Beaufort News

Officials begin analyzing Lowcountry Economic Alliance evolution

When the Lowcountry Economic Network closed its doors this summer, an affiliated organization, the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, began to pick up the pieces.

Now, at the request of the Beaufort County Council, alliance officials are examining how their organization might fill the void left by the network's demise.

The effort could include revising alliance bylaws, adding board members and analyzing finances for a revamped organization.

"I don't know where it's going to come out, to be honest with you," said Councilman Jerry Stewart, who also serves on the alliance.

Council has asked to see proposals by the end of the year, so questions must be answered quickly.

"We're hoping to get back to our board within the next few weeks with an initial report," said alliance chairman Gregg Malphrus.

KEEPING MOMENTUM

The network, which had been Beaufort County's main partner in economic development, dissolved in June because it couldn't repay about $2.5 million owed on its Beaufort Commerce Park.

The park is now in foreclosure.

Stewart said the alliance didn't want to lose momentum or scare away businesses that network officials were trying to lure to the Lowcountry.

"There was a vacuum created where businesses needed to be served," said the network's former executive director Kim Statler. "We had prospects that were in the works that had to be completed."

But the alliance, formed in 2008 as a partnership between Beaufort and Jasper counties, had no staff, because it had always relied on support from the network.

In July, the alliance signed a contract with Statler's company, Lowcountry Consulting, for about $15,500 per month plus mileage. The deal has allowed Statler and her associate Jessica Bridges, formerly the network's director of business development, to perform some of the defunct group's functions on a smaller scale.

ALLIANCE EVOLUTION

On Monday, County Council's Governmental Committee directed alliance officials to determine how their organization could be molded to fit suggestions from a new economic-development study.

For instance, consultants recommended a public-private partnership with a large governing board with a majority of seats held by business representatives. But the alliance has a small, seven-person board, and about half of those seats are held by local government officials.

Businesses and municipalities were able to join network's board for $15,000, but won't be able to join the alliance until its bylaws are revised.

"Right now, the alliance is not a membership organization," Statler said.

Questions about structure will probably be debated first, with discussions of finances and performance benchmarks for the revamped alliance to follow, she said.

Perhaps the most critical step for the group's evolution, cited by alliance and council officials alike, is to gather input from municipalities, the private sector and Jasper County, and to ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Jasper County Councilman Martin Sauls IV, who also serves on the alliance board, said he sees further cooperation between Beaufort and Jasper counties as wholly positive, and he thinks his council will agree.

"Regionalism is something that we both believe in and want to promote," Sauls said. "We work better as a group."

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related content

  1. Alliance steps closer to becoming county's main job-creation agency, Oct. 3, 2011
  2. Task force unveils economic development study, Sept. 27, 2011
  3. Lowcountry Economic Alliance gaining steam, July 17, 2011
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