Monday, August 31, 2009

It's not a joke: Good jobs are coming back

Bluffton Today

I want to thank all the many of you who supported me and my family with your kind wishes and prayers during the passing of my father. While his death was not unexpected, the finality of losing a parent is something of a shock.

I was also somewhat unprepared for the tremendous outpouring of sympathy and condolence from not only our Lowcountry and Columbia friends, but from around the state, as well. Together, we were privileged to celebrate the life of a good man who loved his wife, took care of his family, fought hard for his country, and always did his best to make his place in the world better than he found it. We are grateful and will not forget.

Today at 10 a.m., the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation will meet in Beaufort. My friend, Weston Newton, chairman of County Council, has graciously invited us to make use of council chambers for our meeting. At the present time, we are scheduled to hear from my friend Joe Harden, chairman of the South Carolina Highway Commission, as well as Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and Acting Bluffton Town Manager Mark Orlando.

Much of last week, I was in Myrtle Beach for not only the Republican Caucus meeting but the Coastal Caucus as well. We have a special session coming up in October and there are quite a number of matters that need sorting out. Unfortunately, I was the only member of the delegation that could attend for the full event. I was, however, in touch with Rep. Shannon Erickson, the other effective member of our House delegation.

A few weeks ago, I made some bold statements in this column about our part of the Lowcountry leading the state out of recession. I referenced the new businesses opening in the Old Town as examples of an improved economic environment that was likely to be a bellwether for the region and the state.

The statements did not pass without notice or comment, mostly skeptical, from several of you who emailed to question my motives and my sanity. I’m happy to report that two weeks after my predictions, the feds essentially confirmed my speculations at the national level. Now, we have new numbers from the state employment security folks reporting a significant improvement in state and local employment. It’s not a great number, but it is a better number.

Also, just within the last few days, the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce reports that occupancy figures around the county are improving, as are a whole host of metrics they follow.

People are finding those good jobs. Entrepreneurs are creating jobs. They may not be dream jobs in every case, but they may be two jobs removed from that dream job. Right now, Rea Construction, from Beaufort, has more than twenty people resurfacing the roads out in Moss Creek. A paycheck is so much better on so many levels than an unemployment check.

Friends, when I go to these meetings or conferences, the one thing at the top of my mind is jobs. How can I make my state, or my county, or my district, so attractive to good companies, they will just have to locate here? This, of course, involves sensible tax policy, fair and understandable regulation, good schools, and a clean and healthy environment among the many things that are important to the type of businesses we want to attract.

Good jobs make for strong families. My dad taught me that. He didn’t simply tell me, he showed me. He lived it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

'Waste not, want not' should be encouraged

Bluffton Today

I want everyone to know that Monday, August 31, will be the legislative meeting for the delegation. The meeting will be in Beaufort County and if you wish to be on the agenda, please call the legislative office and let Ashley know your contribution or requirement. I expect this will be a long and productive meeting and I look forward to hearing directly from you on the issues we are either working on or should be working on.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking before the Green Building Association of Beaufort County. These are a great bunch of folks who are generally leading the building industry into what will be a more appropriate model of prosperity in a resource challenged economic environment. Super efficient insulation and systems combined with new ways of using materials are revolutionizing how we build and power our homes and businesses.

The meeting was held at Corks in the Promenade and was hosted by Pat and Ron Strimpfel, long-time Blufftonians and owners of an innovative company called Preservation by Design. Headquartered in Bluffton, Preservation by Design does some pretty interesting things, not the least of which is taking down old factories and warehouses and using the recycled materials in structures they design/build. You have seen their work in the Garden Gate building on Highway 46 near the 4-way stop.

They recently completed Captain Woody’s Restaurant and are nearing completion of Ted Huffman’s Barbeque Shack. Not only are these some extraordinary buildings, they are made largely from materials that would have probably been hauled to the landfill.

Essentially, they have taken what might have been “waste” that would have been expensive to haul away, and turned it into valuable and distinctive materials that have added value to the new structures into which they were deployed.

One of the things that I really like about this business model is that it is something we in Bluffton have already been doing for generations. Repurposing buildings and reusing materials is just the way things were always done. Matt Taylor’s architecture studio was originally a department store. Jacob Preston’s pottery business is housed in what was once a church. The two art cooperatives on Calhoun Street are in structures that were once government housing on Hilton Head Island during WW2. The list goes on.

