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The reason many businesses have left Hilton Head Island is not zoning, but the decreasing retiree population that created the boom years.
Charles Fraser had a simple game plan: identify buyers (moderate-income retirees), design a product responding to their needs (moderate-cost golf communities), then market in the populated Midwest. Thousands flocked to the island and created an exploding construction business. That created hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs. For every new resident, it takes five workers to satisfy his needs.
The plan's success created a huge demand for property. Rapidly increasing costs resulted -- supply and demand. Rising lot costs and bigger houses resulted in a product that moderate-income buyers no longer could afford. Construction declined -- reducing businesses and jobs on the island -- while mainland opportunities increased. Tourism replaced the development engine created by the moderate-income retiree.
It is not possible to re-create this buyer. A better solution is to follow Fraser's example. Hilton Head should assess its many assets, create products that take advantage of them and market them to the right buyers. Expensive lots and huge vacation homes are desired by the wealthy and do not support local services.
The ever-expanding tourism business, especially eco-tourism, can be very profitable and creates hundreds of businesses and jobs. If Hilton Head takes advantage of its many assets, it will become a world-renowned resort, much like Cape Cod, Sea Island and the Hamptons, and will continue as "that refuge from the commonplace."