Opportunities for Economic Development

On June 12, a group of panelists and community members gathered to discuss opportunities for economic development in the Midlands. The discussion was part of the “Table Talk” series — a three-part series that dives deeper into the areas of opportunity revealed in the On the Table report (poverty, economic development, and race relations).

The panel included representatives from EngenuitySC, Community Loan Fund, and SOCO. Topics focused on how to maximize the Midland’s economic assets, what needs currently are, and how the everyday citizen can get involved. Below are some of the highlights from the discussion:

Meghan Hickman, Executive Director, EngenuitySC

Assets to maximize: “The first is business leadership. Right now, our climate has been tremendous in terms of collaboration between key business leaders. In addition, our entrepreneurial assets are amazing in this community. We’re seeing good, fast, progressive growth happening in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. The other asset I would mention is our higher education talent production. We have twelve higher education institutions in this region alone. We are producing enormous amounts of talent but we’re not keeping that talent here. “
Room for improvement: “Our GDP growth is falling behind the rest of the state and our employment growth is falling behind as well. Our numbers are not improving the way they need to be. It’s very difficult for our economic development professionals to present a competitive picture for this region because the cost of doing business is expensive here. “
EngenuitySC’s approach: “Our mission is to make the Midlands the most competitive and economically prosperous region in the state. We achieve this by managing projects. When leaders from the private sector, the public sector, economic development, and education want to come together and work on something big; we are generally the team behind the scenes that provides them with the capacity and process to ensure they see results. We are the regional collaboration management team to help execute projects that make this region more competitive and prosperous.”
Advice to the everyday citizen: “We need to be homegrown champions for our region. It is time to change the language we use to talk about Columbia. Let’s celebrate the wonderful community we have at our disposal. “

James Chatfield, Lending Director, Community Loan Fund

Assets to maximize: “Entrepreneurship, in general, is a huge asset that we have at our disposal. As it relates to the folks we work with on a daily basis, they sometimes lack the knowledge of the resources that are available to them. It’s a matter of getting those resources into the hands of the individuals that need them. Entrepreneurship at large is one of our strongest assets. Secondly, a large asset is the real estate we have at our disposal. In the census tracks in which we work, I see opportunity to redevelop those assets for the community. This will go a long way in improving the livability of the area.”
Community Loan Fund’s approach: “We are a lending organization that’s known as a community development financial institution. Our mission is to focus on low and moderate income census tracks all across the state of South Carolina. We were started as an affordable housing organization but since then have expanded our focus as well to small businesses and really focus on economic development. “
Advice to the everyday citizen: “Pay it forward. When I go to events I typically see the same faces. We’ve got to do a better job at welcoming people in from off the sidelines. There are people with great ideas and they want to get involved, they just need that extra nudge.”

Greg Hilton, Co-founder, SOCO

Assets to maximize: “Small business. The bulk of the jobs that put food on the table for people in this region are small mom and pops. They are the lifeblood of this community and an overlooked asset. We currently don’t celebrate and invest in those small businesses enough. Secondly, we have incredible people here. The people here have been fighting the good fight for so long and they’re still here. That says a lot about people’s commitment to this community. Economic development is about supporting our people in a big way and we need to leverage that. Nature is another asset we have. We have incredible access to water here. The natural amenities that we have here are great asset s to create value and pull interest to our region.”
Room for improvement: “The number of women and minority-owned firms. From a national standpoint, these firms only receive a small portion of funding from venture capitalist investors (only about 2% receive funding). “
SOCO’s approach: “We are a platform for community members, creative professionals, and self- employed individuals who want to work in an entrepreneurial space. We provide work space, infrastructure, community, programming, and education to people all over the Midlands. Since our founding in 2014, we’ve seen incredible growth in Columbia.”

For more information on the Table Talk Series or to register for our next discussion, community members can visit https://onthetablecola.org/table-talk-series.