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Find Your Tribe


When most people think about economics, they think of money, stocks, bonds, banking. It’s easy to forget that at its most basic level, economics really boils down to a study of human behavior.

And while I didn’t participate in the community workshops or the town’s online survey process, my love of economics helps me recognize the value in a document like the Town of Hilton Head Island’s recently released “Hilton Head Island: Our Future Vision and Strategic Action Plan” — which, at its most basic level, is also all about people. It’s easy to see how a report about people could offer some insight into human behaviors and how those behaviors impact our local markets.

One of the most interesting facts in the report was a section on the ethnic makeup and distribution of Hilton Head Island’s population: 90 percent of island residents are either white/Caucasian or black/African-American, and 70 percent live in gated communities. The report determines that these unique “communities within communities” present hurdles to the Lowcountry “coming together” as a broader community. These findings brought to my mind the idea of tribalism, or the “social division in a traditional society of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.”


Just think about where you live and how you identify yourself. Are you a member of one of our local “tribes” — the Sea Pines tribe, the Palmetto Dunes tribe, the Old Town Bluffton tribe, the Hilton Head Plantation tribe, the Moss Creek tribe etc.? We all live in the Lowcountry, but most of us identify ourselves first and foremost by our plantations or neighborhoods.

Even within our neighborhood tribes, we have still smaller tribes: Republicans vs. Democrats, church groups vs. school groups, single people vs. married couples. Most of us feel comfortable when surrounded by people of similar race, gender, religion, political leanings, etc. — it’s why our “tribes” are so strong.

So what does this mean for the Lowcountry and Hilton Head, especially in light of the Town of Hilton Head’s report? Well, as the consultants who helped the town compile the report put it, as a community, all our different Lowcountry tribes don’t play well together. In fact, according to a front-page article by The Island Packet, we’re often “mean-spirited when faced with addressing issues of direction.

The challenge was pointed out on an Island Packet front page article written after the Visioning Report was released.  The Packet reported that the consultants used by the Town stated that as a community we didn’t play nicely together.  In fact that article stated that, as a community we were mean spirited when faced with addressing issues of direction.” But with this new report, Hilton Head officials have offered Lowcountry residents the chance to put the region on the path to success — if we can all put our tribal loyalties aside and work toward building one giant Lowcountry community. 

And really, that shouldn’t be too hard. The Hilton Head study came up with some key objectives to help us attack the future that we should all be OK with: a re-invented focus on sustainability, a revitalization and modernization of our regional economy, fostering an inclusive multi-dimensional community. All done in a “relentless pursuit of excellence” — something we surely can all get behind no matter our tribe.

Even if you don’t live on Hilton Head, the town’s report is worth a read and offers plenty of ideas that could be applied to the larger Lowcountry. It is up to us to work with other “tribes” to make the Lowcountry the best community it can be.

Elihu Spencer is a local amateur economist with a long business history in global finance. His life work has been centered on understanding credit cycles and their impact on local economies. The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources considered reliable but the accuracy cannot be guaranteed.