Business Leaders Connect to Address Regional Challenges at Summit

The goal of your Chamber is to advance the business climate of the Charleston region. And the only way it happens is working together and taking action. On Thursday, January 25, 2018, 120 of the region’s top leaders were on hand to do just that – move forward and make a difference.

The mood was energetic, and the tone was determined. From real estate developers and bankers to educators and entrepreneurs, it was a who’s who of leaders in the Charleston region. All were committed to making our area the best it can be.

And while it was an excellent opportunity for the collective horsepower to connect, the goal was for the group to “road map” the work our region needs to collectively own to scale to its full potential in 2018 and beyond.

State of the Chamber 2017

Chamber President Bryan Derreberry opened the Annual Business Leaders’ Summit with a review of 2017 and a seven-year organizational performance dashboard.

Breakout Sessions

Think of these work sessions as mini “think tanks.” We divided the 120 attendees into four different groups – Local Area Chambers; Common Skills in High Demand; Elevating Housing Attainability; and Chamber 2030. Top Chamber volunteers led each group. And as you would imagine, discussions sparked real talk and substantive calls for action.

Below are the focal points that emerged, as well as next steps and measurable goals (Click the + to expand each section)

Local Area Chambers: Review and Look Ahead

This session looked at year one of Local Area Chambers, and then ahead into 2018. Session participants discussed their most considerable organizational challenges and brainstormed potential programming ideas to address these challenges. All four of the Local Area steering council chairs (Melissa Capps, Brad Davis, David Stasaitis and Richard Gowe) led the breakout session.


  • Voice “Up” – The Chamber voice needs to continue to start with local small businesses and up to the big collective voice to amplify the unified message. When it comes to initiatives and messaging, there’s no more significant place to start than the Local Area Chambers. The LACs need to be organic and develop individually to each location while bringing that representation back up to the Chamber.
  • Infrastructure – Existing infrastructure conditions make it tough to conduct business across our region. By localizing things that matter to LACs, we give them a voice and access that extends to Columbia. The Chamber’s goal is to deliver programming within 20-30 minutes of employees’ work or home.


  • As a Chamber, we will continue to analyze the need for additional Local Area steering councils within LACs. We want to expand their reach and volunteer leadership capabilities, and let their voices be heard.
  • The Chamber will further tie the Local Area Chambers into regional grassroots advocacy strategy on issues like infrastructure. This footing gives small businesses a voice on more significant issues.


  • The Chamber will measure engagement levels, analyze additional member zip codes and continue to get member feedback on issues that are relevant to each area and the region.
  • Success will include growing our Champion Advocates, Advocates newsletter distribution and LAC members involved in local issues (for example, the West Ashley Revitalization Plan).

Common Skills in High Demand

In late 2016, the region’s four public school superintendents asked the Chamber to identify a set of career readiness standards and competencies related to the fastest growing sectors and high demand jobs in our metro. To accomplish this, the Chamber convened representatives from a series of industry sectors and held professionally facilitated sessions. The result is the Common Skills in High Demand report. Past Chamber Chair, Laura Varn, shared this report in the session and discussed next steps.


Business Community Commitment – There needs to be a commitment from the business community to partner with the education system to ensure educators understand the link between skills needed for jobs. Schools are already at work, so we need to continue to update business leaders on how they can get involved. One member said “Our educators are tapped out, so we need businesses to be present. We have to be there.”

Exposure – Students need exposure to emerging career possibilities, and business leaders can help showcase and provide mentorships, internships and connection opportunities. “We need to step up as a community and as mentors,” said one member. We need to expose kids to jobs and careers they never knew existed convincing them there are lucrative career opportunities right here.


The Chamber has formed a Business Education Cabinet, comprised of educators and business leaders. With a plan well underway, the Cabinet started in March. Part of their work will be developing a strategy to implement ways to prepare students to be career ready and metrics to measure success.


  • The Cabinet will integrate the Common Skills in High Demand Report recommendations into the curriculum of our metro schools.
  • The Cabinet will make a defined push to identify an employability skills rating that will stand next to the student’s GPA as a permanent marker for their readiness for employment.
  • As the Cabinet and its function evolve, a set of metrics will emerge as part of those next steps.

