BEAUFORT, S.C. (Dec. 16, 2020) – Stephen Murray, the new mayor of the City of Beaufort, never planned to be in politics. But in 2009, the small business entrepreneur and his wife, Melissa, moved back from the Tampa area to his hometown of Beaufort to grow his business, Kazoobie Kazoos. Shortly after, he was selected for Leadership Beaufort -- and that began to open his eyes.
“I was introduced to a pile of folks who worked to make the community a better place,” he recalls. “Before that I never went to a City Council meeting.”
His commitment to the community began with volunteering – with the Child Abuse Prevention Association (CAPA) and the United Way of the Lowcountry, among others. He joined the local Rotary Club and the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, eventually becoming chairman of the Chamber board. In 2014, he decided to run for City Council. “I thought if I won, I would have a seat at the table. I never had political aspirations. It kind of surprised me.”
Six years later, he is mayor of his hometown, succeeding Billy Keyserling, who was mayor for 12 years.
Murray takes his cues from a statement by Donald McGannon, an early broadcasting executive, who said, “Leadership is action, not position.” “It means choosing to address problems and take action,” Murray said. “I see these challenges in my community that I want to have a positive impact on.”
Murray’s No. 1 priority is diversifying the city and region’s economy. “Diversification is the key word, not displacing,” he said. He believes that tourism and the military – mainstays of our economy – are crucial, but not sufficient, especially when it comes to attracting and keeping younger people and families in Beaufort. As a someone who left in his 20s to grow his business, and as the father of two young daughters, he is especially keen to bring in better paying jobs -- in advanced manufacturing, digital technology, and cyber security.
For the last several years, he has worked on that goal of diversification. He helped to found and lead the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation, the Beaufort Digital Corridor, and the South Coast Cyber Center – all efforts that he believes will pay off, some with a longer time horizon than others, in bringing better jobs here.
Other focuses include growth management (“in an authentic Beaufort way”), increasing the inventory of affordable workforce housing, and prioritizing infrastructure mitigation projects to deal with the effects of climate change, heavier rains, and rising seawater levels.
“We have a list of projects once we complete the Mossy Oaks Stormwater Project,” he noted. “How do we best accelerate these projects to protect us?”
Murray also wants to make sure that Beaufort is a strong advocate for the military presence here, including the Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Earlier this year, there was talk that Parris Island might be in jeopardy because of environmental and renovation concerns. “Parris Island is a major economic driver for the City,” he said. “We need to be part of the conversation as to why these bases are important, and how can we expand them. We need to work with our partners on this issue.”
From Keyserling, Murray said he learned “that inclusion piece – for all voices to participate and be heard. That will be a cornerstone of my tenure – to allow as many opportunities for local citizen input.”
As for his fellow council members, he says, “Everyone loves the city. I want to foster an open, healthy and spirited debate but do so in a civil way.”
Murray says the key word for him is stewardship – “taking the longer view to some of the decisions and investments we are making. Let’s take the 10-20-30 year view. What affect will these decisions have generationally?”
(Photo: Stephen Murray with his wife, Melissa, and his twins, Genevieve and Josephine.)