Island Packet: Hilton Head Economic Development Board Wants to Triple its Budget

March 25, 2014

Diana J. P. McKenzie

By Dan Burley, as published in the Island Packet

A Town of Hilton Head Island economic development board wants to triple its budget so that it can attract cutting-edge businesses and younger residents to the area, members said Tuesday.

The publicly-funded Economic Development Corporation is asking for nearly $450,000 from the town for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1. It received about $150,000 this fiscal year.

As everyone knows in business, sometimes you have to spend money to make money,” board member and Savannah attorney Diana J. P. McKenzie said.

Formed last spring, the corporation works to lure growing companies, particularly health care and technology firms, to the island.

Board members plan to use the money to pay for operations, including a web-based marketing campaign, business-scouting trips, and finding and hiring an executive director, according to town documents. The funds would also pay for office space for the nonprofit organization.

The board’s chairman, Tom Upshaw, president of Palmetto Electric Cooperative, said he was “acutely aware” the corporation was asking for public money and would handle it prudently.

“We know there will eventually be a day of political reckoning,” when the corporation’s worth is judged, board member and Hilton Head businessman Carlton Dallas said.

Town officials said they weren’t surprised by the corporation’s budget request and seemed to support it.

“We set out on this course for a reason — because there was a need,” Mayor Drew Laughlin said. “There will certainly be a numbers discussion, but I don’t think anybody should be shocked.”

Some asked that the board produce measurables to compare what the town pays with what it receives.

Councilman Bill Harkins suggested keeping track of measures such as the number of younger residents and new, non-tourism-related businesses that are brought to the island.

Nearly $225,000 of the proposed budget would go to the salary and benefits of the to-be-determined director and full-time assistant, documents show. The board plans to hire a director by mid-July.

Councilman John McCann said he feared that number could go up if the prospective director receives a counteroffer from a current employer or wants a relocation package.

It could be closer to $600,000, he said.

Laughlin said it’s not a question of whether the town can fund it, but of “making choices” to decide what other items it will not pay for.

The corporation is worth it, Councilwoman Kim Likins said.

“This is vital,” she said. “We know we’ve continued to lose businesses, and we need to improve our tax base.”

Council will review the request when it completes next year’s budget in late May.

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