Stagnant unemployment and disappointing job growth led to another dismal U.S. report for June, and Hilton Head Island has not been immune from the economic gloom.
The island lost 5,609 jobs between 2007 and 2010, a 12-percent decline that led to a loss of more than $780 million in economic output, according to a study by John Salazar, hospitality management professor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
And the long-term forecast is no rosier, said Salazar, who is also director of the Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute.
"We had a huge workforce shrinkage in the real estate and construction sectors, driven by the recession," he said. "So the island's equivalent of the national gross domestic product shrank 16 percent, and the top producers -- real estate and rentals, lodging and food services, finance and insurance, construction, health and social services -- shrank 23 percent."
If the island is to right the ship, and residents hold on to the comfortable quality of life they've come to expect, the Town of Hilton Head Island will have to act, said a four-member committee asked by Town Council to plan the formation of an economic development group.The panel said Wednesday it plans to bring a recommendation to council this fall to create a new nonprofit organization governed by a nine-member board of volunteers and led by a full-time director.
The group would be supported by town staff and accountable to Town Council.
Its mission: Attract new business and broaden the economy by coordinating redevelopment projects.
"The community doesn't understand or appreciate the need for economic development," committee chairman Jim Gant said. "There's been a historically negative perception of development on this island" -- the fear being that its pursuit "will turn us into Myrtle Beach."
"That's the educational challenge," he added, "showing that we need to redevelop and seek new business to keep what we have beautiful."
Before, developers and business leaders marketed the island and guided its economic growth, tempered by a concern for the environment, Planning Commission chairwoman Gail Quick said.
Today, that role has shifted to the town, as many of those developers and leaders have left, she said.
Committee members agreed.
"If I'm a business looking to do something on Hilton Head, I look at the directory and I don't find anyone who says, 'Hey, I'm here to help you,'" Gant said.
The nonprofit organization would become the lead manager and deal maker for local businesses interested in growing and those wanting to come to Hilton Head. The group would coordinate with Beaufort County, the state, the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, the chamber of commerce and the Realtors association, Gant said.
Though it should be able to borrow money by issuing bonds with council approval, the group should not buy buildings, industrial or technology parks, or become a business incubator, the committee decided.Town Council set aside $80,000, plus benefits, in the current budget for a new full-time economic development position.
"It's straightforward, not terribly expensive, and your out-of-pocket cost is one salary," Gant said. "You've got nothing to lose."
Added committee member and Planning Commissioner Tom Lennox: "If it's done correctly and it doesn't work, we've got bigger problems."