Economic Development Secret Project – a Major Coup?
By Paul Gable
The secrecy surrounding a project of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, which will soon be up for second reading by county council on an ordinance to issue $8 million in public debt for the project, may be very good news for county residents.
I have had several conversations recently with local Republican activist, and one of the founders of the South Strand Republican Club, John Bonsignor about possibilities for the project. Bonsignor said he was asked, by EDC board member and former county Republican Party chairman Robert Rabon, to help promote passage of the ordinance by council members.
Even though he was given few details of the project, Bonsignor agreed to do so. Bonsignor did mention to me that he was of the understanding the total incentive package for the project totaled approximately $30 million for a 1,000 job call center. Bonsignor said he would like to get more details to have confidence in the project.
Pondering those conversations, it seems to me Bonsignor may have misunderstood what few details he has heard about the project. Surely council wouldn’t be considering up to $30 million in incentives for a 1,000 job call center.
Council recently approved a $150,000 incentive package for a 100 job call center for Frontier Communications. Incentives totaling approximately $1,500 per job for call center recruitment seem to be about right.
Even the $8 million debt package council is currently voting on for the mystery project must be for something other than a call center. If Bonsignor is correct that 1,000 jobs are involved, it would amount to $8,000 per job. If he is further correct that the total incentive package is closer to $30 million, it would bring the incentive package to an astounding $30,000 per job, or 20 times the amount of incentives per job given to Frontier. Surely such incentive levels have to be for something other than call center jobs that pay between minimum wage and less than $15 per hour.
According to Bonsignor, EDC board chairman and former Burroughs and Chapin CEO Doug Wendel told council that details of the project would not be made public for perhaps months, at least until the debt is approved and the governor can come down for the ground breaking or ribbon cutting.
I find it hard to believe that this level of incentive investment, extended secrecy and taxpayer supported debt would be part of a package for a simple call center. You don’t bring the governor to the ground breaking of a low wage call center. You bring her to Boeing, Honda, Johnson Controls or Bridgestone Tire announcements that bring the promise of thousands of high paying jobs over an extended number of years.
Those types of manufacturing jobs bring long term job stability to employees as well as benefits such as health insurance, pensions and promotion opportunities. These stable job prospects bring the opportunity for home purchases and education for children. This would be exactly the type of economic development initiative that Horry County has long sought and would be a ‘home run’ for EDC.
Hopefully the secret project is some type of manufacturing facility with such long term promise. It may be the one we have waited for EDC to produce since its funding was increased by 450 percent in 2011 to $1.8 million per year from the county budget.
Maybe EDC CEO Brad Lofton is every bit as good as Wendel and council chairman Tom Rice promised when he was hired last year. Maybe Lofton has interested someone on the level of Warren Buffett to bring one of his venture capital projects to the area. Maybe spin off opportunities from Boeing or Honda, that have been teased, are about to occur. Perhaps Wendel’s promise of increased results by the EDC with the increased funding is finally about to be realized.
The level of incentives being talked about and voted on and the level of secrecy surrounding the project would seem to point in that direction. The call center rumors are probably disinformation to keep the real project details secret until a grand announcement can be made. Members of county council have been exceptionally mum on this project. Perhaps they know the real story and know this grand announcement will make us all feel proud and confident about job prospects for Horry County.
I have been critical of EDC results to date, but, if it is bringing good manufacturing jobs to Horry County, even if the incentives are costly, I will congratulate it.