We need to work harder to keep more of those who just graduated here in our area. At least Sunday’s editorial thinks so:
With the wrap up of high school graduations in Horry and Georgetown counties on Friday, thousands of newly minted diploma holders have been unleashed on the world. Many will go on to higher education, others will move into careers in the military that take them out of the area and some will move into work at local businesses. But few, if any, of the graduates will step straight into a high-paying career with a stable future straight out of high school.
Even those students who go on to college at Coastal Carolina University or Horry-Georgetown Technical College and graduate a few years later will have trouble turning that higher degree into a good job in our area. Some are admittedly available, but every year as these students graduate we watch many of them collect their diploma, walk off the stage and straight toward another county, state or nation. The area simply isn’t providing our graduates on either the high school or the college level with the opportunities they need to succeed and prosper on a wide scale. It’s not a new issue, but one that can’t be ignored.
The biggest reason for a dearth of opportunities is simple enough. The local economy is based almost entirely on one industry: hospitality. Not that there aren’t jobs available in the industry, but a career as a bartender, waitress, hotel clerk or cashier isn’t the dream of many graduates. Diversifying our economy has long been a goal of local leaders, and they have made some small successes, but more work remains to be done.
We thought everybody understood this. That’s why it was disappointing to hear Rod Smith, a candidate for the state House, say Thursday night at a public forum that he didn’t see a need for diversifying our economy; tourism is all we’ve got, and we should just accept that. That sort of attitude won’t move our economy forward and will only ensure that more of our children and grandchildren move elsewhere to find the good-paying jobs they seek after graduating.
The area hasn’t always had this single-industry problem. Turn back the pages of history and you’ll find a variety of other roads to success. Until the early 20th century, turpentine was the big employer, helping mill towns like Bucksville and Bucksport outgrow the county seat of Conway. But then the tapped-out trees stopped producing and the mill towns shrank and withered. The area then turned to the already strong timber and tobacco industries, and soon discovered the allure of the beach in drawing tourists. Together, the three provided a good living for many for decades. But today, few young people want to become farmers. High costs, low profits and high competition mean tobacco is fading. Timber is being abandoned in favor of new development. That leaves tourism the only T still standing.
For a while, real estate helped provide a secondary source of jobs for many in the area. But it is closely tied to tourism, and the recent economic collapse hit the housing market harder than almost anywhere else. It does not provide the extra support we need to lean on when tourism struggles. Which brings us back to our single big industry.
To their credit, many are attempting to change this dynamic. CCU leaders see the creation of a stronger marine science program as a way to lure scientific businesses and researchers to our coast. North Myrtle Beach and its chamber of commerce have partnered to make the city a hub for wind-powered research and innovation, with the goal of creating jobs in the energy sector. The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., with the help of Myrtle Beach and Horry County, continues to seek out companies that might want to relocate in the area. Their efforts have meant some new business in the aerospace park near the airport and new call center jobs.
So far, successes have been small. The 110 call center jobs announced last month by the EDC pay an average of $26,000 a year – not the sort of salary that would keep many skilled and well-educated graduates in the area. Efforts elsewhere are still mostly setting groundwork for future success and have yet to pay astounding or notable dividends. But the work goes on. And we should encourage it.
We spend a great deal of time and effort educating our young people. It would be nice to be able to reap the benefits of that investment.