Monday, August 30, 2010

Coastline retreat vital to economy

Bluffton Today

A couple of weeks ago, I referenced a report commissioned by the state that had to do with the future of coastal South Carolina. The report was a reprise of an earlier manifesto that was a grand master plan to retreat from the ocean’s edge.

In the intervening decades, the “retreat” policy is in shambles — a result of court rulings, development patterns that depend on subsidized flood insurance, and regulatory factors that avoided political battles. The recent report is a testament to the fact that ignoring problems does not make them go away.

Most of my time last week was spent in Myrtle Beach in consultation with members of the Coastal Caucus and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

We wrestled with many of the issues that are going to need solution in the very near term. Some of these matters have to do with where the setback lines need to be drawn, and by extension, what are the reasonable, rational and enforceable criteria for drawing those lines. A number of our neighbors from Fripp Island all the way to South Beach in Sea Pines have more than a passing interest in what eventually is decided.

The other major topic of consideration was tourism, particularly coastal tourism. Most observers think that we received a bump in visitor numbers from the distress in the Gulf. The stats are not in yet but the educated speculation seems to indicate we benefited to a measurable degree from the oilrig disaster. How do we protect ourselves from environmental degradation that would place us next year, or the year after, in the position of our friends along the northern Gulf of Mexico?

In Beaufort County, we are also facing the very real possibility that the Heritage golf tournament could disappear, along with tens of millions of dollars in potential business activity, millions of dollars in state and local revenues, and even millions of dollars in charitable contributions.

In my view, the loss of a flagship tourism generator like the Heritage is certainly not a tragedy of the magnitude of the Gulf oil spill, but the economic consequences for our area could be very similar.

Throughout my business life, one of the guiding axioms of success has been this: Don’t let the struggle to attract new customers interfere with good service to your current patrons. Tourism is the economic lifeblood of the South Carolina economy. We cannot let that escape our constant attention. No matter how hard I try to attract new businesses to our state, I always know that what supports the bulk of our families is tourism. It just so happens that “clean and green” also makes us more attractive to a large spectrum of companies looking to relocate.

In this time of retrenchment when there are some folks who want to redefine the core functions of state government to maintaining “minimally adequate” education and passable roads, I believe we need to take a longer view. My conversations this last week were heartening in the sense that most of the members understand that we are in a temporary fiscal bind, but the key is to plan for a sound recovery by cutting judiciously, with an eye toward increased efficiency and productivity.

We may ultimately have some success at having development retreat from the ocean, especially in recognition of the massive cost associated with sustaining the unsustainable. We cannot, in my view, retreat from our responsibility to protect and preserve those natural features that support both our economy and quality of life.