Transformative Growth

February 2023
Written By: 
Sara Sobota
Photographs by: 
courtesy of City of Myrtle Beach & City of Myrtle Beach Information Department

Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce establishes Partnership Grand Strand Foundation to address complex challenges and improve area’s quality of life

Partnership Grand Strand will work with the City of Myrtle Beach to support events such as the 2022 Winter Wonderland.

It’s no secret that the Grand Strand area is growing.

Whether it’s new housing developments dotting the landscape, more traffic on the roads, or longer lines – even in the off season! – at the grocery store, residents are feeling the effects of living in a rapidly expanding community. In fact, the Myrtle Beach/Conway/North Myrtle Beach area was identified by the U.S. Census Bureau as the third fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country between 2020 and 2021.

While growth brings opportunities, it also creates complex challenges that require the attention of leaders among many societal dimensions, including businesses, government, education, healthcare, and civic groups.

(Left) Myrtle Beach Skywheel; (right) Chocolate Chip performs at Nights at Nance, sponsored by MBDA and supported by Partnership Grand Strand.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC) has taken measures to address the challenges of this growth with the creation of Partnership Grand Strand (PGS), a 501(c)(3) foundation. How will they do it? By focusing on four key pillars of success:

1. Place: Supporting the revitalization of Myrtle Beach’s downtown and oceanfront areas
2. Prosperity: Diversifying the region’s economy and growing small business opportunities
3. Talent: attracting, developing, and retaining employees
4. Infrastructure: Scaling up transportation infrastructure

Karen Riordan, MBACC president and CEO, initiated the vision and recruited Power 10 capital campaign management company in Atlanta for assistance in early stages of planning. So far, the MBACC and Partnership Grand Strand have solicited broad community input to identify and prioritize growth-related concerns; determined the resources necessary to achieve potential resolution of those concerns; conducted a successful capital campaign that raised $3.2 million in less than a year; conducted nationwide searches to hire full-time employees to address specific elements of the plan; and started working toward realization of the four pillars.

Clay Brittain, chairman of the board at Brittain Resorts and Hotels and co-chair of PGS’s 2022 capital campaign, says the initiative represents a new approach to enacting change.

“One thing that stands out for this effort is that it’s data driven,” says Brittain. “And data is so important to our success here. It’s important to get familiar with what you want to accomplish and get the right people to discuss it and then launch a campaign to derive the data you need to move forward. That’s what happened.”

Another unique facet of PGS is that it’s working in conjunction with efforts by the city of Myrtle Beach through the Myrtle Beach Downtown Alliance (MBDA), which was established in spring 2021.

Brittain Resorts and Hotels kicked off the fundraising campaign in February 2022 with a $500,000 gift. Eighty-three area businesses chose to support the foundation financially, with industries ranging from healthcare to hospitality to insurance to retail to manufacturing. The total funds raised are significant not only for the number of businesses and range of industries represented, but also for the speed with which the gifts were secured.

Above, a crowd gathers to enjoy spring weather at Nights at Nance, an annual concert series sponsored by the Myrtle Beach Downtown Alliance and supported by Partnership Grand Strand.

These numbers suggest a broad, robust sense of alliance in working toward the foundation’s goals, says Michael Benson, president of Coastal Carolina University and co-chair of PGS’s capital campaign. Both Benson and Brittain sit on the foundation’s board of directors.

“I have yet to see in my career that much money raised in that short a period of time,” says Benson. “That’s a testament to how much people care about Horry County and the Grand Strand, and how they want to try something that maybe has a little more staying power than past efforts.”

Riordan elaborated on the mission and nature of the foundation’s pillars of success. The Myrtle Beach downtown area is encompassed in the pillar of Place in that PGS will support and work alongside MBDA.

“Twenty-five percent of everything we raise will go to MBDA in the form of grants,” says Riordan. “We’ll be working shoulder-to-shoulder with them to realize the vision that we all have for a more vibrant downtown Myrtle Beach.”

Amy Barrett, president and CEO of MBDA, says the combination of efforts between the two organizations is important.

