"Economic development" is one of those terms that can mean anything -- from the kid selling lemonade on the corner to Boeing putting a plant in your town. For those who work with the title "economic developer," it traditionally means marketing your community to bring investment and jobs through business relocation or expansion. Economic developers today compete with 15,000 other communities for about 1,500 relocation and expansion projects a year.
Why do most communities in the United States choose to invest in economic development marketing, buy industrial and commercial parks and offer incentives? It's simple: Better jobs, and industrial and commercial development investment is worth more than the initial cost to attract those businesses to an area.
Beaufort County's tax digest has the lowest percentage of industrial property in the state. Jeff Dorfman, professor in the University of Georgia's department of agricultural and applied economics, recently wrote in an article on property tax, "A key factor in managing a community's tax digest and keeping the burden off residents comes down to a balance of home construction with businesses and industry. A good rule of thumb is that counties and cities lose money on their residential development and make money on their businesses, especially industrial facilities."
Dorfman's studies over the past 10 years have shown the average residential property contributes about 83 cents to the tax digest, while the cost of services provided by the local governments is $1. Meanwhile, industrial and commercial property contributes $3-$7 for the $1 it consumes in government services.
Beaufort County needs better jobs attracting new business and industry in sectors outside of retail to diversify the economic base. According to www.jobs.aol.com, the average weekly wage in Beaufort is $604, which translates to $31,408 annually. Compare that to the state numbers that show an average weekly wage of $664 a week ($34,528 annually). In Beaufort County, private sector wages are $576 a week ($29,952 a year). Local government wages are $785 a week ($40,820 a year). State government wages are $702 a week ($36,504 a year). Federal government wages are $827 a week ($43,004 a year). With Beaufort's cost-of-living being higher than the national average and wages lower than the state average (which is lower than the national average), it is tough for our workers to make it.
For those businesses that see quick access to markets and supplies as important, Beaufort County has challenges that must be addressed. Gulfstream in Savannah and Boeing in Charleston have created an aerospace corridor that has improved Beaufort County's chances of landing aerospace-based businesses. The proximity to these markets and work force put Beaufort County in the game.
Beaufort County has to improve on the other costs of doing business. Land prices have been driven up because of the demand for residential real estate. Counties and cities often buy real estate in the form of industrial parks, incubator sites or other buildings to serve as tools to attract jobs and investment to their community.
Becca Hardin with the Valley Partnership, an economic development organization in Columbus, Ga., wrote in a January article in Georgia Trend, "We don't sell land anymore. We own it as a development authority. That just gets you in the game. You have to be able to give land away."
Permitting processes that add costs and time to projects can take years in Beaufort County versus a couple of months in other places. Our local governments can take advantage of this economic downturn to expedite the processes and keep the requirements of quality development in place.
Changing the mind-set that economic development in Beaufort County can be more than just retirement homes and tourism will take time, but in the long run growing jobs benefits everyone.