The Lowcountry Economic Alliance, founded on paper in 2008 primarily as a means to draw state grants, now appears set to take on a larger role as Beaufort County's primary economic-development agency.
County Council's Governmental Committee unanimously directed alliance leaders Monday to begin analyzing how their organization could be molded to fit recommendations from a new study of local job-creation efforts.
That $40,000 study was commissioned in response to council's proposed purchase of the Beaufort Commerce Park earlier this year to try to save the public-private Lowcountry Economic Network -- at the time its main business recruiter -- from defaulting on the park's loan. Council ultimately rejected the $2.5 million purchase, the network closed its doors in June and the park is slated for foreclosure auction.
The 54-page study released last week by consulting firm AngelouEconomics of Austin, Texas, recommended the alliance could step in.
"You have a foundation in the alliance that can be retained and built upon, with some of these deficiencies corrected, making it much stronger," said Steve Vierck, the firm's president of economic development.
The county once had an economic-development department, but Vierck told the committee that none of the 22 business leaders and community members interviewed for the study suggested returning to that model.
Consultants recommend a variety of changes to make the alliance successful, such as a large governing board, broad business participation, and high accountability through annual performance evaluations.
They also emphasize the importance of cooperation among local governments.
Councilman Rick Caporale said it could be a challenge to get the Lowcountry's elected officials all pulling in the same direction.
"I'm not sure how to get all those people on the same page," Caporale said. "And I really think that's the first problem."
The committee voted to send the report to the alliance, whose leaders will create a business plan, financial analysis, revised bylaws and performance goals based on the recommendations.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.