Time for Horry County Council to Review EDC Funding

By Paul Gable

Before the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation gets too involved in a search for a new CEO, Horry County Council should take a hard look at its funding of the agency.

Despite new names, reorganizations of the agency and increased funding from county council, there have been relatively few actual new jobs created over the last 20 years.

The Horry County Administration Committee is expected to receive its quarterly jobs update from the county’s grant administration department at its August 1, 2014 meeting. This will be a tally, by company, of the number of new jobs created, not announced or promised, but actual people drawing paychecks since departing EDC CEO Brad Lofton was first hired in April 2011.

At the time of his hiring, Lofton promised to create 500 new jobs for Horry County in his first 18 months on the job. As of December 31, 2013, a period of 29 months, the agency had created 316 new jobs, according to county records.

That number is not expected to increase significantly at next week’s jobs update.

During this same three years and four months span, county funding of the EDC has increased from approximately $400k per year to as much as $1.8 million for two years before being dropped to its current $1.3 million per year level.

The EDC proposed to county council a 15 year, $60 million funding plan last year that would have tied EDC funding to a new RIDE III funding referendum. The proposal would have required a change in state law to include economic development funding within the guidelines of the state’s capital improvement projects law.

At the time of this presentation, EDC anticipated using some of its current funds for the lobbying of state legislators and for a public relations campaign to sell the voters of Horry County on the plan.

In other words, the EDC would have used public funds to lobby legislators and voters for an increase in public funding.

Before grandiose plans of this type go much further, county council should do an evaluation of the best use of its limited public funds.

As an example, $750k for paving county dirt roads was cut from this year’s county budget as a result of the county experiencing tight budget times that are expected to remain for some time.

Is the expense of the current $1.3 million on the EDC a better use of public funds than $750k for paving dirt roads?

Next week’s jobs creation report to the admin committee can provide a starting point for this discussion.

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