Two Birds, One Stone
Last week, the Charleston Metro Chamber was able to check two major programmatic boxes with one trip. On their way to Richmond for an annual ICV, they added a D.C. leg to the trip. After a direct arrival into Reagan National Airport, thanks to the recent addition of JetBlue service to the Charleston Airport, the delegation headed for the Capitol Visitor’s Center for lunch.
Chamber members met with staffers from their key legislators and spent time with Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a crowd favorite. Each guest spent time addressing some of the chamber’s highest priority issues: Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, the deepening of the Charleston harbor and passage of a new federal highway authorization bill. The legislators’ familiarity with the chamber’s key focus areas was a testament to the chamber’s advocacy efforts.
Senator Scott expressed gratitude to the chamber, saying, “Thank you for what you do to help make our community amazing.” When asked what the delegation could do to continue their support of the region, Scott advised local businesses to help create the future today, stressing the importance of being on the cutting edge of high tech advancements and also to focus on middle-skill jobs.
After lunch, a charter bus transported the group south to Virginia’s capitol. In a partnership with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, the Charleston Metro Chamber produced a Regional Economic Scorecard which compares Charleston’s data from 2005-2013 against six similar cities and two “leading economies”, with Richmond among the comparative. Selecting Richmond as the destination for their 4th Annual Metro Leadership Visit allowed the chamber’s attendees to make practical comparisons and see how programs, practices and initiatives could be realistically translated back to their own community.
The first stop in Richmond took attendees to Rocketts Landing, a new mixed-use neighborhood on the James River. Richard Souter, one of the developers of the project, was the first to address the group. Attendees learned how the project has become a catalyst for other riverside development, such as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route and the new Stone Brewery plant and bistro. Richmond’s Economic Development Authority COO, Jane Ferrara, also talked the group through the bid process for the Stone project – one for which Charleston was also in competition.
The next two days included tours and presentations on a host of other topics such as urban living, BRT, Virginia’s Biotechnology Park, creativity and entrepreneurism. Although the range of topics was diverse, the common theme was growth and development. Several attendees alluded to a growing divide in Charleston between those that want to see the city grow, and those that want to preserve its historic charm. The chamber supports “responsible growth”, so it is no wonder they are looking to Richmond and other historic cities to see how leaders there are successfully getting things done with public support.
The diversity of topics also served as a recruitment tool for the trip. The roughly 30 delegates represented an array of industries such as banking, technology, architecture and development, educational institutions, hospitality and others. One attendee remarked that the diverse networking opportunities was a big motivator in attending the visit. She also appreciated getting to know peers in this type of environment, because it affords an opportunity to connect on a deeper level.
Also of benefit to attendees is the value of meeting with and learning from thought leaders in other flourishing destinations. One attendee, a professor at the College of Charleston, voiced his appreciation for educational opportunities such as the leadership visit. “Every time I come to a chamber event, I come away with something new. It is the only conduit to ‘all of this’”, he said as he gestured around him.