Sunday’s editorial contains our hope that more than 1,000 sought-after jobs actually materialize for Horry County:
Sometimes it pays to be desperate.
Horry County has struggled the past few years with an unemployment rate that has consistently outpaced the state as a whole, in a state that already has one of the persistently highest rates in the nation. At 9.9 percent unemployment in May, Horry County saw more than 13,000 workers looking for jobs that have been far too elusive. In other words, 1 in 10 workers in the county have been unable to find work.
So it would be wonderful news if the mysterious Project Blue that County Council approved incentives for on July 2 could provide jobs for more than 1,000 of those job seekers. If county and business leaders can close the deal, it would be quite the coup for the area. And Brad Lofton, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., is sounding optimistic.
“Everything continues to be headed in the right direction,” he wrote Wednesday via email. The county is still competing with a number of other locations for the project, he said, but we do have some advantages: “Our ability to move quickly on a project plus the quality and quantity of our labor force.”
That’s where that desperation comes in. Lofton didn’t say it, but we have such a qualified and large labor force because so many of our qualified workers are out of a job. And we’re able to move quickly because we want new jobs so badly.
Lofton and county leaders aren’t saying what the new business might be, but the betting money would guess it to be a call center of some sort. The EDC under Lofton has long pushed call centers as a good fit for our area, going so far as to commission a study that determined the industry would do well on the Strand. The EDC has also been strongly pursuing a partnership with ADEVCO, an Atlanta real estate company that specializes in developing call center projects. And the motion approved by County Council speaks of this project’s “Fortune 100 client.” In other words, whoever is behind Project Blue would seem to be contracting its future services, whatever those might be, to another company.
While call center jobs don’t provide a stellar income – this initiative would provide wages that average $14.36 an hour; the recent Frontier jobs started at $12.50 – we’re grateful for any jobs that come our way these days. And unlike some recent projects that promised to expand available jobs over five or 10 years, this company plans to add all 1,020 jobs over 10 months, quickly boosting our local employment.
Is the $1.8 million in incentives approved by the council for this project worth it? In a word: Yes. While it’s a bit unnerving to see the EDC’s entire annual budget for business incentives wiped out at a stroke – and that doesn’t even cover the whole cost of the incentives – snagging the company would be more success from the EDC than we had dared hope for. And at a little more than $1,700 per full-time job with benefits, the cost is not unreasonable. The council has also wisely directed that any incentives include a clawback provision, to recapture our tax dollars in the event that promises are not kept.
Lofton said initial economic impact data from Coastal Carolina University suggest that adding these jobs could create a more than $75 million annual impact on the community. In short, the investment could pay great dividends for our area for a long time to come.
The company behind Project Blue has yet to make a decision – at least publicly – but if our opinion carries any weight, we’d like to encourage its decision makers to give the Strand a chance. You bring the jobs and an entire county will become just a little bit less desperate.