Editorials

Editorial: County taking role of private enterprise

We hope Beaufort County Council's decision to borrow $4 million to build an office building in Bluffton to try to attract businesses will be more successful than other such government efforts at economic development.

Luck sometimes strikes, but more often than not, costly government property sits vacant for years.

A trip to the Beaufort Commerce Park is a prime example of local government attempts to sway company executives.

The mostly empty park, which cost $1.8 million when it was bought by the city of Beaufort in 2012 after the county's economic development arm lost it in foreclosure, has been marketed by the county and then the city to companies since 2006 with little to show for it.

In 2014, the Lowcountry Economic Alliance said it had a "medical software company" that would come to Bluffton if the county built an office for it. But the prospective tenant disappeared after a low-interest loan from state-owned utility Santee Cooper hit delays.

The plan to build that 40,000-square-foot building behind the county government center on Bluffton Parkway is now ready to go forward. The goal is to lure "high-end technology and medical companies."

Taxpayers will spend $4 million to build the empty two-story building, along with a retention pond and parking lot on the 7.7-acre county-owned land.

The county got a 10-year, low-interest loan from state-owned electric utility Santee Cooper for the construction. The loan terms are 2 percent interest for five years, and for the remaining five years, the rate will be set at the 10-year Treasury Note. County officials say the loan will be paid back from money earned leasing the building.

They are optimistic they'll get a job-creating tenant, and we hope they're right. But once again, they are entering an area government should avoid.

Government should let the private sector take care of constructing buildings for the private sector.

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