Wednesday, September 10, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

For those who may have followed this column for a while, you know my thinking about jobs and job creation. Decent jobs are the foundation of any community. Good jobs foster stable families, and stable families make for good neighborhoods. They require less policing, less social services, and also support good schools, not only with taxes, but parental participation.

In my work life, I have had a chain of bike shops, a bunch of brewpubs, and more than a few restaurants. I know the importance of making payroll, because those payroll dollars get spread around the community. They buy groceries, pay for health care, haircuts, clothes, and all those things we need. It is also a serious responsibility. There have been more times than I would like to remember, when I made payroll, but I didn’t get paid. That’s just the way it is sometimes.

Recently I have been approached by various entrepreneurs, wandering about the Old Town, looking at the retail and service mix, chatting with folks, and generally checking out our version of prosperity. They are doing their due diligence before making investments in new stores or shops or restaurants. One of these folks came to visit my office in the Promenade and wanted some hard numbers on how many people work in the development, has it increased recently and by how much. Of course, I didn’t have hard numbers, or even soft numbers, because my model is to create a space for a business, and then let them take care of the details. It did, however, pique my curiosity.

Consequently, I walked around the Promenade and took an informal survey, about as unscientific as it could be. I made sure not to count the construction workers, as they will be somewhere else next month. I only counted full-time employees, and part-timers, who may or may not want to be full timers. The results were startling to say the least. The overall number was around 275 to 300, but that was not really the surprise.

We have an amazing mix of people working in just our one part of Old Town Bluffton. We have 15-year-old part-timers, whose parents have allowed them to work on condition they keep their school work up. At the other end of the spectrum, there are folks in their much later years that either need to work for financial reasons, or want to work because they just want to remain a part of the real life of commerce. There are young people like Chris Epps, who, along with his wife, are entrepreneurs and business people on Calhoun Street, but his architecture office is in the Promenade. Chris grew up in Bluffton, and he is exactly where he wants to be.

Folks, we have a work force that almost exactly mirrors the demographics of our area. We have people of every age group, gender, race, or political persuasion. The truly amazing part of this is that it is a naturally occurring distribution. We are not responding to any quotas or mandates. Our business owners simply are looking for dependable people who can do a consistently good job at what they are hired to do. In my view, that’s the way to run an economy.

This week, we say “goodbye and thank you” to my friend Anthony Barrett, who is retiring after a very productive tenure as Bluffton Town Manager. There is no doubt that his successor, Marc Orlando, will carry on the good work. Marc is experienced, supremely competent, and well liked. We all have great expectations.

Next time, more on a potential big win for Jasper school parents and other stakeholders.