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  • Allen Turner

Work begins on ‘economic incentives zone’

A new “economic incentives zone” subcommittee met by teleconference Thursday to discuss its broad goals and identify resources to help bring new businesses to Columbus and Brunswick counties in North Carolina, and Horry, Marion and Georgetown counties in South Carolina.

The subcommittee is part of the Interstate Railroad Committee. The group’s efforts led to R.J. Corman Rail Group’s purchase of the former Carolina Southern Railroad, which had not been in operation for years.

The subcommittee of the interstate rail committee hopes to find ways to create incentives for new businesses and help existing business expand along the rail corridor served by Corman.

Dennis Worley, a Tabor City attorney who chairs the subcommittee, said the goal is ultimately “to create new, good-paying, diversified jobs.

You can’t just get a railroad and stop there,” Worley said. “We now need to focus on how we enhance and bring jobs to our region and bring a better lifestyle to our region. The rail line is just one component. We’ve also got to have highways, utilities and the resources of people who can work in new industries. With the collective effort and objectives of all, we can enhance the overall economic engine within our community.”

The subcommittee includes people like Mark Lazarus and Rick Edwards, chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the fully reorganized Interstate Railroad Committee

Corman railroad’s Bill Henderson, Columbus County economic developer Gary Lanier, Myrtle Beach regional economic developer Josh Kay, Columbus County manager Bill Clark, Marion County administrator Tim Harper, Horry County administrator Chris Eldridge, Tabor City town manager Al Leonard, Steve Yost of the regional economic development group North Carolina’s Southeast, Jeff McKay of the NESA regional economic development group in South Carolina and former N.C. senator Michael Walters are among the people serving on the committee

Worley said he was “absolutely amazed” at the level of participation in the meeting. “We were only able to give a couple of days’ advance notice of the teleconference,” he said, “but participation was substantial. Only two people were not able to participate due to schedule conflicts.”

He said that before the next teleconference, “Everybody’s going to do their own research and we’ll reconvene the subcommittee again for the purpose of reporting back to the full committee what we hope to accomplish in terms of identifying economic incentives to recruit industry to the region.”

The group will be looking at existing resources, such as the state departments of commerce in North Carolina and South Carolina. Economic development offices in the participating counties, economic development representatives of R.J. Corman, representatives of towns and cities along the rail line and participants from private businesses will be contacted and part of the process.

Attorneys specializing in economic development projects and engineers specializing in site certification will be utilized and they’ll be working to blend the legal requirements to make things happen.

At the request of Corman’s Henderson, the subcommittee will look at whether funds can be obtained from the states for the purpose of acquiring property. Establishment of investment tax credits in both states and the creation of local tax incentives for new and existing expanding businesses are the focus. Plans to get properties site ready with utilities are part of the project. Federal and state grants are being considered.

The railroad is working closely with Rick Edwards, chairman of the Columbus Jobs Foundation and vicechair of the Interstate Railroad Committee, Columbus County economic developer Gary Lanier and Columbus County manager Bill Clark.

“I can’t emphasize enough how impressed we have been working with such quality people,” Henderson said. “The committee really accomplished the impossible by getting the previous owner of the railroad to sell, they really did. You can’t do the impossible if you don’t try, and this group has gotten absolutely incredible results on everything they’ve tried to do.”

Henderson said, “I have been in business 31 years and in my lifetime I have never seen as progressive a group as you folks have working down there. I believe it’s important that people understand that.”

“At the end of the day, it’s all about jobs and the vehicle for that is going to be that railroad,” Edwards said. “That’s the best vehicle we’ve had in years. If we can get that railroad in a profitable position, it’s going to do so much for Columbus, Horry and Marion counties . . I thought (Thursday’s teleconference) was fantastic due to the fact that two states are coming together to try and achieve a common goal: jobs. If we can offer the right incentive plan, industry will come, jobs will be created and Columbus, Horry and Marion counties will be better places in the future.”

In other matters, Edwards said an announcement concerning the former Georgia Pacific plant between Whiteville and Chadbourn is “very close.” Any announcement probably would come from the governor’s office, he said, but “I feel highly confident that an announcement will be made soon. “We’re pretty confident something will be happening, hopefully in the next 90 to 120 days.”

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