC’s executive committee, also spoke highly of Davis, though he’s unsure if she wants the top job.
“Sandy’s a very capable person,” he said. “I don’t know that necessarily she wants to be the front person.”
While the agency has seen its leadership change twice in under a year – as well as receive greater pressure from county council to generate more jobs – Richardson is optimistic.
He would like to see the agency announce an average of 300-plus jobs per year. So far, the agency has announced two companies this year, accounting for 71 jobs.
“I feel reasonably well about where we are,” he said. Richardson said a third business has also committed to moving to Horry, but the firm hasn’t publicly announced its plans yet.
The EDC’s next executive committee meeting will be held on July 15, but because some leaders will be on vacation the group may not nail down plans for an executive director search until next month.
The agency did receive some encouraging news Tuesday when county leaders agreed to provide tax incentives to Accent Stainless Steel, which plans to build a $3.5 million manufacturing facility in Loris.
“This is a big deal,” Lazarus said before the vote. “It’s the last part of the puzzle.”
Accent, a Canadian company that makes brewing systems for the craft beer industry, announced in January 2014 that it would build its U.S. headquarters in Horry and hire 65 workers.
As for why construction is just beginning, Richardson said that was the company’s decision. However, he insists Accent’s intentions haven’t changed.
“They’re coming,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t have a sense of urgency, for whatever reason.”
Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.