Retired exec planning business forum to attract global firms

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Carlton Dallas is planning a conference of international business executives to be held on Hilton Head Island. He believes new business sectors will help diversify Beaufort County's economy.

Many people in the community think that Hilton Head Island has a one-dimensional economy built on tourism - around which assorted sectors like restaurants, retail, vacation rental companies, hotels, water-related activities, and golf and tennis clubs all revolve.

They're right, of course, when one considers that 2.7 million tourists visit our world-class travel destination annually and generated $1.49 billion into the local economy in 2017, according to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.

Carlton Dallas, a retired business executive who has lived on the island since 2010, knows this too, and he has no problems with efforts to sustain it. But he feels the island needs to diversify its economy with smaller based companies in fields such as high-tech, medical, aerospace, manufacturing, automobile, military and cybersecurity.

Remember when the economy tanked and slid into a recession in the late 2000s? Local tourism got walloped, as did related sectors such as real estate, new construction, hospitality services and nearly everything else in the downward economic spiral.

Dallas wants to avoid that scenario happening again by buffering tourism dependency with non-tourism commerce.

"The smart thing to do is always protect your base, but always look to developing opportunities," said the North Carolina native, who, in his 34 years in the petroleum industry, traveled to more than 70 countries and moved 18 times. "We want to grow the economy here with smart economic growth."

He's convinced that with Hilton Head's quality of life and name recognition worldwide, domestic and global companies would consider doing business here if they could witness firsthand the Beaufort County region as a "leading ecosystem of human and financial capital."

Dallas is promoting this initiative with a start-up nonprofit called Business ATTRACT Development Fund by soliciting founding sponsor participation from local and regional businesses, organizations and individuals to help fund a planned Israeli Business and Industry Conference for late this year or early 2020.

The three-day nonpolitical affair at an island resort will be attended by domestic and global industry leaders and decision-makers, entrepreneurs and doers in a forum extolling the virtues of Hilton Head and the surrounding area as fertile ground for new business. Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Israel's former consulate general, is scheduled to be the master of ceremonies.

"The conference is really about recruiting, showcasing and positioning Hilton and Beaufort as a place to have a wonderful, wonderful quality of life where you also have the technical skills," Dallas said. "As a business person, I tend to look at result, data and information. Israel is the No. 1 startup country in the whole world on a per capita basis.... I always try to end up with a win-win."

Dallas was introduced to the ambassador by Dr. William Bilek of Hilton Head, an international expert on Israel and the Middle East, at a private function in 2015 and formed an alliance of like-business minds and professional backgrounds, which has strengthened ever since.

Dallas envisions the island attracting small businesses, and northern Beaufort County, with its land availability, attracting big businesses with manufacturing potential.

"On Hilton Head, we have high-end technology companies that export high-end material around the world," he said. "Most people have no idea that they're here. Hilton Head cannot handle big footprint manufacturing, that's not our sweet spot. Our sweet spot is actually small footprint businesses that employ 10 to 60 people in the middle of the island. Beaufort County is in a position to handle both needs."

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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