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Challenges

May 2017Mayor David Bennett as seen in Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

I know you've had this conversation: You say, "Where are you from?" and they say, "_______________" (insert name of place, often not close by). You say, "How did you get here?" and they say, "We vacationed here and fell in love with the place, so we moved here."

For a high percentage of these people, it was probably to retire. And if it was to retire, it's most likely an active retirement, including community-oriented volunteering and outdoor activities. If it was not for retirement, then livelihoods are involved. Either way, every Islander who calls Hilton Head Island home is dependent on a certain level of services in order to enjoy the high quality of life associated with this special place—a place full of great stories about just how we each arrived here. These services that we all enjoy require a multiplicity of employees.

So far you've heard nothing you didn't already know. And here's another obvious point. In order to work here, our workers either need to be here or they need to get here. In other words we all have two fundamental challenges to address workforce availability: housing and transportation.

Is there truly a workforce shortage on the Island? Yes. Just today, there are hundreds of job opportunities listed. That's hundreds more who either need to live here or get here. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. Workers who have traveled to the Island for decades are increasingly seeking job opportunities closer to where they live. No one wants to spend more time in traffic! This trend will increase exponentially, and our supply of workers will dwindle even more with Jasper Port activity. At the same time, Island businesses are demanding more employees. This is due to the revived activity following years of a sluggish economy and making significant improvements in their assets. Schools, hospitals, Town government, Fire/Rescue, restaurants, store...you get the idea.

Addressing the housing and transportation challenges requires coordinating public and private resources. And that's where you and I come in. Currently, property in the Town of Hilton Head Island is virtually shut out of the most significant resource available to develop affordable housing—the Low Income Housing Tax Credit established under Section 42 of the IRS Code. It is the tool used to create public/private partnerships between the Federal Government and private developers and investors. It is responsible for nearly 90 percent of the affordable rental housing created nationwide from 1986 to the present. That's about 3 million dwelling units. This resource is managed at the State level by the SC Housing Finance and Development Authority, with the tax credits being awarded on the basis of the proximity of a development site to a number of local services, including public schools. Unfortunately, the concentration of public schools in one area of our community keeps developers (who would like to build these homes) from qualifying for this valuable resource. In addition, with development costs on the Coast significantly higher than inland, applications associated with prospective developments in our area may be disqualified altogether, due to exceeding a maximum per-unit cost cap that is the same, regardless of location. Bottom line? We all need to get in touch with our State legislators and the Governor's Office. To get this changed, we also need to respond during the annual public comment period coming up later this year. Sure, other ideas and programs could add some much needed apartments and houses here and there, but remember, LinkedIn is listing 895 jobs—right now. It's time to get involved.

Transportation options must also be viewed with the future in mind. Simply widening the bridges and lanes all over the Island won't correspondingly improve the quality of life here. Nor will it reduce the job opportunities abundant along the roadways leading to the Island. To return to the tranquility and pace of life here, which is a part of our identity, will take vision. Make no mistake; there are many people and entities working on repairing, restoring and improving our roads and bridge infrastructure. But the plans need to include triangulating travel between Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and Beaufort. To produce meaningful results, quicker must intersect with better, more affordable and enjoyable. Workers who do not live here should enjoy getting here, so as not to be lured by other opportunities simply because they are closer to home. The benefits must also inure to all Islanders traveling everywhere within the County, making the special even more so. Can you imagine a breathtaking view from a light rail system? It is possible to find a variety of true forward-thinking options that may keep us loving this place we moved to and enjoying the essence of our Island forever.