The State of Bluffton

Lisa-Sulka-blufftonAs with our personal lives, it is important to take time to stop, reflect and focus on who we are, what we do and where we want to go. As a town, that was our task in the beginning of 2014 as Bluffton developed a brand for itself.  

Beyond the marketing benefits of a new brand, the process also reminded each of us why we do what we do and gave us a philosophy which guides Bluffton forward in each project and policy.

That process crystalized the mission of Bluffton to further evolve our town into a progressive, innovative municipality, while never losing sight of our town’s historic, artistic and coastal culture. As in our personal lives, when we are clear about our intentions, it’s amazing how other people’s focus also becomes clearer.

This year produced an unprecedented wave of national media attention, awards and accolades.  Our town also enjoys a collective community pride which any town or city could envy. It feels great to be on  a winning team.

As you may recall, Bluffton’s land mass has skyrocketed from one-square mile to 54-square miles in the last 15 years due to annexation. mAs the fifth largest town in South Carolina, our current phase of growth involves preserving the best of the past as we carefully craft our future. One of our main objectives is to better self-direct our economic future as we attract clean, diverse industries.

During the branding process, one of the research professors said he had facilitated this process in countless cities and he had never experienced a place that was “so in love with itself.” He continued that the love was “an inclusive love; it’s like y’all are drinking your own Kool-Aid as you pour another cup for someone else to try.”  We are a lucky people to experience this kind of affection for our town. We have enjoyed this year’s successes as a community and we couldn’t be more proud.

Below is a list of this year’s accomplishments and successes. I thank each of you who had a part in our progress.

  • Branding: Implemented “Bluffton: Heart of the Lowcountry” as the town’s new brand. This one message resonates with three audiences. For locals, it describes our collective love for Bluffton. For visitors, Bluffton’s culture represents the best of coastal living. Our location is also the artery to Hilton Head Island, Beaufort and Savannah.  For prospective businesses, it emphasizes that we are strategically located for business needs (i.e. near larger cities, transportation hubs, etc.) while offering employees a high quality of life. For the record, the former slogan, a Bluffton “State of Mind,” will always be a part of us. However, our new brand is more understandable to those discovering us for the first time as a resident or business.
  • Wharf Street Redevelopment Project: This project transformed a blighted neighborhood with abandoned structures into an affordable housing project located within the Historic District.  This collection of coastal cottages has won numerous awards. The Municipal Association of South Carolina awarded this project an Achievement Award. The South Carolina State Housing, Finance and Development Authority awarded Bluffton the “Palmetto Forum Affordable Housing Achievement Award,” for making a significant impact on the affording housing industry in South Carolina.
  • National Media:  “Southern Living” magazine, August 2014, awarded the Wharf Street Project the “Best Community Revitalization” award. The magazine also chose Palmetto Bluff for the location of the Southern Living 2014 Idea House. The Idea House is expected to attract more than 22,000 people; tours are available June through December 2014. Family Circle Magazine, June 2014, profiled the Toomer family and its Oyster Factory business. Larry Toomer is also a member of Town Council.
  • Police Department/Community Outreach:  A young officer established a mentoring program between officers and elementary school students. Together with the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton, the police department has also established an active Explorer Program for students interested in law enforcement. The department also held its inaugural National Night Out in early August as a venue to get to know their neighbors better as they promote public safety programs.
  • The Don Ryan Center for Innovation: As the state’s first business incubator in a non-metropolitan area of the state, the center has graduated eight companies and added $660,800 in annual payroll to our local economy. The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce recently awarded the center a $100,000 grant to further its innovation programs.
  • Financial management: Standard & Poor’s rating services recently upgraded the town’s bond rating to AA+, the second-highest rating for a municipality. The Government Finance Officers Association continually honors our Finance Department for its award-winning budget, comprehensive annual financial report and other publications.
  • Oyster Season: Begins in September and a fresh oyster from the May River is always a sign of our success.

Lisa Sulka is mayor of Bluffton.