Monday, March 8, 2010

State won’t let the Heritage fold without a sponsor

Bluffton Today

Before I get into the topic for this week, I want to recognize some good folks from Bluffton. Larry and Judith Hughes have given exceptional service in a number of civic capacities in Bluffton and Beaufort County over the years. They were up in Columbia last week on behalf of the Clemson Extension Service, with which they have a long and productive history. Always good to see Larry and Judith.

I want to give you the facts with regard to the Heritage Classic Foundation and a bill put before the Ways and Means Committee at my request by a friend of Beaufort County, Rep. Brian White from Anderson.

By proviso, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT) may access the borrowing capacity of the Insurance Reserve Fund to create, if needed, a $10 million revolving line of credit to insure the viability of the Heritage Golf Tournament.

This capability is a backstop to protect one of our state’s high-producing assets in case the recession runs on longer than anticipated. It provides the Heritage Classic Foundation and the PGA greater flexibility in securing appropriate corporate sponsorship after the current sponsor’s commitment expires after 2011. To be sure, the likelihood that we will need to create this line of credit is almost vanishingly remote, but the economic importance to our community and region of this event is so profound we must have a plan in place to address even an unlikely contingency.

To put some numbers on this, let me distill a study done by PRT and Clemson University in 2006. The numbers are pretty impressive. The total direct expenditures by non-resident spectators of the Heritage were just under $70 million, for a total impact to the local economy of around $80 million. There were 1,250 jobs directly attributable to the tournament, with presumably several multiples of that in ancillary and supporting businesses. The state revenue from the tournament was around $6 million, not counting what came indirectly from ancillary and supporting businesses.

In addition, the Heritage is the grandest, most effective and most efficient vehicle for showing off our incredible Lowcountry to, literally, the rest of the world. It multiplies the impact of all our other marketing to a degree that almost defies quantification.

Needless to say, I was more than a little surprised at the pushback on this. As a businessman, the idea of leaving our highest performing asset uninsured or without a hedge is somewhere between imprudent and unthinkable. My original idea was to tap 30 percent to 50 percent of the direct state revenue on the tournament to maintain and insure the viability of the asset. That will be a fight for next year.

In summary, we have inserted a proviso into the budget that will allow PRT, under certain circumstances, to extend a line of credit to support the viability of the Heritage golf tournament. This is not a line item. It takes no dollars from education or Disability and Special Needs. It is simply a contingency plan to protect one of the big engines of out local and state economy.

If you are unsure how this works, please call or e-mail and I will be glad to share details. As with most of my legislative agenda, it is about jobs, the economy and keeping more of our tax dollars in the Lowcountry.