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Nonprofits: Business group’s revival focuses on community issues

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

After a five-year hiatus, the Pawleys Island-Litchfield Business Association is back. A kickoff meeting Wednesday drew 30 people to hear plans for reviving the group.

While oriented toward business, organizers say they want the association to take a broader view of community issues. “It’s to support the business community and the shopping community,” said Vickie Crafton, owner of Litchfield Books, who has led the membership drive for the association.

Organizers started meeting in the spring following a failed proposal from County Council Member Steve Goggans to reduce the building setback along Highway 17 from 90 to 50 feet. They included veterans of a failed campaign to convince Georgetown County and the state Department of Transportation to alter plans for a raised median on the highway that limited left turns. “We need a more unified voice,” said David Gundling, an attorney who led the anti-median group Don’t Strip the Neck. “I think that made a difference.”

Over a series of meetings in the summer and fall, the idea of a business advocacy group shifted toward a community group with a business base, Gundling said. Natural resources and quality of life issues are also part of its mission.

“A good model for what PILBA could become is Murrells Inlet 2020,” Goggans said. “Where the new organization will differ is the old PILBA was a networking and social organization. We’re focusing on a larger mission which has to do with creating a better community.”

Because of his role on County Council, Goggans said he won’t serve on the board of the association. It will take on two ideas he has pushed for in the county: creating a more walkable community and updating the traffic study for the Highway 17 corridor. “We want it to be an advocacy group, not a protest group,” Goggans said.

The Pawleys Island-Litchfield Business Association traces its origins to the Pawleys Island Merchants Association. That group’s founding in 1984 coincided with the introduction of the state accommodations tax that provided money for tourism marketing and tourism-related activities. As the Pawleys Island-Litchfield Business Association from 2001, it developed a tourism marketing campaign and a shop-locally campaign. By 2002, it had close to 200 members.

Georgetown County’s change to a centralized tourism marketing program in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce led to a cut in the Pawleys Island-Litchfield group’s funding. Membership fell to just a handful of board members in 2008. It tried to find a new mission, but membership numbers never recovered.

“I’ve gotten a positive response,” Crafton said. “It’s a totally new organization. We’ve kept the same name.”

It plans to hold two community meetings a year on broad topics such as economic development and the environment; two member meetings on business topics and another on the arts and philanthropy; and quarterly networking activities. “It gives everyone a reason to belong,” Crafton said.

Vida Miller, owner of Gray Man Gallery, was part of the original association and helped organize its return. “I’m excited about having a group with a goal,” she said. “The business community has felt slighted over some issues.”

Miller and others noted that the area’s business community is a major contributor to county tax revenue. “It’s really time for the businesses over here to have some political clout,” she said. “They need to be recognized for their economic impact on Georgetown County.”

The group also hopes to get some funding through accommodations tax or, like Murrells Inlet 2020, revenue from Sunday liquor sales.

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