Ginny Deerin is a candidate for mayor in Charleston, South Carolina.
Deerin is the only female candidate in the race. She is a political activist and president of Lewis Walton, LLC, a consultancy firm specializing in management, marketing and fundraising.
Palmetto Business Daily has submitted the same questionnaire to all candidates for Charleston mayor and will publish the completed questionnaires, unedited, in the order they are received.
What do you think are the three most important issues facing the Charleston business
The top issues facing Charleston’s business community are quite clear: improving transportation, directing the growth and development heading toward Charleston, and ensuring that local residents have the skill-set to meet current and future employment needs.
Growth and Development: I fully embrace the growth heading our way. Our challenge is to be smart and responsible with growth, guiding it to where we want it, and keeping it away from places where it threatens quality of life. When projects are good for Charleston – I will work with developers to move projects forward that will benefit our city.
Forty-three residents move to Charleston daily, we must seize and guide the growth heading our way.
Transportation: Charleston auto commuters spent 41 hours delayed in traffic in 2014. The delay cost commuters more than $1,000 dollars. If we fail to address our traffic and transportation issues, residents won’t want to live here and businesses will no longer want to relocate to our city.
I announced a comprehensive transportation plan to address our mobility problems. My plan includes building and improving roads, piloting electric buses equipped with a traffic light sensor system to reduce commute time, building more sidewalks and bikeways to better connect neighborhoods to schools and businesses, and piloting a ferry service. Our current transportation plans must be able to integrate with a future rapid transit system, such as light rail.
Having real funding streams will make my transportation plan a reality. They include public-private partnerships, philanthropy, a modest increase in the gas tax, and untapped federal sources. They also include financial support from our state legislature. All of these mechanisms have worked in other communities.
I am the only candidate for Mayor with a comprehensive plan to address our transportation challenges and the only candidate with a plan to pay for it. This past April, State Representative Leon Stavrinakis has had the opportunity to improve our transportation infrastructure. When he did, he voted against funding for an infrastructure bill that would have helped alleviate traffic in Charleston. We need a plan, vision, action and some courage to tackle Charleston’s transportation challenges.
Education: Charleston has a competitive advantage, because residents love living here. It is our challenge to enable Charleston residents to seize the good jobs, particularly tech jobs, here today and coming tomorrow. To seize these opportunities, I put forth an education plan with some ideas so every child has the opportunity to succeed in Charleston.
I have a long history in education. Most notably, after recognizing gaps in public education, I founded the after school program WINGS for Kids at the James Island County Park in 1996. WINGS now has 10 programs in 3 states, a multi-million dollar budget, and hundreds of employees. It is extraordinarily successful after school program – it has served thousands of Charleston kids who have seen their grades, test scores, and attendance improve.
There has been much controversy lately over the rate of development here in Charleston. Some feel that local developers have been targeted unfairly. Where do you come out on this issue and what are your plans to deal with the issue?
Our Charleston brand must be protected – it benefits everyone and makes our city special.
I will work with developers, neighbors, and stakeholders to quickly move projects forward that benefit our city. There are regions of the city excited for new development – like parts of West Ashley and the Upper Peninsula. Initial plans are in place for both. As mayor, I will accelerate the implementation of these plans.
The city should not be changing the framework for developers midstream. Specifically, this means keeping zoning and ordinances up-to-date so developers do not waste time and resources drawing up plans permissible under existing law, only to then have zoning changed later in the process. Neighborhoods must be involved early in the process. Bluntly, the framework needs to be clear and intentional so they are actionable for developers and residents.
The city’s comprehensive plan – the Century V Plan must be constantly reviewed. Given the rapid growth of our city – a thorough review and update every ten years is not responsive enough. Parts of the current plan are out of date. The last time the plan was updated in 2010 — before Boeing and the rapid uptick in people moving to Charleston. Working with stakeholders across the city, I would review and update the plan during my first year in office.
Do you think the local business tax burden here in Charleston is too high or just about right? What would you do to change or reform the local business tax system?
South Carolina has a reputation of being one of the most business friendly states in the nation with incentives that help companies minimize operating expenses. The state’s tax credits for new jobs, corporate headquarter facilities, and a low corporate income tax rate has spurred businesses to relocate to our state. Charleston has benefited from the state’s structure and has worked to minimize the tax burden on businesses. Improvements can occur to minimize the burden on Charleston businesses.
Partnerships, like the Charleston Digital Corridor, are a prime example of how the city can minimize the tax burden. Tech related companies experience reduced business license fees, and a five year tax abatement. Similar incentives could be extended to local small businesses.
With the explosion of growth in Charleston, our permitting and business licensing system is outdated. Under my leadership, we will modernize our city’s permitting system. Businesses will be able to complete applications and transactions online. Developers and contractors will be able to see real-time project status using their mobile devices. Businesses will also have an option to pay a premium for a permit to move through the system more quickly. Fees paid for this expedited permitting and approval services will fund these service upgrades.
What do you think is the biggest strength of the Charleston business community?
Charleston’s business community has a competitive advantage. Residents love living here, entrepreneurs want to relocate here and businesses succeed here. Charleston’s high quality of life has made us a magnet for business, talent, and entrepreneurship. If we are not careful, traffic could hamper Charleston’s biggest strength. If our traffic continues to worsen, residents’ quality of life will diminish. Bold and comprehensive action on transportation will be my utmost priority as Mayor. Not only does that include building and improving new roads, but that also means building transportation infrastructure before development is complete – ensuring Charleston can take full advantage of the growth coming our way.
What do you think is outgoing Mayor Joe Riley's biggest accomplishment over the past 40 years regarding the local business community?
Mayor Riley has been an exceptional leader for our city. He put Charleston on the world map while ensuring our city’s historic character was preserved and protected.
Back in the late 1970s, when our city was in economic decline, Mayor Riley’s vision for a vibrant and economically strong city began to take hold. The first major initiative was the development of Charleston Place.
Charleston Place created jobs for residents, new opportunities for business owners, and breathed new life into downtown. At the time, the project was contentious and pit preservation groups, neighborhood associations, and businesses against one another. I played a role – working block-by-block, bringing together diverse coalitions, to get the project approved.
Charleston Place became the economic juggernaut of the peninsula. The project has been an excellent example of good growth and economic development.