Most of us want economic development. Some see aerospace, smart industries or business incubators as answers. Others see tourism, retirees, arts, the environment or convention centers. All are good ideas deserving consideration in a balanced portfolio.
Our history is spotty. Over the past decade, Beaufort County spent more than $2 million on economic development, including a just discovered $377,000 being written off on a water line for a defunct project. More may show up. Fortunately, thanks to public protest, the $2.5 million commerce park bailout was stopped.
We need to do better, but are stuck on the same closed track. An economic development task force was put together with no input or votes by County Council. I objected without result.
This task force wants to hire an economic consultant (no minutes, consultant qualifications, statement of work or details to County Council) with $37,500 of taxpayer funds. I'll bet this is just the start, and they will soon want the balance of the $150,000 we hoarded in our recent, library-closing, budget-slashing exercise -- or more.
By pursuing this without new thinking, broader input and transparency, we may miss good opportunities and proceed down the same old road, with the same crew. It would not even surprise me if the old Lowcountry Economic Network cast resurfaces under a new banner. This train needs to stop now and be rethought, including much broader public expertise and input. It's your money.
Steven M. Baer
Beaufort County Council
Hilton Head Island