With a hospital, waterways, and part of an impressive new biking and walking trail cutting through its boundaries, the city of Beaufort is well-positioned to become a wellness destination for health-conscious visitors.
And although much of the city's economic development focus is on diversifying a local economy dependent upon military and tourism -- as it should be -- there is nothing wrong with attempting to diversify within an industry already present. To wit: Beaufort holds great appeal to tourists who love a slow stroll past its scenery and history; other visitors enjoy jogging or paddling past them.
"We're living in such a wonderful small town where you can go outside in December in short sleeves," Beaufort Memorial Hospital LifeFit manager Kim Yawn points out.
That's why Mayor Billy Keyserling believes, "You ought to be able to come to Beaufort, check in to a rental and have a schedule for the period of time you're going to be here."
Keyserling is among about a half dozen residents who recently spent a week working with LifeFit, doing health tests, working out and meeting with nutritionists and other professionals. They also took part in outdoor activities, such as biking.
LifeFit and the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce are working to parlay this experiment into a formal program, which might, for instance, sell fitness packages as add-ons at participating hotels.
The chamber and hospital are logical agents to cultivate these ideas, and the free market is where they should bloom. The city of Beaufort's businesses will embrace this idea if it is feasible -- indeed, new businesses will likely take root if that is the case, bringing opportunity and economic expansion.
City government's role should be more restrained. A healthy relationship with the public hospital, clean waterways, and tidy trails, sidewalks and roads will be its important contributions. But it should steer clear of subsidy and regulation, which will either kill organic growth or plump up ideas that should wither because they are flawed.
Keeping government's role modest also promotes cooperation beyond political boundaries, which might also prove important.
To Beaufort's south, Hilton Head Island already is positioning itself as a destination for tourists with active lifestyles, in part through public and private efforts to improve and promote its bike paths. The island's hospitality industry could be a challenger to Beaufort's initiative, but it could also be a collaborator.
Beaufort County and the towns of Port Royal and Yemassee could be, as well -- not only will the Spanish Moss Trail tie them together, their close proximity enhances the city of Beaufort's appeal by expanding the scope of what visitors can see and do. That's precisely what makes this idea so good to begin with.