By extension, this business model also illustrates one of the bedrock principles of pragmatic conservatism: Value, in all its forms, should be preserved, conserved, and, when appropriate, adapted. This applies equally to the durable wisdom embedded in our constitutional framework and to the 12 by 12 timbers in the old hunting lodge at Palmetto Bluff. It applies to the conservation ethos expressed as “waste not, want not” as it does to the implanted heart that now beats in the chest of our friend George Moody.

With this in mind, I have proposed, and will introduce as legislation, a tax credit to apply to the use of certain reclaimed and reused building materials. While government is not appropriately in the business of choosing winners and losers in the marketplace, it is appropriate for government to reward those business practices that generally reflect positively on societal as well as bottom-line values. This is a proposal that is a win for consumers, for business, as well as posterity.

I will report the particulars as they evolve.

Monday, August 17, 2009

'Green and clean' and good business go together

Bluffton Today

Thanks to all of you who emailed or called with words of support on the clerk of court matter. I am especially grateful to the lawyering community for their overwhelming approval of my handling of this unfortunate situation. Last week’s column, in my view, answered all the concerns that might reasonably be held. Apparently, the more serious and sober among us agreed with the wisdom of the plan and the need for its expeditious execution.

As you read this, I am in Winston-Salem, NC, at the Southern Legislative Conference. I came up Sunday and will likely be here until Tuesday. As much as I dislike giving up a Sandbar Sunday with my family and Bluffton friends, this conference is such a great opportunity to meet with business concerns that might be considering an expansion or relocation, I just can’t miss it. You may be tired of hearing me go on and on about the necessity of attracting quality companies to our area. Companies that offer good jobs to support Bluffton families. You might, however, feel differently if you needed one of those jobs, or one of your children had to move away in search of one of those jobs.

In a somewhat related vein, I recently got a congratulatory letter from an outfit called BIPEC. BIPEC is the South Carolina Business and Industry Political Education Committee. These are folks that push for legislation that they perceive as friendly to business and industry. BIPEC has a complicated calculus for determining if a particular legislator is “business friendly” or not. They do this by comparing a district’s expectation score with a metric involving a particular legislator’s voting record. I said it was complicated, didn’t I? Well, the upshot of the deal is that your legislator more than doubled their expectation score, apparently an unprecedented event.

I was, of course, grateful for the recognition, especially since I had also been named “Legislator of the Year” by the South Carolina Conservation Voters, as reported to you in a previous column. Can one person be acknowledged by a business and industry group, as well as by one of the state’s premier environmental groups? What does this mean?

What I think it means is this: In order for our state to advance, we must all realize that good business is “green and clean” business. A conservation ethos already is part of the DNA of all forward-looking companies and corporations. It is a way of tracking and managing the true costs of doing business that separate the success stories of the future from the cautionary tales of the past.

It is also recognition of the fact that for too long, we have been told that we have to choose between jobs and a clean and healthy place to live and work. In the old days, an industry might ignore the true cost of doing business by simply dumping waste into a river that carried it out of sight. There were costs, but they were not borne by that industry. No more. The new model of good business is to take that “waste” and convert it into a valuable product that adds to the bottom line.

Next week, I will tell you about an innovative company in Bluffton that is doing just that. You will also hear how your representative is trying to incentivize other companies to create similar business models.

Monday, August 10, 2009

'My job was to make the call and I made it'

Bluffton Today

The ruckus over the replacement of the clerk of court was a big story last week. There was a lot of commentary that seemed to simply rise from the steamy summer plough mud. Even the usually astute editorial board of Bluffton Today managed to wander off into the weeds on this one. Here’s the real story:

One of the well-documented features of Beaufort County is the fact that we are blessed with outstanding law enforcement, as well as an exceptional judicial system. “Sheriff of the Year” PJ Tanner and Solicitor Duffie Stone are both experienced public servants who enjoy excellent reputations for efficiency and fairness. The court has recently completed implementation of a new high-tech case management system that prompted Chief Justice Jean Toal to personally commend the Beaufort County Clerk of Court for her role in the project.

Unfortunately, that same Clerk of Court resigned abruptly last week with the commencement of an investigation into financial impropriety in the Clerk’s office.

