Fresh off its successful push to pass the new Charleston County half cent sales tax, the Trident CEO Council is looking to continue to raise its profile on key local business issues in 2017.
Who is the Trident CEO Council and for which issues does it stand?
John Darby, the CEO of the Beach Company and a former chairman and one of the founders of the TCEOC, talked with Palmetto Business Daily, about the history of the organization and its current priorities.
According to Darby, the mantra of the organizations is the same now as it was when the organization was founded: Quality jobs and economic growth.
“There is a lot of emotion and energy in the room when it comes to tackling the issues,” Darby told Palmetto Business Daily. “We cut right through the clutter to identify what is best for the community.”
Darby added, “In politics, that does not happen all that often.”
The Trident CEO Council was formed after business leaders from the three Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties gathered to map out a plan to work together in 2003. Those business leaders were joined by the council chairs and superintendents.
“They got together as a group to facilitate a strategic economic plan for the region,” Darby said. “We are divided into the three counties and several municipalities, and they all compete in different ways for business, for infrastructure. And even though they work well, it is inherent they will look after their individual well-being.”
That was the first time all three counties came together to say we need an economic strategic plan for the entire region, Darby said. They brought in an economics expert to draw up a plan on how best to move forward. One of the recommendations was a council comprised of business chief executives to act as a force pulling regional leaders together. Key elements of the job of the council were to encourage better policies, to fund studies on regional infrastructure, and better collaborate with government.
“We now have a group that is business-led that speaks for the region,” Darby said. “Never before in the region have we had a group that is business-led. Most of the debate on these issues was led government entities. Our hope is that the business community has an influence on quality growth, responsible government, and port expansion."
He added, “It was a slow start but once got going and it was established, it was well-attended.”
Last year, the TCEOC launched a new Web site — We Stand for Progress — that lists thirteen key regional policy priorities for which the group will advocate.
Transportation is one of those priorities, which is why the passage of the half cent sales tax "was a big deal," said Darby, who adds that transparency is a big deal when it comes to deciding what to do with the sales tax.
In more general terms, the group wants responsible government on all levels, but is concerned at the divisions and lack of trust among politicians.
Tom Leonard, executive director of the TCEOC, told Palmetto Business Daily those divisions and trust issues are a reason the group will prioritize better collaboration among members of the business community and policymakers in 2017.
"We need much more collaboration in the U.S. as a whole, and certainly also here in the state of South of Carolina and in the Lowcountry," said Leonard.
Additional 2017 priorities for the group include improving infrastructure, with a key emphasis on resurrecting the Interstate 526 project; encouraging density over sprawl; and pushing for better public transport, including rapid transit lanes on key routes.
Leonard said the council will soon send a letter to the South Carolina Infrastructure Bank urging the board members to release $420 million to restart the I-526 extension. Leonard told Palmetto Business Daily he is hopeful board members will sign off on the release of the funds at its Dec. 14 meeting, even without local leaders guaranteeing matching funds at this time.
"If it has to be built in phases, that's fine," Leonard said. Those matching funds will be found as the work progresses, he added.
The organization will also advocate for more rapid transit bus lanes, with vehicles equipped with wi-fi.
In terms of how the organization intends to reach these goals, Leonard quoted his organization's Web site, which reads: "We may not always agree on how to get there. But every step we take, we will take together, united by opportunity and our collective stand for progress."
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