By Kyra Morris, contributing editor | The Charleston area is our home. This area includes Charleston County, Berkeley County and Dorchester County. It’s changing, and it’s happening quickly. The passive approach is to sit back and simply marvel, or perhaps we can complain at the increase in traffic with poor road conditions and infrastructure, the high cost of housing and the quality of our educational system. The active approach is to get involved.
The Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA) and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce (CMCC) joined together to form a collaborative initiative. The purpose is to create a multi-fibered think tank representing the public sector, private sector, nonprofit and educational organizations within our region to further enhance and sustain our economy while maintaining the quality of life we all cherish. They call this initiative One Region: A Global Competitive Strategy.
Collaboration between all public and private sectors is needed to understand how we got to where we are currently and then to synthesize and prioritize the issues that need addressing. Our region’s current economic condition is one of the best in the country. We have a lot to offer. This did not happen overnight. Some say it started with the job creation efforts that went into place after the naval base closing in the early 1990s. That was definitely a catalyst that created urgency. It really started, though much earlier, with leaders and visionaries back in the 1970s who recognized what we could be.
We have now become. We are a worldwide destination for tourists. We are the home of diverse industries such as aerospace, automotive, alternative energy, healthcare, digital innovations and culinary delights. We have beautiful beaches and golf courses to relax and pass the time. Our visual and performing arts community are world-renown.
Here comes the reckoning.
Infrastructure: Our transportation infrastructure is weak. We have very little public transportation to offer, and our cycling and pedestrian pathways are inconsistent, to put it nicely. It is virtually impossible to get around in our region without a car. Our roads and bridges are in considerable need of repair, improvement or replacement.
The Chamber just came back from taking 70 local business leaders to Seattle, a thriving metropolis. Seattle is the original home to companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon. They have beautiful public areas, entertainment, national sports teams, vineyards and coastal delights. A regret though was brought up several times. They neglected to consider public transportation early enough in their growth process. Now they are trying to retrofit. The construction and traffic chaos will now cost and take more than two to three times as much as it would have if they had addressed the issue sooner. Charleston can learn from this. So far in our region, we are in the talk phase, with no agreed upon long-term approach. Let’s not regret our indecision 10 years from now.
Education: Our ability to provide the trained, qualified workers needed for the industries that now reside in Charleston is behind. This causes companies to import the needed talent. Quality talent is not bad for the community, but bringing it in instead of producing it locally has its own side effects. We have to support the additional population growth that feeds into our transportation system, and to get the quality talent and professionals to move to our community, we have to offer them quality education for their children.
We do have several initiatives in this area that are evolving and that are already showing results. Look up the Tri-County Cradle to Career Initiative or the multi-school district Career Academies, or learn about how Trident Technical College is working closely with industries to create programs that produce functional talent in an efficient, sustainable manner.
Affordable housing is another problem. Our workers, especially our own home-grown local talent who we want to encourage to stay or the young talent we want to attract cannot live near their jobs. Urban sprawl currently exists. Urban density is the hot discussion. Construction and development are prevalent, but there is no overarching master plan considering all communities in our region. There is a strong sentiment to stop the growth and circle the wagons to protect our borders, but is this a option is not a viable long-term approach.
Our leadership and visionaries are still needed. The One Region initiative supported by the Charleston Metro Chamber and the Charleston Regional Development Association is a way to get involved. It spans all are areas of our community and tries to consider the whole picture. It is without traditional boundaries. You can learn more about this at www.OneRegionStrategy.com.
If you want an educational focus, businesses and mentors are needed for the Career Academies and the Cradle to Career programs. Information regarding these programs are athttp://www.charlestonchamber.net/careeracademies or tricountycradeltocareer.org.
We are stakeholders. We are planning for ourselves, our children and our children’s children. Get involved in any and every way you can. Invest in our region as one region. It is our legacy.