Beaufort County aims to form economic development corporation

Bluffton Today: By SCOTT THOMPSON, June 2, 2015

Beaufort County Council is primed to establish a countywide economic development corporation in hopes of luring more jobs to the area.

Council’s governmental committee unanimously approved Monday a resolution that would establish a corporation — similar to those in the towns of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island — to help recruit business prospects to the county.

The full council will consider the resolution at its meeting in Beaufort on Monday.

Structural details of the organization still need to be hammered out, but council members said the resolution is the first step toward crafting an effective countywide economic development strategy.

“It’s been a priority of council to do something with economic development,” said Councilman Stu Rodman, the committee chairman. “Whatever we end up doing, I think it’s useful to have a strategy we can all agree on. So it’s good to at least have a consensus of where we’re going.”

Council has spent the last several months mulling the county’s economic development strategy after its former partner, the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, folded early this year.

At a March meeting hosted by the committee, leaders from the county’s municipalities called for a unified approach, with a development corporation being the most useful avenue for it.

Rodman proposed last month that the corporation have an executive board with seven members, who would be appointed by the county, each municipality and the board itself, as well as several other advisors. The corporation also would likely have a director.

The resolution also calls for the county to purchase and develop infrastructure at properties such as commerce parks to attract more businesses. Several council members have said the county’s lack of land or “product,” particularly south of the Broad River, has hurt its prospects in the past.

“I really don’t like the idea that we have to potentially get so involved in economic development that it rises to level of us owning property or part of a park and supplying necessary infrastructure improvements,” Councilman Brian Flewelling said, “but I understand that’s the way they game is played in other counties and states.

“So it may be necessary for us to do it, but I’m going to be looking at each case and picking over the details of it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure Beaufort County gets a good deal.”

The corporation would have to be publicly-funded to some degree, Rodman said, through a collaboration between the county and its municipalities.

Beyond a countywide corporation, other council members have called on the county to join one or more regional alliances to fill the void left by the dissolution of the LEA.

Rick Caporale and Cynthia Bensch have praised SouthernCarolina Alliance, which serves Jasper, Hampton, Colleton, Allendale, Barnwell and Bamberg counties, for producing results with president Danny Black leading the efforts.

Before the county were to join an alliance, the corporation would need to determine a more specific direction, Councilman Steve Fobes said.

“I support this,” Fobes said, “but more importantly, we need to have a lot more comprehensive discussions on, philosophically, what we want in terms of business development. We need more work sessions to bring everything out on the table.”


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