A special committee of business, government and tourism leaders debuted a website this week that seeks to provide residents and visitors with key information about staying safe in the COVID-19 era.
Greatergrandstrandisopen.com features a promotional video from “Wheel of Fortune” star and North Myrtle Beach native Vanna White. The site is the brainchild of the Welcome Back Committee, which was appointed by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner and was tasked with coming up with ways to welcome visitors to the area and help businesses adjust to the cornonavirus crisis.
“Together we discussed many important topics to make recommendations that would help boost the local economy in a safe and speedy manner,” said councilman Orton Bellamy, who chaired the committee.
Horry County Council on Tuesday approved the committee’s recommendations, including a budget of just under $77,000 for web design and related promotional expenses. That money will come from the accommodations tax revenues.
“We wanted this to be a little bit different than what some other communities have done,” said Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce President Karen Riordan, who served on the committee. “We want it to be an educational hub where there’s a lot of information for our businesses.”
The site offers separate sections for residents, businesses and visitors. For example, in the businesses section there are details about safety guidelines, loans, tax relief and other assistance. The site also offers viewers the chance to take a pledge that they will follow safety guidelines and support local businesses. Those who sign the pledge can be listed on the website.
“That promise is a pledge for businesses, residents and visitors throughout all municipalities and neighboring areas to commit to safe and responsible action that supports the local economy,” Bellamy said.
The council meeting comes on the same day Horry County led the state in the number new cases of COVID-19. The county was home to 86 of the 595 new cases, according to state health records. Horry now has 1,297 COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths.
The new tourism website features videos of Grand Strand mayors and White, who offers advice to locals about slowing the spread of the virus.
“I encourage you to be a part of the greater Grand Strand promise and do your part to act responsible,” White said. “Wash your hands, practice social distancing, wear a mask when appropriate, stay home if you’re not feeling well, be especially careful if you have any underlying health conditions, and be courteous of one another so residents and visitors can enjoy all the community has to offer.”
As part of the Welcome Back Committee’s six weeks of preparations, they developed survey questionnaires for businesses to find out community needs. Those responses were used in crafting a plan for spending federal funds in the recovery effort.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has allocated more than $1.1 million in supplemental fundingfor the county to be used in its pandemic response, according to county records. The money came from the federal government’s COVID-19 response package, the CARES Act, and the county will use those funds to provide small business technical assistance ($200,000), small business direct assistance ($180,000), public services ($120,000) and rent/mortgage/utility assistance ($195,464), as well as similar programs in Myrtle Beach.
That plan was approved Tuesday night.
County spokeswoman Kelly Moore said HUD will now review the county's plan and, if it's approved, that money will be provided to the county. At that point, those dollars will be distributed to nonprofits and utilities to help with programs designed to address those specific needs.
Residents will not apply to the county for assistance.