Leadership Charleston Class Learns about Regional Economic Development

Written by Leadership Charleston Class of 2021 participant, Kristen Lanier, Director of Economic Development for Berkeley County 

April’s Leadership Charleston session focused on a topic close to my heart and engrained in my daily activities – economic development. I had the pleasure of serving as a speaker and a participant of the program. The day began with Mr. Bernie Mazyck, President & CEO of the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development (SCACED), and Mrs. Dorothea Bernique, Executive Director of Increasing HOPE, who spoke about building an inclusive economic development strategy for the Lowcountry. Mazyck opened his presentation with the explanation of how our economy does not work for everyone and provided statistics of minority-owned businesses highlighting their low success rates as compared to non minority-owned businesses. Mazyck detailed history including the 40-acres and a mule after the end of the American Civil War and the Jim Crow era. Mazyck explained the effects of the Coronavirus hitting black owned firms hardest, shuttering more than 40% since Spring 2020. The SCACED’s top priorities for 2021 include the South Carolina Community Development Tax Credits, Predatory Lending, and more Inclusionary Zoning.  

With the help of the SCACED and other community partners, Mrs. Bernique’s organization, Increasing HOPE, broke ground on The Opportunity Center in North Charleston in January of this year. The Opportunity Center will focus on helping women, minorities, and people from low-wealth communities become successful entrepreneurs with a career center, business incubator and an SBA Women’s Business Center. Increasing HOPE received the SBA Women’s Business Center affiliate with the U.S. Small Business Administration as past of the largest-ever expansion in the program’s history to establish one of the 20 new centers across the nation. The center will be the only SBA Women’s Business Center in the Charleston region and the third in the state. 

The second session of the day hosted a panel of the regional economic leaders from Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley County. The County Leaders spoke of the regional strength and collaboration needed to succeed in a highly competitive global market. Jennifer Brown, Director of Business Development with Charleston County Economic Development, talked about the emphasis on growing existing industries and talent attraction to meet the job growth demand. John Truluck, Director of Dorchester County Economic Development, explained the need for diverse product and industrial sites needed to meet the needs and timelines for the regions core target markets: aerospace, automotive, information technology, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and distribution. The panelist fielded questions from the class on an array of topics such as climate change, affordable housing, public transit and sustainable growth plans.   

Next, the class heard from Perrin Lawson, Deputy Director/VP Business Development of Explore Charleston. Mr. Lawson explained the key role tourism plays in our region’s economy and the economy recovery efforts for the tourism and hospitality sectors. Many newly located industry leaders first discover the Charleston region as a tourist and find value in the region’s attractiveness to work, live and play. Lawson described 2019 as a record high year for tourism with 7.43 million visitors and a total economic impact of $9.67 billion. He detailed the COVID impact resulting in cancelations and reduced crowds at major events, such as the Volvo Car Open and the RBC Heritage Golf tournament, closing 2020 with $5.12 million visitors, 45.5% hotel occupancy, and a $6.15 billion economic impact. Lawson talked about the tourism industry’s upward trend towards recovery with smaller conferences coming back and an increase in outdoor activities. 

Leadership Charleston facilitator, Adrian Cain, SVP Leadership & Programs at the Metro Chamber, then gave a brief, but thorough review of the recent Metro Chamber’s Regional Economic Forecast with stats on customer spending, employment, job growth forecasts and more. Cain described the need for more housing and a need for more density in housing developments. 

The day continued with Bryan Derreberry, CEO of the Metro Chamber, and David Ginn, CEO of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, who presented the region’s economic recovery and resiliency plans, the One Region Strategy, and insight to our region’s path to a strong, diverse regional economy after the Navy base closure decades ago. Regional collaboration has landed us as #74 of 396 metros in the US in population. Ginn explained that while #74 MSA, the Charleston region often finds itself “punching above its weight” and competing with much larger metros for economic projects. 

The SC Ports Authority closed the day with a Port Overview and Economic Impact from Kevin Neller, Director of Sales, and a unique tour of the Port aboard the Carolina Belle with Charleston Branch Pilot’s Association Executive Director, John Cameron, and Senior Vice President and Community Engagement & Secretary to the Board for the SC Ports Authority, Jordi Yarborough.  

The message from every speaker was loud and clear, regionalism and collaboration are key to our economic success and we all have a role to play in economic development. 

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