County buys Bluffton land to entice business

Lowcountry Economic Alliance to help fill building

By ZACH MURDOCKNovember 28, 2013 

Beaufort County officials hope property they just purchased in Bluffton will be the right bait to lure businesses and jobs.

Last week, County Council purchased 7.7 acres next to its government center on Bluffton Parkway. The property will be marketed to new or expanding businesses with the help of the Lowcountry Economic Alliance.

The $1.15 million purchase price will be covered in part by two economic-development grants -- $400,000 from Palmetto Electric Cooperative and $325,000 from Hargray Communications. County attorney Josh Gruber said the rest came from proceeds from the sales of the former Lady's Island Convenience Center and five acres at the Buckwalter Tech Park, which was purchased by the town of Bluffton.

The 54-acre site already has water lines, drainage, electricity and sewer connections, so any business that moves to the property will be able to plug right in, Gruber said. The county calls the property the Lowcountry Center for Industry and Commerce.

The property is ideal for "back-office, professional services operations," like a company call center or information-technology office, according to Lowcountry Economic Alliance director Kim Statler.

"We don't want a strip mall there with just mom-and-pop retail shops," Gruber said. "This is to be for bigger economic-development purposes."

Last year a study completed by the alliance identified back-office operations as a prime target for businesses to bring to the county, but attracting those companies could be tricky, Statler said.

"They don't just create trade shows for those (industries). You have to look at alternative ways to get at those."

To identify those methods, the alliance is working on a study that lays out strategies to reach companies in those fields and offer incentives that will attract them, Statler said.

Half of the funding for the $40,000 study comes from a grant from the S.C. Power Team, which serves as the economic development arm of the state's electric cooperatives, Statler said. The other half will come from the alliance's budget, which is funded by member local governments and private investors.

The study should be completed by the end of December so the alliance can roll out those strategies next year and begin courting businesses for that location and others it is studying around the county, she said.

Because the county now owns the property, it will get a say in how it ultimately is used, Gruber said. But for now, it's up to the economic alliance to try to find the best suitor, he said.

"Having an ideal site for somebody to come to is a significant economic development tool," Gruber said.

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