Our shock and disappointment was short lived as the urgency of finding an interim replacement became more apparent. While Probate Judge Frank Simon, by law, took over the job temporarily, he made it clear to me that he would do what was required but the extra assignment would burden his office.

As both Senator Davis and I were out of town, I asked Rep. Shannon Erickson to be the point person on the preliminary search. She was to consult with the Sheriff and the Solicitor to begin a list of possible candidates. Prudence dictated that current members of the Clerk’s office not be considered as the investigation was ongoing and staff might be placed in a compromising position if called as witnesses.

As these things sometimes work out, the list turned out to be short, because the Sheriff and Solicitor, as well as a good selection of lawyers, all suggested the same candidate. My conversations with Rep. Erickson, Sheriff Tanner, Solicitor Stone, and later on, Senator Davis convinced me that we had our recommendation for the governor. Rep. Erickson and I then attempted to bring the rest of the delegation up to speed. Summer is vacation time and our efforts initially resulted in a lot of phone tag. I subsequently returned all the calls I received from delegation members, and all but one of those with whom I spoke were in agreement with the original finding.

An apparent source of confusion was that some folks thought this was a delegation decision-- it was not. My charge, as delegation chairman, was to seek the best and most authoritative advice, and make a recommendation to the governor based on my findings. Any members of the delegation, or members of the public, for that matter, were free to also recommend anyone they liked. My attempts to include the rest of the delegation were more about courtesy, and less about a required consensus.

Last Friday, the governor endorsed my decision and acted upon our recommendation. Our local court was made whole in a prudent and timely fashion.

Most of the time, my job is to listen to you and represent the collective wisdom of the good folks of Beaufort County. In this case, my charge was to seek the particular wisdom of seasoned public servants to replace a vital cog in the machinery of justice in our community. The task was time sensitive, as Judge Simon had helped me understand. My job was to make the call and I made it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lead by example, not rhetoric

Bluffton Today

The Conservation Voters of South Carolina is a bipartisan advocacy organization that seeks to make old-fashioned conservation values a priority for elected officials in our state.

They help us, as elected officials, to understand the necessary connection between environmental issues and the overall productivity of our state’s economy. More importantly, they provide a mechanism of accountability that fosters coherence between our political statements and our votes on key issues.

This year, your representative has been named one of the Legislators of the Year by Conservation Voters of South Carolina. We will be recognized at the Green Tie Luncheon at the Grand Hall of Historic 701 Whaley in Columbia on September 16th. Essentially what this means is that what you read in this column about the connection between jobs and a green and clean environment is also the way I vote in the House of Representatives.

It also means that what I hear from you about what you want for your county and your state is reflected in how I represent you. What you hear from me in Bluffton is what I vote for in Columbia.

The fact that I am a developer, and have been for over 20 years, makes this honor somewhat extraordinary. In the ideal world, developers should be the “greenest” folks in the country. As we see in Beaufort County, that is not always the case-- witness the runoff problems in Bluffton’s incomparable May River.

By contrast, in my latest project, the Calhoun Street Promenade, we far exceeded the Best Management Practices (BMPs) for stormwater by engineering a system to keep all our runoff on the property, as well as treating water flowing from the county recreation property to our north. In fact, one of the proposed solutions to the May River debacle is to require a version of what we did voluntarily six years ago. Friends, that is leading by example, not by rhetoric.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Bob Dixson’s Political Science class at Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL) at the New River Campus. I hope they were half as impressed with me as I was with them. They were astute, informed, and were not shy about asking hard questions. If these young folks are examples of the kind of voters we are about to have, I promise you we will get a better, more effective class of elected officials in short order. Some of Professor Dixson’s students may well be those elected officials.

With the retirement of my friend Ann McNutt from TCL, they did an exhaustive, nationwide search for a new president. That new leader is Tom Leitzel, who, by all accounts, is doing an excellent job. David Carter is the vice-president for the New River Campus. He is not only engaging and personable, he runs a tight ship. Together, these fellows have managed to weather a challenging budget environment while still accomplishing their crucial mission.

You hear me talk about jobs all the time, and how important jobs are, and how we must have good jobs to have a stable and prosperous community. The mission of TCL is to prepare motivated students for those good jobs, whatever they might be. My conversations at TCL were all the more impressive because they see their mission as not simply job training, but preparation for careers and productive citizenship.

TCL, and all of Beaufort County education, has a friend in the House of Representatives.