County, towns need to find unity for economic future

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For four years now there has been an ongoing fight over the Barnwell County Economic Development Corporation and the control of its assets - land and money - by the EDC Commission, the county and the municipalities.

Some are in favor of the EDC commission’s efforts to strategically market Barwnell County. Others believe it should be dissolved and economic development duties moved solely to SouthernCarolina Alliance, a seven-county economic development organization that includes Barnwell County. Some see value in having both organizations – the EDC and SCA – working jointly for Barnwell County. There are also probably folks who simply don’t care either way.

The issue continues to divide the county and the municipalities. The county wants control. The municipalities want a voice and a vote, particularly since much of the property resides in their community limits.

While everyone says they want only the best for Barnwell County, the situation has resulted in mistrust, lawsuits and name-calling.

A new $60,000 contract that Barnwell County Council signed with SCA, essentially moving marketing services and the EDC’s director to SCA, hasn’t helped the situation.

One point everyone seems to agree upon - the mistrust and infighting is hurting our county. Who would want to locate in a community where its leadership can’t get along and trust one another?

In the meantime, legal fees continue to mount on both sides due to lawsuits filed over the years.

Part of the conversation includes SouthernCarolina Alliance which has done nothing but provide economic development services to a (now) seven-county region. When asked by members of county council for a proposal to take over Barnwell County’s efforts, they responded with an offer which was recently accepted.

SCA has done nothing but work to make our county and region better. That’s why we’d also like to publicly thank the folks at SCA for their ongoing efforts.

The divisions aren’t over SCA’s or the EDC’s performance or which is better. Rather, they are over having a regional and/or strictly local method for marketing Barnwell County.

SCA does a fantastic job with regional economic development. They help maintain and grow the current industries while also recruiting new ones to provide more jobs for our residents, which can only help our community grow. They have also invested into Barnwell County with the SCAT Park, their headquarters, community partnerships and events. Having regional partnerships can only make us stronger and provide a louder voice. With the recent addition of Beaufort County, that voice will only get louder.

Our rural areas have a lot of challenges and struggles, particularly with lacking the financial resources of larger cities, so banding together gives us strength in numbers.

But do we do it as an EDC/SCA partner or as a SCA team member? Forcing the issue is only creating divisions.

We need unity.