Economic development efforts can be frustrating. But you can’t win if you don’t play, as Sunday’s editorial explains:
Don’t be too surprised if you’re at the House of Blues for the Edwin McCain concert Monday night and you see a few busloads of folks in “business casual attire” wandering in. The concert by McCain (as well as the wonderfully named Mark Bryan and the Occasional Milkshake) was chosen as the entertainment portion of the regional business conference in town for a few days. Hopefully, attendees are impressed.
Since it was announced in 2010, leaders have been touting the 2012 Southeastern U.S. - Canadian Provinces conference as a chance to show ourselves off.
There’s a lot to show off, whether it’s our reviving downtown area, our aviation business park, a pair of growing colleges, our welcoming beaches or even the crowds of bikers that are currently roaring through the area. Each represent an opportunity or a benefit for some type of business, and despite encouraging employment news we could use some new businesses.
Over the course of the three-day conference, the more than 300 participants will take part in forums on supply chain management and manufacturing innovation, attend matchmaking meetings and network, network, network. Big names will be in attendance, including Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsey Graham. The ambassador to the U.S. from Canada will be here, as well as executives from companies such as Boeing, Michelin and Wells Fargo. It all comes together in the tagline of SEUS-CP: “Creating Opportunities, Advancing Partnerships.”
And local officials have been hitting that message hard.
Holding the conference here will help us “convince Canadians to look at Horry County for a business location,” said Brad Lofton, president of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.
“The goal is to create jobs, more stable, high-paying jobs,” said Tom Rice, Horry County Council chairman.
“We hope it will help expand new business opportunities and our alliance,” said Nora Battle, spokeswoman for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
But will all of that talk and those hopes turn into reality? Maybe, maybe not.
In 2010, the annual conference was held in Biloxi, Miss. Then-Gov. Mark Sanford attended, as well as about 300 other government and business leaders from both nations. Two years later, neither the Biloxi city spokesman nor the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce could point to any benefit of the conference having occurred there. In fact, contacted this week, both offices had a hard time remembering that it had even occurred. The Mississippi Development Authority, which helped put on the event, did not return a phone call.
It’s also not the first time we’ve attempted such a gathering. A vaunted meeting of Canadian and American officials and businessmen drew less than 100 attendees during Canadian-American Days in 2007. It was quietly scrubbed from future festivals.
Does that mean either event was a waste of time? Not necessarily. Businesses don’t always trumpet their decisions or their motivations. Perhaps the Biloxi event planted the seed that led to new jobs and it’s just that nobody pointed to the conference as the reason. Maybe the 2007 gathering in Myrtle Beach changed minds about the business culture on the Strand.
And so it’s still worth giving it a go, even if we can’t remember two years from now that the conference ever happened. Perhaps a businessman looking to expand years from now will remember his time spent in Horry County fondly and bring his work here. That’s the point of the group: to create opportunities for success, not necessarily to create success.
Will this weekend’s activities turn into anything concrete? Will Canadian businesses and partnerships flood into town as a result? There’s no guarantee. But in order to hit a home run we first have to step up to the plate. That’s the point of the next three days. It puts us in a position to win.