With its tech economy poised for a breakout, Myrtle Beach leaders are embarking on plans to build a multi-million dollar work lab center inside the city’s arts and innovation district.
“Companies and students and faculty from our region can come right in and conduct research, build and prototype new technology,” Howard Waldie IV, the city’s chief innovation officer, said. “Those ... can all help with the activation of local commerce in our downtown district.”
Officials are hoping a federal Economic Development Administration grant will cover up to $12 million of the project’s roughly $18 million price tag, with city reserve funds and private sector support coming up with the rest.
The city could learn within a few months whether federal funding is available.
There’s not yet a construction timeline, but the concept is supported by more than a dozen organizations including Coastal Carolina University, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the state Department of Commerce.
Once complete, the multi-level lab will host a range of features including:
A 50-seat computer room
A 2,500-square foot auditorium
Six private labs with secure access
Rooftop garden and terrace
With the county’s population expected to surpass a half million year-round residents by 2035, Horry County will have the workforce to support the influx of jobs that a tech boom would bring, said County Council chairman Johnny Gardner.
“This growth provides a unique opportunity to diversify a local economy historically focused on tourism and farming,” he said.
In his letter of support, Horry County Schools chief Rick Maxey said the lab would provide new internship and work training programs for students in the state’s third largest district.
U.S. Rep. Russell Fry, R-7th District, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott R-S.C., also are behind the plan.
The city is bullish about its role as an emerging tech hot spot. Milken, a California-based think tank that’s published its list of best-performing cities since 1999, said in May that Myrtle Beach’s high-tech sector could grow by nearly 52% through 2028.
And in November 2022, the Center on Rural Innovation had this to say about Myrtle Beach’s future: “At this stage, we can confidently recommend that Myrtle Beach has the core capacity and assets needed to develop and successfully implement a tech economy ecosystem strategy,” analysts wrote.
Waldie said a vacant piece of land near the city’s train depot on Broadway Street is being considered for the facility.