Economic developers hope regional plan will curtail competition between Jasper, Beaufort counties

Economic development advocates in Beaufort and Jasper counties hope a regional plan will prevent local communities from fighting over businesses and instead focus on recruiting new investment.

A Beaufort County Council committee endorsed a resolution Monday to support a regional economic plan that would cover both counties. It will next go to the full council.

Local governments, schools, utilities, telecommunications providers and the Lowcountry Council of Governments will be invited to sign on, according to Kim Statler, executive director of the Lowcountry Economic Network, a public-private partnership that recruits business to the area.

Jasper County Council is expected to consider a similar resolution, according to Statler.

Although many local governments have plans for economic development in their communities, the region lacks a single "road map" for how to diversify its economy, said Statler, who presented the resolution to the Public Safety Committtee.

"There is no document out there that connects us," she said.

A regional plan would help officials evaluate the challenges the Lowcountry faces in economic development and collaborate in determining which properties to focus on and what incentives to seek from state and federal officials, Statler said. She would like participants to craft the plan by year's end.

The push for a plan grew out of a recent two-day summit the network organized to discuss job creation as well as questions from some Beaufort County Council members about the scope of the network's strategy, according to Statler and Jerry Stewart, a Beaufort Council Council member and chairman of the network board.

Stewart said he hopes such a plan would eliminate disputes like the one between governments over what to allow at Okatie Crossings, a proposed shopping center that would straddle the county line on property annexed by Hardeeville.

"We want to stop the competition," Stewart said.

Fellow councilman Brian Flewelling expressed concern a regional approach could mean Beaufort County would lose some control over its own destiny. In response, Statler said the prospective companies her organization courts see the region as a whole.

"The market has already decided you're together," she said.

Hardeeville city manager Ted Felder had not seen the resolution Monday, but attended a meeting of regional leaders the network initiated after its summit.

He said many regions of the state already have such collaboration and said he thinks there is sufficient momentum to do the same in the Lowcountry.

"I sense there is that desire to do that," he said.