Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka says her town can bea business engine for Beaufort County.
"In 2027, Bluffton is the regional economic center, with a diverse economy," she said Wednesday during her State of the Town Address.
Sulka said more businesses similar to CareCore National in Buckwalter Place and a proposed Hilton Head Hospital outpatient center near U.S. 278 and Buck Island Road will bring the kinds of jobs to fulfill that vision.The theme of Sulka's speech echoed the message from the Town Council's annual retreat on Friday when job growth and branding Bluffton as a place "open for business" was voted the top priority.
The mayor also expects the new Don Ryan Center for Innovation, developed to bring entrepreneurs to the area and scheduled to open next month, to drive the town's economic growth. Bluffton was one of five locations in South Carolina selected to partner with Clemson University on the incubator, which will be at Buckwalter Place.
The town has committed $50,000 a year for three years and will pay its director, Jordan Berliner, $65,000 a year.
"If we wouldn't have done it, it would still be on a table somewhere being looked at," Sulka said after her speech. "When Bluffton has needed something, we've always had to do it ourselves."
Berliner, from Arlington, Va., was hired this month from a pool of 42 candidates.The director's job is to hire the innovators and act as a liaison between them, the town and Clemson, Town Manager Anthony Barrett said at the February board meeting.
Bea Wray, incubator board member, said the group agreed to hire innovators based on the quality of their ideas rather than the size of their companies.
"Maybe what we start will eventually become something like a Boeing," Wray said, "but we're looking to bring in something small" in the beginning.
Sulka said if town makes the right moves, Bluffton will be to businesses what Hilton Head Island is to tourists.
"By 2027, businesses will be reaching out to Bluffton, versus us reaching out to them," Sulka said at the retreat.
The mayor's speech Wednesday was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Area, of which Sulka is a member. About 75 people attended the event at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church at 10 Simmonsville Road in Bluffton.
League member Dot Law, who has lived on Hilton Head for 18 years, was impressed with Sulka's speech and Bluffton's plans.
"It used to be the place you just drove through to get to Hilton Head," she said of Bluffton. "Now it's a place to stop and visit."
Follow reporter Anne Christnovich on Twitter at twitter.com/blufftonblogip.