By Bill Rauch
It is always a pleasure to hear from readers, especially when they get what you’re writing about and add to it a new dimension.
That happened last week.
After reading my recent column about the proposed Jasper County wind farm and its possible effects upon upcoming economic development efforts in Beaufort County a reader sent me the Palmetto Promise Institute’s April 2017 South Carolina Enterprise-friendly Cities Report, a first-of-its-kind analysis that ranks the state’s 50 most populous municipalities from the point of view of their attractiveness as a place to start or relocate a business.
The report is an eye-opener.
It finds Bluffton to be the state’s most enterprise-friendly city. Hilton Head is No. 7, right between Greenville and Spartanburg, and Port Royal comes in a respectable 14th behind Lexington.
Where’s Beaufort? Way back in the pack at No. 33.
Yes, Southern Living named Beaufort “The South’s Best Small Town for 2017.” Their reasoning was full of squish like “enchantment” and “intoxicating” and “can’t turn a corner without swooning.”
Moreover, the great contemporary Southern writer, Cassandra King, who wrote the Southern Living piece reminds her readers that love, home and family — all abundant in Beaufort — are what matter most.
The Palmetto Promise Institute is not convinced. These guys are all business. They looked at the numbers. And one in particular is not at all enchanting.
Of South Carolina’s 50 most populous cities, according to the report, Beaufort ranks third in “per-capita violent crime.”
If 100 is a perfect score, Beaufort got a dismal 9.51 in this category and that way-worse-than-failing grade dragged Beaufort’s “Community Allure” and overall scores way down.
In all the areas Beaufort was graded as a business-friendly town, “per-capita violent crime” was by far its worst.
Regular readers of this column will recognize this issue. Beaufort now has the same number of sworn police officers it had in 2007, but they are being asked to respond to three times the dispatch call volume they were a decade ago.
That means the officers on duty have no time to engage in what policing experts call “community policing,” which is when police officers get out of their cruisers and proactively talk to people and get to know who’s who and what’s up. In fact, the Beaufort PD now isn’t even getting to some of their dispatch calls, police brass who are familiar with the particulars say. They are instead calling on Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies to cover for them, especially on Lady’s Island.
Beaufort was the drug-dealing capital of Beaufort County in the mid-1990’s when Mayor David Taub and City Manager Gary Cannon insisted that enough officers be hired so that a community policing program could be instituted under Chief Bill Neill. Over the next few years the drug-dealers — and the violent crime that follows them — were run out of Beaufort. But in the past half dozen years, however, both have returned.
Southern Living may not know that yet, but the bean counters at The Palmetto Promise Institute do.
If, as the City Council says, making the city attractive to new businesses is high on its priorities list, then it’s time to stop spending the city’s tax dollars on real estate and new programs, and time instead to start hiring police officers.
Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.