When Josh Kay stepped into the president’s job at the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. last year, he thought Horry County could compete for aviation businesses.
The county had three open hangars at Myrtle Beach International Airport, an empty business park near the airport and, of course, the airport itself.
Kay’s hunch has proven accurate. Last week, he announced the arrival of Kingman Airline Services, an aircraft maintenance company that plans to expand to Myrtle Beach and hire 180 employees.
Kingman is the largest project landed by the EDC since Kay took over last fall and the deal is the second in recent months involving an aviation company. Of the 292 jobs the EDC has announced this year, 255 have been for companies using airport facilities.
“It’s a focus of the EDC,” Kay said. “We feel like we’ve got a great market, assets [and] hangar space … Service type-related aviation jobs, we felt, was a niche that we could fill.”
Those qualities certainly were factors in Kingman’s decision, said Kevin Dolan, the Arizona company’s president. The expansion is the first for Kingman in its 25 years in business. The company will occupy a hangar near the general aviation terminal.
“A lot of our customers have been requesting that, in addition to offering services in the West Coast, that we offer service in the Southeast,” Dolan said. “We’ve probably been looking for a year and a half. And we probably looked at 12, 15 locations and decided on Myrtle Beach because of the geographics, the support locally here and what we think we can accomplish.”
Based in Kingman, Arizona, the company provides maintenance for a variety of aircraft, including Boeing, Embraer and Bombadier.
Dolan said the company plans to staff the Myrtle Beach facility with nearly 200 workers. Most of those hired will be aircraft mechanics. The average pay for all the jobs is $18.50 per hour.
A few employees will move to Myrtle Beach from Arizona, but Dolan said the majority of staff members will be hired gradually over a five-year period.
“At the beginning it will be the slowest [for hiring],” he said. “Just because it’s the logistics of what comes first: the customer or the people?”
Kingman chose Myrtle Beach for its moderate climate, the airport’s long runway, a large hangar space and the available of training at the nearby Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.
Dolan said the company has already interviewed about 15 people, all of them students or graduates of PIA.
To assist the company with the expansion, state and local officials have offered Kingman an incentives package worth $400,000, although most of that money will be distributed as the company meets certain performance benchmarks, including hiring workers and buying equipment.
About $150,000 of the package will come from the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority and will be used for replacing the fire suppression system and doors at the hangar.
“We did all of our due diligence,” said Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, adding that county officials reviewed some of the company’s contracts and met with the CEO before deciding Kingman met the criteria for incentives. “We found them to be a worthy industry and a worthy corporation to come here.”
For local leaders, the announcement signals a welcome change for the hangar, one of three at the airport that previously housed AvCraft Technical Services.
In 2012, AvCraft was hailed as the first major success of the reorganized EDC. But the company never got off the ground and struggled to meet its financial obligations.
AvCraft filed for bankruptcy last year and the county recently agreed to write off $114,000 that the company owed for overdue rent.
Despite AvCraft’s failure, the county has recently filled two of the hangars with Executive HeliJet, which plans to hire 75 workers for an expansion. Kingman will occupy the final hangar.
“This is the last one left,” Lazarus said. “It shows what a strong community we have and a desirable location for people to locate their businesses. … This is what we’ve been saying all along. It doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve been working extremely hard and the fruits of our labor are starting to pay off.”
Lazarus said the aviation field will be a target for the EDC for years to come.
“We’re going to continue to look at others,” he said. “With Boeing being just south of us and still looking for some parts manufacturers … this is a strong industry for us.”