Monday, November 30, 2009

Bluffton's eatery scene should be a statewide model for success

Bluffton Today

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I know our clan sure did. It is surely a blessing to have a national celebration dedicated to giving thanks. We are almost compelled by the nature of the holiday to conduct a personal inventory of those things that give our lives meaning and worth. For Mary and I, most of our thanksgiving is about family and friends, and despite our rough patches, the scale is always weighted toward the plus side.

The Humane Society benefit oyster roast put on by my pals Russell and Shannon of Captain Woody’s was an out of the park home run. These fellows know how to create a fun event, whether it is for a great cause like the Humane Society or simply you and a couple of friends having lunch outside at the Promenade, enjoying a warm winter Bluffton day.

You may have noticed that Captain Woody’s is only one of a whole raft of great places to eat in Old Town Bluffton. Cork’s Wine Bar is expanding and Ted Huffman’s Bluffton Barbeque is finally open and doing a great business, as is the May River Grill, next to Stock farm Antiques on May River Road. Pepper’s Porch, Squat and Gobble, and Sippin’ Cow are all doing well and filling their particular niche. Mi Tierra, Downtown Deli, and the new Bluffton CafĂ©, along Mellichamp just to the north of the Promenade are all prospering. To this we now add the new Cottage Bakery and Tea Room on Calhoun Street at the Carson Cottages.

These successful businesses are the result of all the effort put into preserving and protecting the historic assets of Bluffton, encouraging and supporting the vibrant art and gallery presence in the old town, as well as keeping the historic district a pleasant and interesting place to live. We have reached a point where all the parts of this economic machine are working in concert with one another. The result is a flood of visitors from Savannah, Beaufort, and Hilton Head, not to mention those folks from beyond the Lowcountry eager to see what all the buzz is about. These visitors are enjoying their time with us, and contributing to the general prosperity of the Old Town district.

To me, this is a model of how business can benefit from the activity of government. The municipal and county governments have created reasonable zoning, an enforceable code, environmental protection and law enforcement, while the state helps with road improvement and general connectivity. All this so the private sector can exercise entrepreneurial creativity to produce jobs and a mutual reinforcing structure of prosperity.

It works in Bluffton because we got the balance between the private and public roles pretty much right.

There is enough regulation so that private investment is secure but not so much that it is bound up in excessive red tape and gratuitous regulatory complexity. To be sure, there are still examples of infuriating delays and redundant and excessive paperwork in starting and operating businesses in Bluffton. However, on the whole, it works.

We had a leadership meeting last week in Charleston at which this topic was front and center. How can we get the balance between public and private necessities as finely tuned as we have in Old Town Bluffton? How can we cut the red tape that seems to stifle our economic productivity? If you have short concise, stories that bear on this issue, email them to me. I am assembling a presentation to support the need for a blue-ribbon study group. You can help.