Now more than ever, we must come together to ensure our state is the best it can be.
In the midst of a year with so many uncertainties, we were excited to launch a virtual conference that brought together leaders from around our state to receive critical updates, discuss regional collaborations and hold on to the notion that this too shall pass.
Day One’s theme of the conference focused on South Carolina’s economy, infrastructure and inclusivity.
We kicked off with a message from Governor Henry McMaster. He discussed the 3 C’s: Cooperate, Collaborate and Communicate, which tied nicely to the purpose of the SC Leadership Exchange.
We have it all in South Carolina – it is the best place to live, raise a family and also work.
Governor Henry McMaster
He also mentioned the Business License Standardization Act getting passed, which allows businesses that operate in different municipalities to go online to apply for a business license that covers all of the areas, instead of the time intensive task of doing them each individually. This was a part of our Government Relations team’s Legislative Priorities and we are thrilled it has passed. The law will cut red tape for businesses, saving time and money in compliance costs – a big win for businesses in our state.
The next speaker, Dr. Joey Von Nessen, Research Economist with the University of South Carolina, gave a great overview of our state and regions by the numbers.
Here are some highlights from his presentation:
- Employment growth and recovery in South Carolina has outpaced the recovery in Georgia and North Carolina (factors affecting this include the composition of industries in each state and the severity and length of the full shutdown for each state)
- South Carolina has recovered 72% of jobs that were lost, compared to the national average of 55% recovery of total job losses
- We will recover – however, the rate of recovery is uncertain because we don’t know whether there will be another stimulus package and we are experiencing changes in the labor force (more parents are staying home with children than before)
- Von Nessen is hopeful that our state will reach full employment by the second half of 2021
These are sobering stats, but important ones. It will be interesting to watch what happens when we get our economy back to where it was pre-COVID. Will the trends we are seeing in the labor force continue?
As we see people with children continue to be disproportionally affected by the global pandemic, we are also experiencing an important movement for those that have been treated disproportionally their entire lives.
In a panel discussion moderated by Mamie Bush, Director of Sales and Marketing with Hilton Garden Inn – Charleston Waterfront/Downtown, we heard from diverse and powerhouse leaders on the important topic of building a diverse, inclusive and equitable South Carolina.
Anton Gunn, Chief Diversity Officer and Executive Director of Community Health Innovation with the Medical University of South Carolina, Ricaye Harris, Director of Diversity and Inclusion with Milliken and Company, and Julian Williams, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the University of South Carolina, were all thrilled that this conversation continues to flow throughout the state, but continued to hit home that having a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiative isn’t just the right thing to do or a box to be checked.
We need to set our sights on the future and your organization’s goals and objectives need to be tied to accountability.
Having a diverse workforce, leadership team and corporate board is proven to help companies make more money.
Anton Gunn, Medical University of South Carolina
When Mamie asked the group what they would recommend to organizations to show that they truly care for their employees and that they want them to be their authentic selves, these three things struck me as critical:
- It’s not rocket science. Before you go looking for other diverse talent, talk to those within your organization and gauge how they are feeling so you can continue to do better.
- Be intentional and hear your employees. When they talk about how they are feeling and are vulnerable, make sure that they know that you will take what they said and use it for good.
- Show your employees that you are understanding and are willing to help them – offering resources can make all the difference.
The Chamber recently hosted a three-day virtual DE&I Conference that really sparked and ignited our goal of leading our region’s business community in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce where opportunities and resources are equitable for all. If you’d like to dive deeper into this important topic, click here.
Following the DE&I session, we got the opportunity to hear from Bobby Hitt, III, SC Secretary of Commerce, about the the state of our economic development.
The Palmetto State has developed a well-rounded economy and has increasingly become highly sought after for headquarter locations. Recently, our state has won more than 80 economic development projects, including the Wal-Mart distribution center that will create over 1,000 jobs, the expansion of Nephron and the extension of agricultural technology campuses, which will create more than 1,500 new jobs in our rural counties.
We are seen nationally and internationally as a manufacturing powerhouse.
Bobby Hitt, III, Secretary of Commerce, State of South Carolina
Because manufacturing is doing so well in our state, Hitt projected that in 2021 they will continue to focus on manufacturing industries and operations, headquarters and back office activity.
With all of these great headquarters and jobs coming to our state, we need housing that supports all levels of employees and gives them the opportunity to live close to where they work.
The housing attainability panel featured Bryan Brown, President & CEO with the City of Greenville Housing Fund, Geona Shaw Johnson, Director of Housing and Community Development with the City of Charleston, and Ivory Matthews, CEO of the Columbia Housing Authority, and was moderated by Bryan Grady, Chief Research Officer with the SC State Housing Financing and Development Authority.
A consensus throughout Greenville, Columbia and Charleston was that we have a variety of fabulous employers who need employees and there is a high demand for housing, but a critically low supply.
Housing attainability remains a priority for all three Metro Chambers – everyone needs to get on board with providing these opportunities or we will begin to see a shift of great organizations leaving our state to find opportunities with housing opportunities for their employees.
Because housing attainability and public transit go hand in hand, having a public transit panel follow the housing conversation was only fitting.
John Andoh, Executive Director/CEO with Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority (CMRTA), Sharon Hollis, Principal Planner with Berkeley-Chareston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG), and James Keel, Director of Public Transportation with the City of Greenville held, a robust conversation about our state’s public transportation.
Moderated by Steve Dudash, Regional Director with Thomas & Hutton, each of the panelists discussed their current transit systems, Comet (Columbia), CARTA (Charleston) and Greenlink (Greenville) and how the age of their buses has not been able to keep up with much of the demand that public transit asks for in their respective areas.
Sharon Hollis with BCDCOG recognized that and plugged the Lowcountry Rapid Transit, soon to manage congestion and provide a regional transit framework to help with workforce, mobility/access and capital programs.
We ended the day with an interesting panel on commercial and real estate trends.
The panelists all agreed that the overall occupancy rate in commercial buildings has gone down, with some increases in industrial and retail spaces, depending on the area.
Charleston will bounce back because the quality of life will keep our region afloat.
Bob Nuttall, Lee & Associates Charleston
All regions mentioned the value of our SC Ports, including the inland port, which was a great lead in to Jim Newsome’s presentation later in the conference.
The Southeast continues to outperform the rest of the country. There is no place I’d rather be during this time.
Charles Gouch, CBRE
Thank you to our panelists, David Lockwood, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer with Colliers International, Bob Nuttall, Managing Principal with Lee & Associates Charleston and Charles Gouch, Senior Vice President with CBRE.
The future is very bright for South Carolina.
David Lockwood, Colliers International
It’s always good to end on a high note! A great end to Day One of the SC Leadership Exchange. Head over to the Day Two Recap to learn more about highlights from the conference.
Thank you to our sponsors! We wouldn’t have been able to deliver this conference without you.