Town and BPDC officials could consider streamlining regulations, investing in certain types of infrastructure.
With new leadership in place, Bluffton's economic development organization is setting its sights on keeping businesses in town and helping them grow.
Recently the Bluffton Public Development Corporation's efforts have focused on luring new companies, particularly technology and medical firms.
Results on that front have been mixed.
Last year, BPDC officials helped broker a deal between the town and a developer to build a mixed-use cluster of retail spaces and apartments in Buckwalter Place.
But the development will be anchored by a massive Kroger Marketplace grocery store, which disappointed some town leaders who hoped for a project that would draw high paying jobs to the area.
"A lot of people put a lot of effort on business attraction ... but about 70 percent of our job growth comes from business retention and expansion," Shawn Leininger said last week.
He is Bluffton's assistant town manager and took the reins as BPDC executive director late last year.
The town has about 1,200 individual businesses operating within its limits, and "we want to keep them here. We want them be able to grow here," BPDC chairman Berl Davis said.
The economic development group recently began to explore programs and policies to keep existing businesses happy and profitable.
The Lowcountry Economic Alliance, a defunct county-wide group, had previously spearheaded such programs, BPDC vice-chairman Sarah Reed said earlier this week.
But that organization dissolved in 2014, "so no one is really doing any business expansion and retention programs," she said.
Leininger said current retention efforts are typically informal and involve Bluffton "staffers (and elected officials) engaging with businesses as they come in" to apply for government permits and licenses.
The initial step in creating a formal retention and expansion program is reaching out to local businesses "to understand what their needs are," Leininger said.
The hope is that more communication with the business community will help identify ways to encourage employers and employees to deepen their roots in Bluffton.
That could mean anything from streamlining the town's regulatory processes to investing public money in certain types of infrastructure and amenities to ensuring students are taught the skills local employers need, BPDC officials say.
Leininger said he and his staff will soon begin drafting a survey to solicit input from the business community.
That draft is expected to be reviewed by the BPDC board in the next month or two prior to being sent to town businesses.
Follow reporter Lucas High on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Lucas.
- What is the Bluffton Public Development Corporation?, March, 25, 2014
- Bluffton's ambitious vision for high-tech park diminished with Kroger plan, April 10, 2015
- Bluffton, company make deal on Buckwalter Place construction, Nov. 23, 2015