Celebrating entrepreneurship


The words “economic development” evoke a myriad of responses. Economic development is often confused with “development” or “real estate development” and for many, it is synonymous with business recruitment. But literally, “economic development” means the development of an economy.

Economies continually evolve. Some develop positively, while others decline. There are countless factors that influence the development of an economy. Some are organic and incremental; others are deliberate and dramatic. For example, Hilton Head Island’s economy has developed from one reliant on agriculture, timbering and fishing to one driven by real estate to, today, one largely based on hospitality, tourism, real estate sales and retirement communities. 

Air conditioning, transportation and national prosperity were all critical to Hilton Head Island’s economic development. But entrepreneurship also played a pivotal role in the evolution of Hilton Head’s economy. Charles Fraser and his counterparts who pioneered the original planned unit developments on Hilton Head Island were entrepreneurs in every sense of the word. They started and managed businesses at considerable risk.

South Carolina has seen first-hand how the successful recruitment of major manufacturing projects can transform and impact the communities where they are located. Consider, for example, what BMW has meant to the Upstate, and more recently what Boeing is doing in metro Charleston. Both global behemoths today, BMW traces its roots to a small Bavarian aircraft engine maker, and William Boeing incorporated his company in Seattle to build rudimentary seaplanes.

Fast forward. Think Apple, Microsoft, Google. They rank as Nos. 1, 3 and 4 in market capitalization among U.S. companies (Exxon Mobil is No. 2). Apple was started in 1976 by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; Microsoft was started in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen; and Google was started in 1997 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. These companies have transformed Cupertino, California; Redmond, Washington; and Mountain View, California; respectively. 

Apple, Microsoft, and Google are well-known examples of entrepreneurial successes over the past 50 years, but there are countless others who started new enterprises that have significantly improved the economies of their communities. With the number of new economic development projects declining and global competition increasing, communities are increasingly focusing on entrepreneurship as a catalyst for economic growth.

Global Entrepreneurship Week is Nov. 16-22. The GEW website, www.gew.co, promotes Global Entrepreneurship Week as “the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.”  The United States is among 140 countries using this week to host events and publicize the importance of entrepreneurship. 

Why does entrepreneurship matter today to Hilton Head Island and the Lowcountry? Because it is one of the legs on the “three-legged stool” that must exist for a community to be economically sustainable. Most jobs come from the expansion of existing businesses, and the recruitment of new companies often garners the most publicity, but entrepreneurship is key for the long-term economic growth of any community.

One of the Town of Hilton Head Island’s goals is economic diversification; a diverse economy is critical to the long-term financial stability of the town. The recently adopted Hilton Head Island Green Blueprint, part of the town’s Audubon International Sustainable Communities Program, identifies the following goal: “Develop a more diverse, resilient and sustainable Island economy.” Whether it’s an individual investment portfolio or a local economy, putting all eggs in a single basket creates vulnerability.

That is why the town, like many local governments, is working on building an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” to create a business environment where new business formation is encouraged and supported. Hilton Head Island has many assets on which to build a culture of entrepreneurship. Among them are talent, business experience, investment capital and a supportive local government.

National data reveals that many of the most successful entrepreneurs are not  20-somethings. They are instead women and men with years of experience in the workplace. They have seen, or experienced, business success and failure, and they understand the factors that determine both.  Also, they often have more financial acumen and greater financial security than their younger peers, allowing more financial stability in the early stages of their enterprises.

One of the roles of the Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corporation (HHIEDC) is to facilitate successful entrepreneurship on Hilton Head. This effort starts with identifying and networking with existing entrepreneurs, connecting them with mentors and investors and helping support them from start-up to profitability. If you are a mentor, investor or existing entrepreneur wishing to be part of a network to transform the Town of Hilton Head Island into an entrepreneurial hot spot, please contact me at dkirkman@hhiedc.com or 843-686-0868.

We are already leveraging collaborations with partners such as SCORE, the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, the Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC), the Creative Coast and the Small Business Administration to maximize the resources that are available to assist Lowcountry entrepreneurs. 

During Global Entrepreneurship Week, the HHIEDC will announce a “Bring Your Business Idea to Life” competition that we hope will encourage entrepreneurs to launch a new business enterprise on Hilton Head. For more information about the “Bring Your Business Idea to Life” contest, go to www.HHIEDC.com

Together, we can sustain Hilton Head Island’s entrepreneurial legacy. 

Don Kirkman is executive director of the Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corporation.