A more diversified local economy could be on the horizon

Last Call

There are hundreds of small business owners in the Lowcountry, solo entrepreneurs, family-run organizations, larger companies with management teams and even some that have boards.

Together, they drive the vast majority of our economy since we don’t have government branches, military bases and only a few institutions that provide employment in our region. Most cater to local needs but some do the inverse, meaning they are located here but their customer base is not local.

The word entrepreneur can be traced back to the French word “entreprendre,” which simply means to undertake, to commit oneself and to begin.

The beginning is usually the easy part of starting a business. Where it gets a lot stickier is building a sustainable business and seeing it through to its full promise.

Twenty years ago, being an entrepreneur in Bluffton or Hilton Head Island was a much more difficult prospect than it is today. What has changed is that the Internet now gives us access to information, technology, resources, vendors and customers in ways that have overcome the geographic and intellectual isolation of the past. Building a good team was a major obstacle and continues to be a challenge today, but the growth of the area now attracts a more diverse talent pool and the lure of living in the South makes it possible to attract key people to move to our area. The Hilton Head Island/ Savannah International Airport now offers direct flights to major cities, and the University of South Carolina Beaufort campus along with the new Technical College of the Lowcountry facility offer learning experiences that just two decades ago were simply not available. The Don Ryan Center for Innovation and the Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corporation start to serve as resource centers for startup companies and for entrepreneurs that are thinking of relocating to the Lowcountry.

Four things that would help to accelerate independent business growth:
  • More affordable housing options both on- island and off-island
  • A state-of-the-art fiber optics network
  • Reliable cellphone service everywhere
  • Networking existing capital and know-how resources with local entrepreneurship

Much still needs to be done if we want to further diversify and strengthen our local economy and attract businesses that do not depend on tourism, retirement and second homeownership.

There are plenty of existing case studies that prove that affordable housing has long-lasting economic benefits Diverse housing options to rent or buy attracts young families that become a productive part of our employment base. How else are we going to attract teachers, nurses, IT talent and business owners if our cost of living does not stay competitive?

A state-of-the-art fiber optics network is simply a must if we want to have any chance to attract companies that are doing business in the “connected economy.”

In a mobile society, doing business around the clock a reliable cell network that works everywhere is a must — not a luxury.

Finally, there is plenty of capital and tons of know-how in the Lowcountry due to our large retirement base that have brought their wealth and business experience with them, but these valuable resources are only marginally connected with the local entrepreneurial activities. The four measures listed above are not going to become reality without facilitation by town councils and city planners.

Making them a priority on the agenda, offering incentives and making bold decisions would make it compelling for the companies that provide these services to build this infrastructure. This would go a long way to building a reputation for being a “hot” place to start a business, facilitate business relocation and would keep existing entrepreneurs with major growth plans from having to consider moving away to more vibrant cities like Savannah, Charleston or Charlotte. There is nothing new here on the agenda; the Mayor’s Vision Task Force identifie all of these points several years back. If we want progress, we need to move from being the “Slow Country” to being the “Progressive Country.”

The advantages of having a more diversified economy can best be illustrated by looking back at the recession of 2008-2009 which felt more like a depression in southern Beaufort County because tourism and real estate took a major dip during that time from which we are staring to recover only several years later. A vibrant and diversifie.

Lowcountry economy improves the quality of life for all. I’m confident that we can make it happen if we start with the end goal in mind.


Please send your comments to mfrey@freymedia.com. I would like to get your feedback on this idea.