Economic development in this end of the Lowcountry needs fewer studies, more cooperation and stronger, unified leadership.
The Lowcountry Economic Alliance -- which was to bring local governments and business leaders together with common goals and visions -- is falling apart. In May, it lost Jasper County's participation, and a new state budget approved by the legislature takes away its potential state matching grant dollars.
The latest $150,000 study on local economic development says Beaufort and Jasper counties need greater economic diversity.
We knew that.
And all the studies of what that diversity might look like and how this community might get there are useless in a vacuum of local teamwork.
People love to talk about today's global economy. In this community, we can't even pull together for a two-county economy. It looks like years of meetings, committees and studies have been conducted to make it appear as if something is being done when it's not.
Job one has to be local people being willing to work together.
Cooperation was stressed statewide in the 2003 "South Carolina Competitive Initiative" by Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter.
And it's not new here. In the 1990s, Beaufort County's Economic Development Board touted economic diversification with a mission statement that included:
"To carry out economic development through partnerships based upon trust among the general public, local governments and private-sector businesses."
Flash forward to a 2011 assessment of the county's economic development done by a Texas consultant. Standing out in its list of threats is this: "Distrust between cities and county."
A regional assessment performed last year warned that the region's economy "is in a precarious position (yet) the urgency of the situation is not fully recognized."
Following interviews, surveys and focus groups with area leaders and residents, the consultants identified this among a handful of themes that emerged:
"There is a growing divide between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' in the two-county region. Concerns were voiced about public-sector representatives' abilities to set aside differences and think beyond their city or geographical boundaries to bridge the divide. Government and political leadership ranked among the region's top three weaknesses, according to the survey. On the other hand, many cited instances of cooperative moments in which companies and elected officials rallied together to win an opportunity (e.g., F-35 and the University of South Carolina Beaufort). Our desire is that economic development becomes the next high-priority project that inspires the region to band together and work as a team."
It has been talked about for years, but it is not happening.