The emerging power metro area with Southern charm

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SAVANNAH – HARDEEVILLE - BLUFFTON/HILTON HEAD ISLAND - BEAUFORT

25 years ago, when I predicted that the Savannah, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island triangle would grow into a cohesive population and commerce center, most people looked at me with disbelief.

This was at a time when the Savannah airport was a one-story terminal with only a handful of flights arriving and most things were still done by hand. (SAV is currently offering direct flights to 13 different cities). Driving to the island was via a twolane winding road covered with a canopy of trees. Somewhere on the right there was Bluffton, which was a small, quaint little town that mostly went unnoticed.

Today it is much easier to see what is happening. As one drives through Bluffton and continues on toward the bridge to Savannah, one can feel how Bluffton and Hardeeville are pushing toward the Georgia border. On the other side of the river, one can witness how Savannah and Pooler are expanding by taking the airport exit on Interstate 95, where you’ll discover a newly-built area full of shopping malls, restaurants and apartment buildings. This all happened relatively quickly in a few short years.

Sure, there is still a river and a state line that divide us geographically, and the Broad River has culturally divided Beaufort and Hilton Head Island for a long time, but today and in the future, state and county lines don’t matter as much. The population growth, not just in the U.S. but internationally, is happening along metropolitan corridors. As an example, Istanbul is on two different continents (Europe and Asia); the Seattle/Vancouver area is in two different countries, and when driving from Palm Beach through Fort Lauderdale to Miami, one is never quite sure when one city ends and the new one begins.

Job opportunities, intellectual centers, arts, sports and wealth all tend to congregate in these fluid metropolitan areas. This is where the energy is and the future is being shaped.

I’m not predicting that our area will become the next Charlotte or Jacksonville, but all counties are predicting solid population growth.

Combined, we are around the 500,000 mark, rivaling the greater Charleston area, and there is enough room (geographically) to double that over the next few decades. So we could start thinking about the “Southern Triangle” as an emerging 1 million metropolitan center, which puts a whole new perspective on our area, but also necessitates a whole new way of longterm planning that requires cooperation across state and county lines. Growth is going to happen no matter what, the only question is do we get ahead of it and plan the infrastructure in such a way as to accommodate a smart transition from the “Slow Country” to the “New South”?

THE EMERGING SOUTHERN POWER TRIANGLE:

Population: 500,000 and growing (800,000-plus within a 100-mile radius from Hilton Head)
Overnight visitors: 8 million-plus
Major Universities: 6, with a combined student population of 30,000
Military bases: 2
Major hospitals: 6
Airport passengers: 2 million-plus
Shipping port: 4th largest (and fastest growing) container port in the U.S. Estimated number of businesses: 20,000-plus

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