Economic Officials Gear Up For Jasper Port

By Lolita Huckaby – Bluffton Today

The Jasper Port project on the Savannah River is moving forward, but Beaufort County economic development officials are trying to get ahead of that ball by making sure the work force is ready when the port opens.

“It’s not ‘if’ the port happens, it’s ‘when’ and we’re working hard to make sure this whole region is ready,” Lowcountry Economic Network Executive Director Kim Statler told members of the Beaufort County Council’s Economic Development Committee on Tuesday.

The County Councils of Beaufort and Jasper counties recently endorsed a resolution asking for state dollars to develop a strategic marketing plan for the Lowcountry’s relationship with the bi-state port project.

Gov. Mark Sanford, in a letter to Jasper County residents last week, said momentum on the project, which has been discussed for more than 20 years, “has gotten to a point of critical mass in a political sense.”

Development of the 1,515 acre tract in lower Jasper County is expected to generate hundreds of jobs, and that’s where Statler said she and others already are working to make sure local residents are prepared for those jobs. “We know an experienced work force is going to be crucial, just like it is for the other job prospects we work with,” Statler said. “We know this project is a ‘Jasper port’ but we’re working to have regional discussions on what we need to do.” Committee chairman Jerry Stewart and Councilman Rick Caporale stressed the importance of getting representatives from the school district, the Technical College of the Lowcountry and the University of South Carolina Beaufort to work on a collaborative plan of training not just graduating high school students but local adults as well. “Many don’t realize the training opportunities are here for them. We need to address that mindset,” Caporale said. Statler said she’d like to employ a coordinator or case worker to work with individuals identified for further technical training.

The port project has a goal of opening by 2014, the same time expansion of the Panama Canal is completed.

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