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Murrells Inlet: Economic study finds growth along county border
By Jason Lesley
Sue Sledz, executive director of Murrells Inlet 2020, was scheduled to make her case today before the Georgetown County Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee for funds to mow grass along 3.6 miles of the median of Highway 17 Bypass bordering the inlet.
“It’s the front door of Georgetown County,” Sledz said, showing slides of what she called the “ratty” median to inlet residents attending the spring Chowder Talk this week.
Estimates of the mowing, trimming and trash pickup are $27,000 the first year with Murrells Inlet 2020 and a local bank picking up $7,000 of that tab and projecting that it will become self-sustaining within six years.
She will eventually ask for $83,000 to cover the $200,000 estimated cost of the project until 2019.
Sledz got some ammunition for her presentation from Dr. Rob Salvino, research economist at Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Economic and Community Development. Funded by the Bunnelle Foundation, Salvino is doing an economic impact study of the Murrells Inlet ZIP code 29576.
He said Murrells Inlet generates $414,000 in local accommodations tax revenue, and Sledz said she would use that information to make her pitch for mowing funds.
After the meeting, Salvino said that since Murrells Inlet is an unincorporated area it’s easily overlooked for accommodations tax disbursements. “Certainly some of that spending should go to you if you are generating a significant amount of activity,” he said.
Salvino’s project — it will not be completed for a couple more weeks — is trying to determine the value of the inlet.
“Fifty-nine percent growth in population from 2000 to 2010 is much higher than Georgetown or Pawleys Island,” Salvino said. “Looking at it from that perspective, people see that and move here. It is a growing, growing area. People who move from other places look for something like that. Businesses are needed to support a growing population. This is a good place to locate.”
Golf is big business in the Murrells Inlet ZIP code with seven courses: Blackmoor, Indigo Creek, Indian Wells, International Club, TPC, Wachesaw East and Wachesaw Plantation. Green fee revenue for those courses is $8 million per year, half the revenue for all of Georgetown County golf.
Home values benefit from proximity to the inlet, the study says. Real estate sales in the ZIP code amounted to $494.9 million in 2010 with marshfront transactions of $36.1 million; non-marshfront transactions, $458.8 million; and commercial transactions, $19 million.
Salvino said the numbers show that businesses are staying put in the area with so few transactions.
Per capita income of the area is $31,388 with the 17,000 residents living in Horry earning an average of $29,231 and the 7,000 living in Georgetown County, $36,092. The larger number of people in Horry skewed the numbers in Georgetown County’s favor, Salvino said.
The study has collected data on population, sales, income and taxes to determine what value the inlet plays in the picture.
Here are some numbers comparing Murrells Inlet to Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island in one instance and to Horry and Georgetown counties in the others.
• Population density: there are 622 people per square mile in Murrells Inlet. That compares with 266 at Pawleys Island and 1,162 in Myrtle Beach.
• Population growth: It’s up 59 percent in Murrells Inlet. For Horry County it’s 37 percent, for Georgetown County, 8 percent.
• Median home value: It’s $232,500 in Murrells Inlet, higher than Horry County ($170,600) and Georgetown County ($170,500).
• Gross retail sales: Murrells Inlet, $1.2 billion. For Horry County it’s $8.75 billion and for Georgetown County $1.34 billion.
The fly in the ointment for the study is that the ZIP code covers portions of both counties with the larger segment in Horry. Surfside Beach is in Horry; Garden City, in Georgetown, for instance.
“That’s not unusual in these types of studies,” Salvino said.
The Horry County portion of the area easily outstrips that of Georgetown in retail sales. The entire ZIP code recorded $1.2 billion in annual gross retail sales in 2010 with Horry County’s portion $945 million and Georgetown County’s $297 million. Net tax sales in the Murrells Inlet area were $68 million, with Horry’s portion $56 million and Georgetown’s $12 million.
Conclusions of the study, Salvino said, are due in a few weeks.