MOUNT PLEASANT -- Business growth and recruitment are key issues here since the town's once red-hot housing market has cooled considerably and residential tax revenue is less plentiful, officials said this week.

"We all know that we are in a difficult time," Mayor Billy Swails said.

A $100,000 marketing campaign that begins in about a month aims to push residential growth back to at least 3 percent. The town wants to appeal to the lucrative 26- to 49-year-old age bracket, Town Administrator Mac Burdette said.

"In order to get them, we've got to have an interesting community," he said. Burdette referenced areas such as the Buckhead section of Atlanta as an example of the sort of neighborhoods attractive to a younger crowd.

A discussion of the state of the town and its future came Tuesday during a joint meeting of Town Council and the Mount Pleasant Waterworks Commission.

The economic development summit drew about 50 people, including bankers, developers and educators.

While courting young families, the town must not neglect the needs of its growing senior population, said Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall. The town has formed a committee to study retiree issues and make recommendations to council.

Less than a decade ago town growth was racing along at nearly 10 percent annually, and officials worried that the infrastructure, particularly the road system, would be overwhelmed. In response, council passed a home-building permit-allocation program that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2001, but since has been suspended because of the recession.

The town currently has an ambitious road-building program to widen U.S. Highway 17 from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to Darrell Creek Trail.

Experts who spoke at the summit said they see reason for optimism about the economy. Len Hutchison, Charleston market president of Wachovia Bank, said the decision by Boeing to locate a new assembly plant in North Charleston is a plus.

"We are already seeing the effect of Boeing clearly. The Boeing effect is really beginning to show itself," Hutchison said. "I think we have been through the worst. Is it going to take off like it did the last 10 years? I don't think so."

Mary Graham, senior vice president of public policy of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the economy as a whole is improving. "Most of the sectors of our economy have hit bottom and are beginning to come back," she said.

An exception is new housing. "Permits are still woefully below where they were a couple of years ago," she said.

Port growth is a bright spot, with tonnage at 24 percent above last year, she said. "The port is the economic driver for the state and our region. When the port is thriving so does the rest of our economy," she said.

The corporate meeting market is picking back up and the growing cruise ship presence will be a big boost.

Starting this month, hundreds of passengers weekly will board Carnival cruises in Charleston, which can translate to thousands of dollars spent the day before a cruise at local restaurants and hotels, Graham said.

Defense contractors are a steadying presence for the local economy.

The Clemson wind turbine project at the former Navy base is a plus because it is a research and development facility that attracts young professionals, she said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or pfindlay@postand courier.com