Friday, December 13, 2013
I have never responded to articles opposing my points made in opinion editorials; but on the subject of local economic development and jobs, I decided to make an exception. I begin by mentioning that I find it interesting that the opposing writers are all employed or retired.
I am an advocate of American energy independence. Our well-being is dependent upon it given the current global environment, but my true focus here is on our local economy. The 2010 Census provided evidence that we are losing citizens between the ages of 18 and 44. In the present employment environment, we don’t have sufficient job opportunities to allow working age folks to stay at home and find a decent job after graduating from high school or college. The tourist industry, building trades, and real estate alone are not enough.
You may remember from an earlier article, April 2012, which I reported that 71% of the revenues collected to operate the school system and the county government come from the Waccamaw Neck. This condition appears to be unsustainable. On one hand, we have folks on The Neck wanting to increase restrictions on development (Architectural Standards), control density (no high-rise buildings), and not upgrade the existing major roads to meet current traffic volume (US 17 median project) to mention a few. On the other hand, we have folks from all parts of the county wanting more fire stations, fire fighting equipment, and personnel to reduce their homeowners insurance. I receive calls from folks wanting more law enforcement presence in their community, their roads paved or repaired, and more recreational facilities for their families. To further complicate the situation, we are currently in the final stages of dealing with our wage and salary problem that has been in the making for several years because we did not want to raise property taxes in bad economic times even though we enjoy some of the lowest property taxes in the country — $326 for a $100K property. The national median was reported at $960 for a $100K property.
So how do we, the county government, fix the disparity of who pays the lion’s share of the taxes, control growth on the Neck, and supply all of the citizens with the services they expect? The easy solution, in the short term, is to raise property taxes, but the real solution is to develop the western side of the county with light, medium, and heavy industry. This is not a new idea. The County, the State, the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Alliance, NESA (North East Strategic Alliance), and others have been working on this for years. Unfortunately, this is an uphill battle for several reasons. We are in competition with every other state, county, and municipality in the country for the few companies that continue to produce goods in a land that, through high taxes and regulations, has managed to take the industrial giant that we were when I started my career back in the 60s to a service-oriented economy (not an opinion but a fact).
The one thing that sets us apart from most of our competition is that we have been blessed with a natural port. We, the local delegation, the state delegation, the federal delegation, and others, have been working very hard to acquire the funds required to dredge our “Ace in the hole”. In parallel with the effort to find funding, we continue to seek out potential users of the port once it is open for business.
Oil and natural gas production is just one of the possible solutions to our quest to bring jobs to the county and surrounding region, and it could be huge as it has been in Louisiana. From what I have learned, it would open up a variety of related industrial possibilities. I fully understand that the oil companies will make a lot of money and that there are risks associated with offshore drilling. There are always risks associated with doing anything worthwhile. The Pilgrims took a risk when they boarded the Mayflower and came to the New World. The risk in this case is to our tourist trade, our seafood industry, and to our personal lives because of the possible impact on our environment if something were to happen. What we must do for any endeavor that involves risk is to manage the risk factors. The risk factors must first be quantified. The factors that can be eliminated must be eliminated, and the factors that cannot be eliminated must be mitigated and monitored. The message is that risk can be managed. You may disagree with the oil and natural gas solution, but as I stated earlier, we have a revenue problem and age diversity problem that can only be fixed through economic growth with the positive offshoot of an abundance of new well-paying jobs.
Bob Anderson lives in Pawleys Island and represents the area on Georgetown County Council.
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