Regional economy plan crucial for Jasper, Beaufort counties

October 25, 2010 

There's been a lot of talk about regionalism lately.

You may have read about it in articles in the local newspapers or heard politicians talking about it out in the community or during televised meetings.

But what does it mean? What are we talking about when we say regionalism, and why is it important?

Regionalism means that we need to bring Beaufort and Jasper counties together, along with their respective municipalities, to work off the same sheet of music in terms of economic development and the future of our community. I say community and not communities because in reality Beaufort and Jasper truly are one community that benefit from each other's strengths and are hampered by each other's weaknesses.

We must work together to position those strengths and lessen the weaknesses. Why must we do this? Because, as I told a Beaufort County Council committee this month, the market already has decided that we're together.

Right not we don't have a regional economic development plan that guides our community, but we're getting there. The process began in August when a number of different organizations hosted the Lowcountry Regional Jobs Summit. The summit was unprecedented in that it brought together elected officials from every jurisdiction in Beaufort and Jasper counties, and those officials listened as real people told them how they are struggling in this economy.

The same people pleaded with them to make strides to diversify our economy; not by ignoring construction and tourism but by creating a plan to attract additional industries and jobs that in turn would support those two sectors that for so long have been the cornerstone of our economy.

Our elected officials have heeded the call and since the summit have met as a group several times to discuss ways to work as a region. What has come out of those discussions is a decision to indeed craft a regional economic development plan that will encompass Beaufort and Jasper counties, while also taking into account what is occurring to the north (Boeing in North Charleston) and the south (Gulfstream and the ports of Jasper and Savannah.)

The regional plan will be penned by the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, which was created in 2008 through resolutions from both the Beaufort and Jasper county councils. The Alliance will work with government staff along with our partners in the public and private sector to construct a plan that will guide our region into the future.

I must reiterate that the recent actions of our elected officials in Beaufort and Jasper counties are unprecedented.

Our leaders should be congratulated for coming together in the name of one cause and one community.

This is a very exciting time.

Kim Statler is executive director of the Lowcountry Economic Network, a public-private nonprofit that serves as the economic development arm of Beaufort County. Read Kim's blog online at www.lowcountrynet.org/sc-economic-blog

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