Three things that can dramatically improve Georgetown County’s economic future are dredging the Port of Georgetown and offshore wind energy and natural gas exploration, according to Tim Tilley of the Alliance for Economic Development for Georgetown County.
Tilley spoke about economic development at the Rotary Club of Georgetown’s meeting last week.
When it comes to dredging, Tilley said getting funding from the federal government is going to be harder to do in the future because less money is coming back to states.
“We’re going to have to do things on our own,” Tilley said. “We can’t rely on the federal government to come up and give us that money.”
An economic impact study commissioned by the Alliance found that if three million tons of cargo came into the port every year, the annual economic impact would be $30 million, of which $8 million would be household income.
The Port of Georgetown hasn’t seen one million tons in about eight years.
Tilley suggested trying to get funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which he said has a $6 billion surplus. Congress has only allocated about 60 percent of the trust fund money since it was established in the mid-1980s.
The Alliance has been trying to find private companies to develop offshore wind energy.
“It is not [about the] environment, green energy or anything like that, it’s just a matter of economic development opportunities,” Tilley said.
If a $200 million demonstration farm for research and development purposes was built off the coast, Tilley said 50 percent of that capital spending would stay local in maritime and related construction activities.
Developing offshore natural gas resources in about a five-year process, from the Department of the Interior created spaces for leasing, through the bid process and the exploration process.
“We are a location with a niche for maritime-based activities that we fit into the offshore natural gas markets,” Tilley said. “We’re in a unique position to do so. We’re mainly an industrial county south of the Waccamaw River, and west of the Waccamaw River.”
Georgetown County has a lot of “home-grown skilled workers” and is much more industrialized than somewhere like Myrtle Beach, Tilley said.
Tilley also discussed widening U.S. Highway 521 and attracting data centers to the county.
“Georgetown County is a really hard place to travel to and travel from,” Tilley said.
One of the problems is that state highway funds are distributed based on population numbers.
“Think about all the traffic flow we have in this area,” Tilley said. “We need to stand up for this entire community to get what we need and what we should get back.”
Data centers are basically hard drive farms for companies like Amazon, Google and Apple, and Tilley heard about one that occupies 800,000 square feet.
By Chris Sokoloski
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