Jasper County officials want more certainty and more authority before they approve bylaws for a newly constituted Lowcountry Economic Alliance.
It's hard to blame them.
The bylaws they were asked to approve did not list a specific dollar amount for county, municipal, school district or chamber of commerce participation in the two-county organization, while private "investor directors" knew what it would cost them to be eligible for a seat on the board (a minimum of $10,000 annually). At-large directors (as many as four) would have to pay at least $500 a year.
The bylaws also called for county representatives on the executive committee, but they would have no vote.
The alliance board has moved to address Jasper County's concerns. Board member Dean Moss suggested the bylaws include a mechanism to decide funding.
The county also wants to adopt the bylaws only after the group sets its strategies for economic development, and it wants the strategies to be the controlling guide for its mission. It also wants to have a say in future bylaw changes.
Beaufort County approved the bylaws in November and would vote again on changes made.
Something should be done to get this group moving. How do you have a two-county regional approach to economic development without Jasper County?
We have heard from business people that economic development here was too heavily skewed toward government. That discouraged private business participation, they said.
But with up to 30 private sector investors on the board, and an executive committee that would have at most two government representatives on it, it's clear where the majority of influence would lie.
The group's stated mission is "to work collaboratively with the public and private sectors to build and enhance economic opportunities for business and individuals in the region."
That work involves putting together grants and incentives deals, both of which involve public resources. With public resources involved, it is important to make sure that particular private interests don't dominate the process.
We also heard complaints during the debate over Beaufort County's purchasing the Beaufort Commerce Park from the now-defunct Lowcountry Economic Network that the network's marketing to economic prospects focused too much -- if not exclusively -- on network members' property and not on all the industrial property available in the county.
Network officials denied the charge, but it points up the need for voting representation that watches out for larger interests on entities such as this.
Private sector participation is important, but so is public sector participation, especially when publicly granted tax incentives or other inducements play a role in attracting new businesses to the area or encouraging existing businesses to expand.