The gala also honored Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on its 100th anniversary, including a performance by the legendary Parris Island Marine Corps Band and an address by Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, the depot's commander.
More than 700 people packed the ballroom at the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's 20th annual review of the issues affecting Beaufort County.
Here's a look at what each leader said about the region's future:
HILTON HEAD ISLAND
Instead of the modest reflection that is typical of the State of the Region event, Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett issued a challenge
"The truth is, this is where we reach the fork in the road," he said.
The town can either continue the "status quo" or develop "a new vision for the island."
Bennett firmly believes the town lacks the proper strategic-plan framework to tackle its many redevelopment, transportation and cultural challenges in coming years.
He noted three existing "master plans" for the island already exist, developed during the past five years by the town or a previous task force, each under the premise that the last was insufficient or lacking in some way.
Bennett believes he can change that with an expansive research and workshop driven "visioning process" that "answers the questions, 'Who are we, what's important and what's next?'"
It's a plan Bennett has addressed behind the scenes before, but Thursday was the first time he pitched the idea formally. This summer, the Hilton Head Island Institute suggested a plan to help the town hire a Phoenix, Ariz., consulting group to lead the research. But Town Council never acted on the idea.
That could change early next year, when Bennett said he will ask Town Council to consider hiring such a firm to craft a new master plan. It would be lengthy process that would require input from every demographic and neighborhood and group on the island, but he believes it is the key to any future island success.
If the island doesn't, "our town proceeds forward in the same piecemeal fashion that caused me to run for mayor," he said. "The economy is getting much better and perhaps it will buoy what we have as we sit on the edge of our seats, hoping that what we have won't be reinterpreted by someone else."
The new Community Development Code, which governs building throughout the county, and changes to the county's stormwater rules led Beaufort County Council chairman Paul Sommerville's recap of the year.
More than a decade in the making, the new development code better unifies building specifications and zoning across the county's rural and urban areas, and it received national recognition by two development codes groups this spring, Sommerville said.
The county also is now overhauling its stormwater program to comply with newly triggered federal standards to try to monitor and reduce the county's impact on its waterways, he added.
Both will have a substantial impact on the way the county develops over the next decade.
Despite hiccups and delays, he also praised progress on the S.C. 170 improvement project and the construction of the Bluffton Parkway flyover ramp. They are the final projects remaining from the 2006 sales tax referendum and are designed to improve traffic flow between Hilton Head Island and on the western edge of greater Bluffton.
Sommerville also looked ahead to the county's role in developing a possible sales tax to put before voters next year, which leaders hope will either help fund capital improvements or provide new property tax relief for owners.
As population and construction continue to boom around town, Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka teased about Bluffton becoming as recognized as Hilton Head Island.
"Business is back to where it was. It is booming," she said. "The world has gotten out about our charming little town and the newcomers are here."
This year, national magazines named the town to lists of the top places to retire, best waterfront living and true southern dream towns, she said.
Big changes also are coming to Buckwalter Place -- once the town's desired technology park -- which is slated to become Bluffton's version of Hilton Head's Shelter Cove Towne Centre, led by Shelter Cove developers Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial.
For quotes and notes live from the event, follow reporter Zach Murdock below or on Twitter at