“It’s a big win to have really collaborative leadership,” says Barrett. “The Myrtle Beach Downtown Alliance now has responsibility and ownership over the pillar of Place. We are on the hook. It’s our opportunity to really perform and help uplift that organization while they’re providing financial support to ours.”

Regarding the pillar of Prosperity, Riordan says the focus will be on retaining area small businesses: “The foundation will reach out to small businesses that are here now who are maybe working in a garage or a bedroom. They might have a dream to be the next Google, but they have obstacles. Do they need access to loans? Do they need more commercial space so they can grow? Our focus is on keeping those small businesses in the Grand Strand.”

Benson adds that diversification applies to businesses as well as workforce: “There’s diversification of industries: maybe there’s room for more tech companies in the area, or maybe there’s a chance for expanded manufacturing. Then there’s diversification of your talent pool, of your residents. What does our community look like in terms of diverse populations that feel comfortable here, want to live here?”

Brittain connects the diversification element directly to talent as well.

“We within our company have realized that we are constantly losing great talent,” says Brittain. “A lot of the third generation of our family has moved to other places to get the kinds of jobs they want. That’s true for a lot of people who grew up around here, but particularly true for the kind of people who are committed to their community and to seeing it grow and prosper. So we need to attract talent because we need to diversify the economy, but also because we are talent short.”

Riordan said the area’s educational system plays a significant role in talent building and acquisition.

“We want to be growing our own talent,” says Riordan. “That is going to require a lot of work, closely collaborating with Horry County Schools, Horry Georgetown Technical College, and Coastal Carolina University. Because that’s our future; those are our future workers, so we want to make sure we’re educating our talent of the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow, and we want to keep that talent. We want to look at how to make a strong collaborative pipeline with secondary education and higher education.”

(Left) Local artists Debanjana Bhattacharjee and William Miller bring their talent to Nights at the Nance with a painting exhibition; (Right) Leaders of Partnership Grand Strand (PGS), back row: Michael Benson, co-chair of PGS capital campaign and president of Coastal Carolina University; Clay Brittain, co-chair of PGS capital campaign and chair of Brittain Resorts and Hotels Board of Directors; Ryan Swaim, chair of Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC) Board of Directors. Front row: Alex Husner, member and immediate past chair of MBACC Board of Directors; and Karen Riordan, president and CEO of MBACC.

The Infrastructure pillar is a longer-term plan that involves securing state and federal grants to improve the region’s roads and bridges.

“We need to gain the infrastructure to move people around, and to support the people that are living here,” says Brittain. “We have a lot of issues that surround huge subdivisions built on adjoining infrastructure that won’t support all those people.” Part of the solution is expanding public transportation options and making residential and public areas more bikeable and walkable.

Brittain emphasizes that PGS is committed to remaining focused on its pillars and accountable to its goals.

“Our job as a foundation is to set tangible goals that can be measured,” says Brittain. “We’re not doing what we need to do for the community and the people that are supporting this initiative unless we publicize our work.”

The initiative is all about making the Grand Strand a livable place for a wide variety of people to live and work in a wide variety of jobs, says Riordan: “We hope we can look back and say, ‘Look at all the good things that have come about in five years.’ ”

PGS Board of Directors

Clay Brittain, Brittain Resorts & Hotels
Michael Benson, Coastal Carolina University
Amanda Bailey, Burr & Forman
Bruce Bailey, Tidelands Health
Bob Barenberg, Kingston Resorts
BretBarr, Conway Medical Center
Steve Chapman, Island Vista
Laura Crowther, Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors
Angie Goeppinger, SkyWheel
Alex Husner, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Chair
Carlton Lewis, HTC
Steve Mays, Founders Group International
Buz Plyler, Gay Dolphin
John Rutenberg, Truist
Verlon Wulf, Carolina Cool
Rick Vines, Vines Plumbing and Water Restoration

PGS Top Investors

Founder Level ($500,000+)
Brittain Resorts and Hotels

Diamond Level ($125,000-$499,999)
Carolina Cool
Coastal Carolina University
Founders Group International
Island Vista
The Gay Dolphin
Tidelands Health
Truist Foundation