Monday, May 11, 2009

We're on the hunt for the 'ExonMobil of solar'

Bluffton Today

Kudos to Bluffton Rotary for the tremendous job on the Bluffton Village Festival. Miss Babbie must be proud of what has become of her creation. More reports continue to come in but from what I’ve heard, business was good and a great time was had by all.

I was out of town most of last week attending a business development conference in Florida. The conference was concerned with attracting businesses from outside the country to locate or expand to this part of the country. It was impressive to see what is out there and how much of it is a perfect fit for the Lowcountry of South Carolina, especially Beaufort and Jasper counties.

My criteria in researching these prospects have to do with whether they are on the leading edge of information, energy or transportation technologies. We need environmentally clean industries that will create not only jobs for today, but help to invent the jobs of tomorrow.

One of the businesses I was particularly interested in at the conference was a manufacturer of different solar panels and controllers for managing solar generated electricity. Not only do they currently have efficient production, they also have an incredibly robust research and development effort under way. These folks seem to have a clear vision of the post-oil economy and want to be the ExxonMobil of solar.

There are many reasons why companies with great business models and bright futures need to look closely at our area. We have low taxes, a good, available work force with a strong work ethic, as well as a location near a major transportation hub. I was impressed with them and they are interested in visiting and taking a closer look at what we have to offer.

Fortunately, not all the business creativity is going on overseas, there is much happening in our local community that is innovative, forward-looking, and run by hard headed business guys that know how to build things and turn a profit.

HybridHouse is a Bluffton company owned by Blufftonians Andy Fishkind and Roger Gump. They consult and subcontract on renovations or new commercial or residential construction to plan and produce a building that will be as close as you want to energy self-sufficiency. Using high efficiency solar panels and state of the art HVAC, insulation, and appliances, Andy and Roger put your building into the energy production business. This saves their clients a ton of money and Santee-Cooper burns less tons coal.

Incidentally, HybridHouse was the beneficiary of strategic pressure from the Beaufort County legislative delegation several sessions back to allow net metering in South Carolina. This allows you to sell back your excess power to the utility company, making solar panel installation less costly and more attractive to home and business owners, especially with the increasing federal tax benefit. Currently, SCE and G has net metering, the co-ops do not, but it’s only a matter of time before they come around.

When you hear me talk about creating a favorable business environment, this is what I’m talking about. Ideally, government helps to unlock the creativity and productivity within the private sector, not stifle it with unnecessary regulation and paperwork.

Next week, we are back in session with the post-crossover horse-trading on which bills will advance, which will go away, and which will re-emerge next time.