Hilton Head's econmy might finally get moving

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Hilton Head's econmy might finally get moving

Published Wednesday, November 28, 2012   |  513 Words  |  

Perhaps a focused approach and aggressive marketing would bring new businesses to Hilton Head Island and make it more likely existing businesses will be revitalized.

We won't know until it's tried, and some action certainly would be welcome over perennial talk about how to reinvigorate Hilton Head's economy.

Town Council voted last week to create an economic development corporation, governed by a volunteer board and led by a full-time director.

The group would be supported by town staff and accountable to Town Council, which set aside $80,000, plus benefits, in its budget for a new full-time economic development position.

The proposal gets to some specifics, but a lot is still up in the air. Who would serve on the nonprofit's board, administrative costs and other details haven't been determined. A timeline for creating the corporation also hasn't been set.

As described last week, the nonprofit organization would become the lead manager and deal-maker for local businesses interested in growing and those wanting to come to Hilton Head. It would coordinate with Beaufort County, the state, the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, the chamber of commerce and the Realtors Association.

The new organization would focus specifically on attracting finance and insurance businesses and health and social services, two sectors that grew in dollar volume and annual share of the local economy from 2007 to 2010, according to a study University of South Carolina Beaufort hospitality management professor John Salazar.

That same study showed the largest drops in share of the local economy came in the real estate and construction sectors due to the recession, a finding that is hardly surprising given the boom-and-bust aspects of those sectors. The study also showed that economic sectors related to tourism (accommodations, food services, retail trade and arts and entertainment) held steady as a share of the local economy in that time frame.

Still, the real estate decline is all the more troubling given its historical links to tourism and the second-home market. Salazar also reports a long-term decline in tourism revenue.

The mayoral committee that recommended creating the economic development nonprofit writes in its report that while the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce focuses on tourism marketing, there is no apparent focus on the second-home or retiree segments. The new nonprofit could play a role there.

Given the very common transition from island visitor to island resident, we'd like to see more discussion about leveraging the chamber's tourism marketing and its potential role in marketing to retirees and second-home buyers. The town should get the most it can from the more than $1 million it sends to the chamber each year for tourism marketing.

But that is just one of many issues to address. The committee report also cites other issues inhibiting businesses, such as limited wireless services and few direct flights linking Hilton Head to larger markets.

We look forward to the broad outline getting filled in and to seeing concrete steps replace abstract debate.