I recently had a chance to catch-up with John O’Toole, executive director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation. Here is what we discussed. – Robyn Zimmerman
Beaufort County – A Place for Business to Thrive!
It just seemed perfect, the new tagline for the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation (BCEDC) – “Good for Your Business. Good for Your Soul.” According to Executive Director John O’Toole, “It became very clear from the people who decided to live here and move their businesses here, that they found the lifestyle invigorating, peaceful, and for their companies, a ready and skilled workforce.” They also have found unparalleled support from the BCEDC team, especially Charlie Stone, who O’Toole says is one of the best economic developers in the state.
“Charlie provides a concierge level of service that is second to none. We don’t just sell to our potential prospects and then leave them. We work with our companies all along the way to help them find the ideal location and assist with whatever operational needs they might have.”
The mission of the BCEDC is to “engage key stakeholders to diversify the county’s economy, attract investments, create well-paying jobs, respecting the natural environment.” O’Toole shares that Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray says it best, our local economy is like a two-legged stool. When you look at hospitality and tourism being a $2.5 billion plus impact on the region, defense spending being a 2.6 billion impact, but a stool needs three legs. “Our job is to diversify the economy, build the tax base and give our residents opportunities for jobs that pay great wages so that they can provide for their families in a dignified way,” says O’Toole.
Why Beaufort County
Beaufort County offers potential industries low operational costs, a business-friendly environment and access to domestic and international markets through the Ports of Charleston and Savannah. The workforce is the driver in today’s economy! The BCEDC works with the University of South Carolina Beaufort, Technical College of the Lowcountry, the local school district, and the Transition Assistance Programs on area military bases to understand and meet the demand. Each year the Marine Corp Air Station and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island provide a unique workforce solution – on average over 2,100 transitioning military personnel leave the service through Beaufort County. Employers who work with the BCEDC get the opportunity to recruit these great men and women.
The BCEDC partners with the South Carolina Department of Commerce and the Southern Carolina Alliance to market to potential investors. “I think South Carolina has an excellent team approach to economic development that has allowed us to make great gains in a short period of time,” says O’Toole. In the last five and half years, the BCEDC has garnered some $330 million in investments and created or retained 1,600 jobs at an average salary of $46,000 per year. O’Toole adds, “In addition to the aforementioned partners a great deal of the credit for our success goes to our board of directors, utility partners and incumbent businesses that help us make the case to prospective investors.”
There is a lot that goes into deciding where to expand or move a business. It often takes incentives to overcome obstacles to entry and entice a company to look at the Lowcountry. We work to make it easier for a business to upfit a facility and move equipment.
“There is a lot of competition out there and so we must work as a team with the towns/city, county, state, and other economic development entities to land the deal. I am proud to say that we have been able to deliver some $15 million in incentives for recent projects.” says O’Toole. For example, “There is a parcel of land at the Beaufort Commerce Park, where a commercial laundry operation is going to invest $35.4 million and create 160 jobs. We spent $130,000 and the State Department of Commerce provided a grant of $200,000 to build a pad for the facility. This is a great example of how we leverage city, county, and state funds to get things done,” says O’Toole.
To fund the work of the BCEDC, each of the four towns – Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Port Royal contribute $40,000 apiece and the county contributes $375,000 per year. In addition, the Beaufort County Council makes available $740,000 for site development and providing job creation grants.
Annually, the U.S. Department of Commerce hosts the largest economic development trade show in the country for the attraction of foreign investments, Select USA. Recently, John O’Toole was tapped to attend the convention on behalf of BCEDC and SCA. The event provides companies from all over the world access to the U.S. markets to entice them to make foreign investments here in this country. According to O’Toole, many companies are looking to “re-shore”, which means that they have moved their operations to a lower cost area and then due to supply chain issues or even political insecurity, they are considering moving those operations back to the U.S.
The following are a few of the companies that the South Carolina team came in contact with at the trade show were: a Middle Eastern chocolate company, a tech firm from Mexico, the largest toolmaker in the world from Korea, several Turkish manufacturers, and a Hungarian drone company. Later this year, O’Toole plans on teaming up with the S.C. Department of Agriculture on a mission to Northern Europe and Scandinavia to meet with companies who are in the fishery business and high-tech vertical farming.
Marketing Beaufort County and the South Carolina Lowcountry is easy, yet it is a delicate balance.
“We have a passion for growing business, adding jobs and transforming lives. Yet it is imperative that we attract companies that will also honor our environment and this pristine land we call home.”– John O’Toole