When you talk with Charlie Stone, Senior Project Manager with the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation, you automatically know how deep his passion is for Beaufort County.
“I was born on Hilton Head Island and my family has been in the Lowcountry for a long time. Growing up I had the opportunity to see a lot of different parts of the country through my father’s work. I resided in Dallas, Texas for some time, as well as Washington, DC and California. What struck me throughout my time in other states was just how special the Lowcountry is. In my younger years, I would love coming back to Okatie and spending the summers with my grandpa. We would fish and go out on the boat and just spend quality time together. It was a major part of my life, and I believe that time was really instrumental in making me who I am today and developing my passion for this beautiful area that we live in,” said Charlie Stone in a recent interview.
Charlie was beyond thrilled when his family moved to Beaufort County for his senior year in high school, where he finished at Bluffton High School and then went on to University of South Carolina Beaufort and graduated in 2018 as a business major. During his college years, he knew that he wanted to get involved with the community and be engaged civically. He interned with the BCEDC during his senior year, and that was it…Charlie was hooked!
“I’ve been with John O’Toole and the BCEDC for five years now – I like to say ‘half a decade’! It’s been a great experience, and we’ve been able to accomplish some really incredible things. We’ve done $340 million in capital investment for incoming businesses, and we have brought some 1,400 new jobs to the county as well,” Charlie shared. “I have been blessed to have a mentor like John. We complement each other well. He is talented at building relationships, stakeholder support, and consensus around economic development. I really like to be in the trenches working with companies and managing their projects through the South Carolina Department of Commerce and the local processes. It is interesting work and every day is a bit different. I’m fortunate to be able to work with so many innovative companies and business owners.”
Charlie’s two main areas of focus are business recruitment and retention. He works with prospective companies on various real estate options and site selection, whether it is new construction or an existing building. Charlie also assists as a liaison between local governments and the company. “For example, if a manufacturer is looking at an existing facility and they need assistance with permitting, we can help connect them to the right folks at the county and municipal level and really hold their hand throughout the process to make it as efficient as possible,” Charlie explained. “I also work to introduce the business to the SC Department of Commerce and facilitate any state or local incentives that might be available for their new investment in Beaufort County.”
The other core function of Charlie’s job is on the business retention side, working with existing industry. He said, “Sixty-five percent of the new investment comes from companies already in the county that are growing. The BCEDC is tasked with seventy-five business retention meetings a year. I get out in the community and meet with our existing industry to find out what they’re doing, how they’re doing, and how we can help them.” One of those companies is Shellring Ale Works, now located in Port Royal but looking to expand into Beaufort. According to Managing Partner Nick Borreggine, “The BCEDC helped us in the very beginning of our business to finally open after COVID in February 2022. Now, it is great to get emails and calls from Charlie checking on us to see where we are and what we need. He offers us a high level of service, second to none.”
Another growing business Charlie has worked with is Greenline Industries, a company that manufactures high quality decorative wood veneer panels and is looking to expand their present facility. Greenline President L.D. Buerger shared that he is a resident of Savannah and worked as a Gulfstream executive until he bought the business in Beaufort last year. “I was in unfamiliar territory, and Charlie Stone welcomed me with open arms and provided a lot of hand-holding and help along the way. He introduced me to the right people at the state and local level and assisted with my receiving two grants. He pays attention to detail, has great follow-up, and is extremely personable.”
According to Charlie, another big part of business retention is helping companies find the right workforce, which he says is challenging everywhere in the U.S. The BCEDC works with many community partners to ensure that the companies have the employees they need. They work closely with the Beaufort County School District career centers and technical education teams, as well as the University of South Carolina Beaufort and Technical College of the Lowcountry.
Charlie states, “We’re not necessarily the experts in this arena, but when we have a company come in, we like to have a workforce roundtable for them. We get all the workforce partners in the same room and allow them to hear what their resources are and how those workforce resources can help their business. We get them plugged into everybody at once.”
Beaufort is also extremely fortunate to have three military installations in the area: Parris Island, the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, and the Naval Hospital. The BCEDC can track some 1,200 military members exiting their service who can be tapped for employment in the county. Charlie visits the MCAS twice a month, working with the Military Transition Assistance Team to discuss why military members should stay in Beaufort County and what employment opportunities are available, as well as meet directly with employers that are actually looking to hire them. There are numerous local companies who participate in these sessions, plus several large regional companies such as Boeing and Gulfstream.
“I think it’s a great resource,” Charlie says. “I tell employers, it’s not something where you are going to have a hundred Marines who are ready to sign up for employment. But over an extended period of time, you can start to chip away at your open positions. We play the matchmaker, one Marine at a time.”
Even though much of Charlie’s experience has been “on the job” over the past five years, he is continuing to advance his career by graduating from the South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association’s Institute, receiving an economic development certification from the University of Oklahoma, and currently working on an executive leadership certification through Cornell University. “The BCEDC board and John have continued to invest in my professional and personal development, and that means the world to me,” Charlie said.
Charlie has deep roots in this area and says, “I consider Beaufort County my home, and I would like to stay around for a very long time. I think that at the end of the day, our work at the BCEDC is about bettering the community and having an impact on our citizens by hopefully providing them a better quality of life through employment.”
Tom Rougeux, President and CEO of RX Industries, a Hilton Head company that manufactures laser parts for commercial, industrial, and military markets, says it best: “The BCEDC has been a champion for our business every step of the way. Charlie Stone is a class act and of all the people working on behalf of Beaufort County, I would put him at the top of the list. We need more Charlie Stone’s! Both he and John O’Toole are the dynamic duo and this county’s unsung heroes. We all owe them our tremendous thanks and appreciation.”