Business recruiting could use better focus

The language of economic development all too often is one of ambiguity.

Perhaps that ambiguity helps keep options open, but it's not helpful when trying to explain the game plan for diversifying business opportunities or justifying spending public money. Squishy goals also make it hard to hold people accountable.

So we look forward to the promised specificity of a study on economic development efforts in Beaufort and Jasper counties, commissioned by the Lowcountry Economic Alliance and now under way.

Consultants from Avalanche Consulting of Austin, Texas, and McCallum Sweeney of Greenville met last week with a steering committee and various focus groups to start the project.

At the first meeting were economic development officials, property owners and a committee of business, education and government leaders. They were asked to assess the area's assets, key selling points and challenges to economic growth.

Quite frankly, we'd rather hear from the consultants on those topics than the people who have been involved in one way or another with recruiting businesses to the area.

We need fresh eyes and new perspectives on the topic, tempered with an understanding of what's important to the community here.

Challenges listed during the steering committee get-together Aug. 23 included an absence of trust and communication and short-sighted vision among government leaders.

That suggests some baggage brought to the table that day.

The next day, the consultants met with focus groups that included educators, retirees, military personnel and entrepreneurs.

They also invite people to participate in a survey at surveymonkey.com/s/lowcountrysc.

Participants are asked to rate the area's education system; career opportunities, including wage levels; livability, including the cost of living, natural environment and health care; transportation and telecommunications services; and the general state of the economy, including the area's image as a business destination and the cost of doing business.

It also asks participants to rate the area's top three competitive strengths and weaknesses and asks what type of businesses they'd like to see locate here.

The more participation the better the information, so we encourage anyone interested to go to the site and take the survey.

But the question the consultants can help answer is what type of businesses would want to locate here.

They are expected to provide us strategies to target more specific prospects than the previous focus of aeronautics, knowledge-intensive, green and logistics businesses. Specificity would be welcome.

This $117,000 endeavor is separate from a study being conducted solely for Beaufort County.AngelouEconomics, also of Austin, proposed a two-part study of the county's job-creation efforts. The $50,000 first phase should be done soon.

A second phase, estimated to cost $97,500, would assess the county's competitiveness and explore the industries and companies the area should target.

Beaufort County officials should hold off on a second phase until we see the results of the regional assessment. That report is expected this fall.

Neither redundancy nor ambiguity serves us well.