Monday, July 13, 2009

Kudos to leaders in our arts community and port creation

Bluffton Today

Before we get on to the promised port news, I’d like to say a few things about my favorite topic, that is, of course, job creation and economic development in Beaufort County and particularly in Bluffton. This time we’ll add an artistic twist to my regular commentary.

The art community in the Lowcountry is especially well represented in Old Town Bluffton. As a consequence, much of the business activity in our neighborhood is either directly or indirectly related to the arts. The Sippin Cow and May River Grill are packed daily with visitors here to see art, antiques, and our gorgeous natural landscape.

The schools in our area have done their part in not only fostering an appreciation for the arts in our local graduates, but also serve as an incubator for new artists. Randalyn Clabaugh and Tim Holsinger, the chairs of the art departments of Hilton Head and Bluffton High, respectively, continue to do a great job of launching the creative careers of talented young folks.

Many years before there was, however, a new Bluffton High, with its great facilities, there was art teacher Betty Hopson and her less than well equipped classroom in what is now Calhoun Station, in the municipal building that was formerly part of McCracken High School. Long since retired, Ms. Hopson’s tireless efforts prepared the ground for much of what has transpired in the Old Town.

Now, one of Betty Hopson’s star students, her daughter Rebecca (Hopson) Perrenoud, is returning to Bluffton and opening Rebecca Perrenoud Design in the Calhoun Street Promenade. The new business will specialize in faux finishes as well as murals and custom paint effects. With this excellent new addition to the Bluffton art community, the primary driver of our local economy just picked up a little more steam.

Now for the promised port business. The best news lately is the hiring of Jim Newsome as the new CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority. Jim replaces Bernie Groseclose in the job and will begin work officially on the first of September.

My friend and Bluffton neighbor Doug Robertson was a key member of the Ports Authority Board that provided the leadership and the business savvy in, first of all, coming up with over a hundred qualified applicants for this job. Doug also was involved in the lengthy interview process that culminated in what is being hailed as an excellent hire.

For those of us who know Doug, the fact that he assumed leadership of this crucial task as one of his first assignments upon accepting the board appointment is no surprise. His career with several Fortune 500 companies provides numerous examples of Doug Robertson stepping up when critical needs demanded his very polished skill set. We are fortunate to have him representing Bluffton and South Carolina in a position where job creation in the transportation sector is a primary metric of success.

I am a member of the Savannah River Maritime Commission, and as such, will be working closely with Doug and the rest of the South Carolina Ports Authority on the new Jasper Port. There are a number of potentially thorny issues to be hashed out regarding the configuration of the new port relative to the existing Savannah port, especially as it involves the proposed deepening of the channel to accommodate the larger ships that will want to call after the widening of the Panama Canal.

Next week, I will try to explain some of this controversy, as well as give you a little more on what the Maritime Commission does and who is involved.