MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Horry County Administrator John Weaver and a search committee he selected interviewed three candidates Friday for the position of Horry County airports director.
The ultimate decision lies with Weaver, but he recruited the help of the search committee members to help him make a decision.
"I am relying extensively on their recommendation and their advice before I have to make the final decision," Weaver said.
A large focus for the airports director is the daily operation of Myrtle Beach International Airport. The committee members and the candidates said the ability to have successful customer service is important in regards to the airport. They acknowledged the airport can be the first and last impression Myrtle Beach makes on people.
Much of the conversation also covered the importance of continuing expansion at the airport. Not only will the new director oversee the construction of a new airport terminal, the new director will be expected to bring in more people with new flights.
"Myrtle Beach needs to be looking for an airport director who can handle a lot of different activities at once, someone who is good with long-term strategic planning, someone who can work with the community and the various segments of the community," commented Mike Flack, the recently retired airport director from Columbia who served on the search committee.
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean also served on the search committee. He emphasized the importance of the airport in bringing more money into the local economy. Dean said the airport will likely need to add flights to areas where flying is the only reasonable option for visiting the Grand Strand. He said currently Myrtle Beach effectively attracts people who are driving, but there's still a lot of room to grow in the number of people who fly to the area. That could include international flights he said.
"Adding new air service, expanding the service we have and keeping our airport operation efficient and effective is vital to growing tourism, and the airport director will play a role in that regard," Dean said.
"The airport today is a huge and very essential economic development tool for our community, not just to bring tourists in but to attract and retain the businesses that we have.
"A well-run airport keeps our economy flowing and that keeps everyone's taxes low, and here at Myrtle Beach International Airport that absolutely no taxpayer dollars go in to subsidize this operation. We want the operation to continue to be efficient so the taxpayers don't have to subsidize it."
Candidate Richard Howell who is currently working at the San Louis Obispo, CA, airport said he understands the airport is on the path for growth. He said he would work to carry out those plans.
"There's a pretty definitive plan as to where the community wants the airport to go at this particular point and time," Howell said. "If I were to be put into this position my responsibility would be to make it work."
Attracting customers from outside the area appealed to candidate Michael La Pier. He is currently working at the Sacramento, CA airport, and he said the Myrtle Beach airport has an unusual dynamic because of the tourism focus.
"This is certainly a challenge to market Myrtle Beach in other places in the country and internationally as well, and that's a challenge," La Pier said. "Normally you're marketing to the community you serve."
The third candidate Stephen Cooke said he clearly understands the desire to expand the airport's offerings. Cooke currently works at the Daytona Beach, FL airport, and he said he would also work to find more ways to attract tourists.
"I think the area has a tremendous destination potential that has not been realized as yet, and the airport can play a big role in that," Cooke said.
Weaver said all three candidates have qualifications that would make him a good choice. He said whoever he chooses, he expects the new director to continue the success of the airport. That success will have a positive impact on all of Horry County he said.
"It is an economic engine, an aspect of the growth of this county from the ocean side on to the western part," Weaver said. "There will be jobs created. There will be opportunities made available that are not here now. So it will in some way directly or indirectly affect all of Horry County."