Opinion: Charleston area a best practices lab for government, economic development

Published July 28, 2014

We all know that the Lowcountry of South Carolina is a sought-after destination for tourists and business travelers alike. It’s also a great place for new and existing businesses. But what many people may not realize is that the Lowcountry is also a great lab for cities and towns in the area to show off best practices in governance and economic development for the rest of the state.

Recently, the city of Charleston and the town of Mount Pleasant rolled out their great Southern hospitality for more than 1,100 mayors, city council members, staff, speakers, guests and exhibitors when the Municipal Association of S.C. held its 74th Annual Meeting in downtown Charleston.

OPED Mayor Roberts Terence
Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts
The Municipal Association represents all 270 cities and towns in the state. A primary focus of the association is bringing the elected leaders in South Carolina cities and towns together to share great ideas and learn from each other’s successes.

The meeting kicked off with a mobile tour that Mount Pleasant hosted for more than 100 mayors and councilmembers from cities as diverse as Furman and Rock Hill. These local officials from all over South Carolina spent the morning learning about what town leaders are doing to manage growth, increase affordable housing, attract new business and grow tourism.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page, members of town council and town staff first greeted the visiting elected officials at the Memorial Waterfront Park. We were impressed to learn that 16 different partnerships came into play to create the public park.

The second stop on the tour was Shem Creek Park. We heard about how town officials secured agreements with private property owners along Shem Creek to gain public access. In return, the town is helping the property owners by reconstructing docks.

Visitors also got to see the Harbor Accelerator and learned about this non-traditional approach to the business incubator concept. During a 14-week cram session, the startups are “collided” with successful entrepreneurs who share as much entrepreneurial knowledge and spirit as possible.

The town supports the accelerator by providing it with free office space. Councilmembers discussed their hope that business owners who graduate from the program will then put down roots in the community.

Everyone on the tour agreed that the residents and businesses in Mount Pleasant have a great deal to be proud of in this growing and thriving community!

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley was the keynote speaker who kicked off the annual meeting that was held at Charleston Place on King Street. This is the last Municipal Association conference that will be held in Charleston during Mayor Riley’s term in office so his remarks were especially fitting for the local officials assembled in the Riviera Theater across from Charleston Place to hear him speak.

Mayor Riley left his fellow local officials with a genuine sense of hope and optimism for the future in reflecting on his almost-40 years of service to the city of Charleston. The mayor recounted many of the successes that have taken place in the city over the past four decades. He reiterated that local leaders must take challenges one piece at a time saying you can’t do it all at once in the public realm.

Anyone who has heard Mayor Riley speak in the past has heard him talk about the “50-year test.” He discussed the importance of looking at any type of city project against the benchmark of what it will mean in 50 years. He said Charleston’s council and staff will ask when considering a project “will people say this is really great 50 years from now or will they say why didn’t they do that.”

Mayor Riley also hammered on the idea of regionalism, touting the great regional allies in the Lowcountry. Both the informal and formal relationships are so important to the collective vision of more than just the individual cities but of the entire region.

In honor of Mayor Riley’s long tenure and service to Charleston and the state, the Municipal Association’s board named the organization’s long-standing award for economic development in the mayor’s honor. Mayor Riley learned of this honor immediately following his keynote address at the conference. The first Joseph P. Riley Jr. Municipal Achievement Award went to the city of Greer this year for its inland port project.

Charleston residents should be justifiably proud of the national and international reputation as a highly desired place where people want to live, work and visit.

On behalf of all the local officials who learned from this great Lowcountry lab, we say a huge thanks to the councils and staff in Charleston and Mount Pleasant who did such a great job to welcome us to this beautiful and thriving part of South Carolina.

Terence Roberts is the mayor of Anderson and president of the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

Email Print

Do you give this article a thumbs up? Thumbs_upYes