By C. Grant Jackson
Senior Vice President/Community Development
Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce
A year after its birth, Navigating from good to Great, the five-year community development initiative, is funded and progress is being made on many of the Navigating from good to Great issues.
A successful capital campaign raised more than $3 million, with most of that coming from the business community. The city of Columbia pledged $100,000 for the first year and promised to look at an additional $100,000 at year for each of the next four years. Asks are expected to be made to other area governments as well.
Navigating from good to Great uses the power of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce as community convener to unify and elevate our community. A non-profit foundation housed under the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the Navigating from Good to Great board is headed by Chuck Beaman, president of Palmetto Health. Some 18 business leaders oversee the foundation.
The program seeks to transition us from good to great by aligning business and community development efforts behind a singular message: unity of purpose and effort.
No one group will be able to lead the community to greatness it will take the entire region working together.
The Navigating from good to Great investors as well as the chamber’s major investors and Board of Advisor members heard a report recently on the initiative’s first year activities. Here are some of the highlights:
One of Navigating from Good to great’s biggest undertakings is making sure those businesses that already call the Columbia region home find an appreciative environment that provides opportunities to grow and expand.
The Existing Business Retention and Expansion Program, headed by chamber senior vice president John Mikula, has called on more than 100 businesses gathering detailed information regarding our region’s business climate.
Team members have made personal visits to all types of businesses from manufacturers to service providers to entrepreneurial start-ups. Company size has ranged from $60,000 in sales to $2 billion. The program has touched more than 29,000 employees.
The program is largely a collaborative effort with the city of Columbia’s Business in Motion program, but about 25 percent of the calls have been made at businesses outside the city in Richland and Lexington counties. A wider geographic dispersion of calls is anticipated going forward. Each business is interviewed in depth and information from those interviews is fed into a database that moving forward will allow analysis of business issues and opportunities.
The BR&E program provides existing businesses with support, addresses their urgent concerns, and improves communication between the community and businesses. In the long-run, it will help increase competitiveness, job creation and new business development.
Navigating from good to Great is also working to build the region’s knowledge-based economy.
During our first year, we have partnered with EngenuitySC and New Carolina – S.C.’s Council on Competitiveness on developing the region’s insurance services technology industry. These are well paying, high-tech jobs, and more than 8,000 people already work in more than 40 such firms in the region. Efforts key on increasing the available talent for those firms as well as on increasing the number of firms. Navigating from good to Great has lent financial assistant to the effort as well as personnel. Later this year, the Columbia Insurance Technology Cluster will be formally launched.
The attraction and retention of talent is a major issue for the region’s insurance industry as well as other businesses. In order to grow the knowledge economy, we need to make sure that we attract and retain more of what Richard Florida has termed the Creative Class.
To help address that need, Navigating from good to Great became part of the Columbia Talent Magnet Project which focuses on building a community that can attract and retain knowledge workers. These workers are key to increasing the average income in the region, but such workers also have certain quality of life expectations about the place they live. They want to live and work in places like the University of South Carolina’s Innovista, the new downtown innovation research district.
Navigating from good to Great helped fund and present a successful Columbia Talent Forum in November. The final report of that forum as well as other activities involving the Columbia Talent Magnet is being readied for distribution.
But providing the right environment for business growth also requires attention to community development, Navigating from good to Great tackling tough issues like homelessness.
Navigating from good to Great through the chamber has partnered with the Midlands Business Leadership Group, the United Way, the faith community and service providers to seek a comprehensive solution to address homelessness.
We were deeply involved in efforts to raise a $5 million local match for a Knight Foundation $5 million grant to help establish a comprehensive homeless service center on the site of the Salvation Army facility at Main and Elmwood streets. Total fund raising for that effort is now approaching $13 million.
We also cannot call ourselves great if we do not have an adequate transportation infrastructure. The foundation was disappointed this past year when Richland County failed to allow the voters to decide on a one-cent sales tax for transportation. Navigating from good to Great is continuing to push to find funding for this critical issue.
Navigating form good to Great is also working with broad regional coalitions to protect our environment. Our quality of life is one of our region’s greatest business assets and our environment is a great part of that.
We have partnered with the city of Columbia’s Climate Protection Action Campaign on its green business efforts. We have also worked with the Midlands Air Quality forum, an initiative of the Central Midlands Council of Governments. We are also part of the effort to create a Riverkeeper program to help protect 90 miles of waterway in our region.
Columbia has great assets and Navigating from good to Great has taken a role in helping market the region. Working with the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism, Navigating from good to Great helped rebrand Columbia as the New Southern Hotspot. The Columbia, SC, Famously Hot marketing campaign was launched by the Authority in November.
Over this next year, Navigating from good to Great will work with various stakeholder groups throughout the community to help them incorporate and use the new brand.
But moving our community from good to great will require an extraordinary effort at regionalization. It will require a coming together of our area governments around common objectives Navigating from good to Great has supported the efforts of the Midlands Business Leadership Group to create a regional intergovernmental forum.
If we are to move from good to Great we must learn to work together for the common good. We must believe that together we can unify our region and elevate it to greatness. Navigating from good to Great provides the focus and framework around which we may all rally: unification and elevation though cooperation, collaboration and concentration is within our grasp.