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Neighboring governments are working together to help businesses expand, relocate and bring more workers to the region, local elected officials said Wednesday at the annual State of the Region breakfast.
"Our economic-development efforts have not been as successful as they could have been, and we needed to appoint a private-sector task force to tell us how we can do better," Beaufort County Councilman Weston Newton said.
Newton's comments came during a question-and-answer session Wednesday at the 16th annual event sponsored by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa. He was joined by Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin and Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka.
"We're told regionalism is the key, and we need to commit funding in the neighborhood of $1.50 to $1.60 per capita by county, and (the effort) be dominated by the private sector," Newton said. "Beaufort County and Jasper County need each other. Jasper County has the industrial sites for development, and we have the workforce."
The Lowcountry Economic Network, which had been Beaufort County's main partner in economic development, folded this summer after it couldn't repay about $2.5 million owed on its Beaufort Commerce Park, which is now in foreclosure.
The Beaufort County Council has since asked officials of an affiliated organization, the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, to consider whether their organization can fill the void left by the network.
The alliance formed in 2008 as a partnership between Beaufort and Jasper counties.
Job training also will be crucial, officials said.
The Bluffton Town Council voted Tuesday to set up a nonprofit organization that will work with Clemson University to oversee an incubator for startup technology companies.
The Town of Hilton Head Island recently approved an agreement with the University of South Carolina Beaufort to create a new center for programs run by USCB's College of Hospitality Management. The center would focus on special-events production, volunteerism and training hospitality workers.
USCB also offers a computational-science course that will eventually focus on aeronautics so that it might service Boeing's aircraft-assembly plant in North Charleston, Gulfstream in Savannah and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort after the arrival of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Chancellor Jane Upshaw said.
"Funding is always a challenge. We work to be creative by finding appropriate federal dollars," she said. "A way forward is to have a state pot institutions could competitively seek to grow needed degree programs that are focused on economic development."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.