Use commerce park loss to build future success

The Lowcountry Economic Network's request for a bailout at the Beaufort Commerce Park could turn out to be a very positive turn of events for economic development in this region.

The request to buy the failed industrial park has focused our attention on the subject. It has resulted in a formal effort to review and assess economic development efforts here. Much good can come of that.

The task force created to do that job has asked for $50,000 to hire a consultant to study the county's job-creation efforts. That would include surveying employers and residents, comparing the county's strategy against a handful of outside economic-development groups, and analyzing the county's business climate, infrastructure and mix of industry. A second phase, estimated to cost $97,500, would assess the county's competitiveness and explore the industries and companies the area should target.

It could be money well spent if it doesn't offer us the same old economic bromides.

And this shouldn't just be a Beaufort County effort. Other municipalities and counties, particularly Jasper County, should contribute and participate. They already are part of the Lowcountry Economic Network and a related organization, the Lowcountry Economic Alliance.

We will almost certainly plow some old ground, but we'll do it in the context of a decade's worth of work by the public-private partnership and today's economic climate -- 2011 is much different than 2001 when the county dissolved its in-house economic development office and decided to help fund the partnership.

We should explore more fully and recognize the benefits Beaufort County and Jasper County share from regional development. Beaufort County residents can work in Jasper County, just as Jasper County residents work in Beaufort County. That extends to the Savannah area.

The economic network's Kim Statler and others have raised these points before. So what are we missing to pull this off? What attitudes or policies do we need to change?

Are we doing enough to help businesses already here expand their operations? That was a complaint in 2001, just months after the public-private partnership was formed.

Are we going after industry it makes no sense to pursue, given our environment, current economic base and educational resources? There are limits to the type of industry or businesses we can accommodate here while protecting our natural resources and quality of life. We've turned back boat-building plants and chemical plants on the shores of the Colleton River, and rightly so.

In 2001, the newly minted partnership came up with this list:

  • "Knowledge-based businesses," such as design, architecture, software and consulting firms.
  • Health-care industries.
  • Higher education.
  • Corporate headquarters.
  • Communications businesses, such as telecommunications, film production and studios.
  • We've had some successes. Why? What can we do to achieve more?

    Statler says the economic network will be have to be dissolved if the consortium of banks holding the mortgage on the commerce park continues to pursue a deficiency judgment against the group.

    So be it. The group made a bad strategic call in 2006 when it purchased the commerce park. It is paying a heavy price for that bad call.

    Hindsight can be 20/20. Let's make the most of it as we move ahead.