Vote for change

Published 8:37 pm Saturday, March 31, 2012

To the Editor:

“No tree grows to the sky.”

Beaufort County’s economy has limits. Those limits are between 5 percent and 12 percent unemployment. For decades our economy has seen unemployment fall into the region around 5 percent and then, as profitable business opportunities become harder to find and the risk in new ventures rises, firms begin to fail and unemployment begins to increase. This process will continue until unemployment moves over 10 percent.  Then retrenched businesses begin to reinvest, new firms are created and hiring begins again. Our economy is strongly cyclic. Investment undertaken when unemployment extends into the region around 12 percent will have a better outlook for success, while projects undertaken near 5 percent have the weight of history against them. The facts of life in Beaufort County’s economy are that things will get worse not better once 5 percent unemployment is reached.

The Economic Development Commission was inattentive to this dynamic and simply foolhardy in attempting its industrial park strategy in 2007 as unemployment dropped into its lower limits. There was little reason for the EDC to thrust added stimulus into the local economy. We had a $15 million hospital expansion, a $37 million school construction program and a $200 million U.S. 17 project in our immediate future.  However, in the midst of an historic private construction boom and with a record high county employment, the EDC tossed $6.5 million into the industrial parks and an additional  $2.5 million into the River Road projects without even a thought as to the consequences of a downturn in the economy.

The EDC’s executive director promoted spending millions of dollars in what have become long term idle and depreciating assets, while at the same time recommending that the city and county governments undertake millions more in loans and grant guarantees at the very time that prudence would have demanded informed investors should be reducing exposure to risk. The result of nearly $9 million being spent is less than 50 jobs created.

Again and again, the county commissioners and the governing board of the EDC have turned a blind eye to accounting discrepancies, pretentious claims of accomplishment and years without any grants originated by Mr. Thompson. EDC board members accuse critics of being “vengeful” and question the qualifications of resident taxpayers to criticize Mr. Thompson; a man who after 10 awful years flatly refuses to make Beaufort County his home.

Criticism of the EDC is pointed, but not vengeful. It is every citizen’s right to demand candid and forthright reporting concerning the spending of taxpayer resources. Our taxes are the property of the entire community. They are not the baubles of a chosen few.

On March 19,  Mr. Thompson took great pride in announcing that he was confirmed in his judgment concerning the building of Quick Start II because there were scores of other such buildings listed for sale in the region. He thus enters into investment history as the first and only seller of an asset who was pleased that the market was glutted.

Vote for change.