Elevating Housing Attainability

The jobs are here, paychecks are growing, but many people can’t afford to live here. This affordability issue particularly impacts our teachers, nurses, police officers and young professionals looking to put down roots. Led by Roper St. Francis’s Melanie Stith, the session took a deep dive into the data and information around our housing needs and then discussed what employers could do to address our region’s housing challenge.


Workforce Issue – With more businesses expanding in the region, the need for attainable housing is a workforce imperative. As one employer stated, “Many professionals can’t afford to live in the Charleston area.” Leaders are coming in, but too many are not staying long due to housing costs. It is all related, and we need to address the problem now, otherwise it will stifle our future prosperity.

Growth is Good – Positive messages need to come from the Chamber and go out to businesses. Whenever there is opposition to attainable housing, we need to educate and deliver the right message. And that message is smart growth is good. As the region continues to grow, we need to stay ahead of the housing demand and be proactive. As of right now, the area is not meeting the housing demand. We are projected to grow at roughly 2.2% a year through 2030, so we need to start planning now.


  • The Chamber will repackage the Housing Demand Data into a more relatable format.
  • Education is critical, so we will develop and execute a multi-channel public education plan to explain the housing crisis to the business community and elected officials.
  • We will continue to identify policy changes that would help housing and work with elected officials to change policy.


  • Moving forward, the Chamber will track earned media across all mediums related to housing attainability.
  • To get the word out on growth, we will track the number of elected officials using our talking points on the housing crisis.
  • Social media reach for key messaging will be important as more people become aware and begin discussing the issues.
  • As communication gets out, we will track the number of policy changes enacted that help address housing crisis.

Chamber 2030

The panelists of the Chamber 2030 session looked out over the next 12 years, envisioning what the Charleston metro will look like in 2030. We explored what that will mean to businesses, employees and general citizens; for instance, new employment centers, density pattern changes and new infrastructure. Marc Marchant, of LS3P ASSOCIATES, was one of the three panelists, along with Alan Bolduc of Avison Young and Jay Byars, Chairman of Dorchester County Council.


Density – The Chamber and the business community will continue to do a better job of promoting smart growth principles and practices, and the positive benefits of density. As one member said, “Density is not a four-letter word. It’s a seven-letter word. Awesome is a seven-letter word, so let’s put density and awesome together.” 2. Advocacy – As growth continues, advocacy efforts will need to be heightened to address evolving concerns. “Government leaders need to learn about how things should be done versus how things have always been done,” a Chamber member mentioned. Our region accounts for 40% of South Carolina’s revenue, yet we are not getting 40% of needed state dollars.


Orienting towards the future, the Chamber is aligning its work platforms, member engagement opportunities, staff skills and competencies, and annual business priorities to address the needs of a globally competitive and rapidly scaling metropolitan area. The Chamber’s yearly business priorities plan is directly influenced by the Charleston region’s five-year regional competitiveness strategy, One Region.

This summer the Chamber will work with the primary employers and members of the Housing Attainability Task Force to demonstrate the needs of heightened density and more feasible housing options.


-The Chamber’s 2018 Metro Leadership Visit will accelerate our housing attainability public relations effort by visiting Raleigh, NC. We will explore what we can adapt to address like challenges in greater Charleston.

-The Chamber will work to create a connection between housing, infrastructure and land use to allow smart growth and density.

-We will continue to grow our talent pipeline through partnerships with school systems and will be updating our talent demand study every two years.

-With the goal being to continue to enhance our three-county region’s economy, the Chamber will work alongside One Region and our regional partners to increase awareness and elevate the strategy.


As you can see, the beginning of an impactful regional advancement plan took shape at the Summit. Of course, a far-reaching, pro-active plan requires action. Moving forward, along with current initiatives, the Chamber has established next steps and goals. We will then measure progress toward achieving our area’s goals – both qualitatively and quantitatively. Throughout 2018, we will be updating you on “our” progress.

As a Chamber, robust and private sector leadership, coupled with grassroots employee involvement, sets up both our business community and region for future prosperity. We want to thank every business leader at the January 25th Business Leaders’ Summit.
Now, we invite every Chamber member and our partner stakeholders to join us in making our regional advancement plan a reality. Together, we can pave the way for greater Charleston’s future successes.

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