Collaboration among business interests, local government and conservation groups is the main goal for some Lowcountry business leaders his year, as the region continues to wrestle with contentious issues involving transportation, infrastructure and growth.
While some of these leaders say collaboration has been the norm, others say there is much work to be done.
Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, said there are “many examples of the positive collaboration between public and private sectors that we have been or are currently involved in and steering.”
Derreberry reeled off a series of initiatives in which the private sector and government work together. These include the One Region Global Competitiveness Strategy launched in 2016 and the development and growth of Career Academies and Youth Apprenticeship Programs.
“And the numerous investments in the Charleston Metro Chamber’s Accelerate Greater Charleston Campaigns; and the support for a number of years to build new schools across the region,” Derreberry told Palmetto Business Daily. “The center of our business advocacy efforts and our overall work of the Charleston Metro Chamber is to continually build private and public partnerships to address the needs of our region’s current and future economic prosperity. This is what drives the success of our region and we continue to embrace the powerful collaborations that are working in metro Charleston.”
Marc Fetten, chairman of the Trident CEO Council, a coalition of business leaders, said his organization’s No. 1 goal is collaboration.
“We want to get people working together and that means industries, conservation groups, various arms of government, federal, state and local,” Fetten told Palmetto Business Daily.
Fetten believes progress is being made against the background where “over the last five or 10 years some people have been polarizing the public into extreme positions that do not necessarily reflect public opinion.”
One of these contentious issues is that of development. Fetten said greater urban density is needed, but some interest groups have shown a desire to block such projects. Blocking these projects, Fetten said, will cause property costs to increase, making it unaffordable for people who have lived in the city for many years.
Despite the actions of a vocal minority, he said there is 80 percent agreement among businesses, local government and conservationists over the future development of Charleston and the three-county region.
“We recognize that we have commit resources to the 80 percent where we are aligned, identify those and invest in them,” Fetten said.
Mike Wooten, chairman of the South Carolina Department of Transportation and a board member of the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank, said his region, which includes Myrtle Beach, is one in which "local government and business work very well together."
That's not the situation in the Charleston region, said Wooten, who said the Lowcountry is the “home of obstructionists, where the environmental groups are nested in this area.”
He cited as an example the dispute over the completion of the Mark Clark Expressway, which is opposed by many conservationists but supported by business groups and a majority in local government.
Wooten, who as a member of the bank board has been involved in discussions over whether to give state money to the project, claimed “a minority of people are opposed to that project, but the organizations behind them are quite strong.”
With 43 people per day moving to the Charleston region, according to the Charleston Metro Chamber, the challenges will continue to be great, and the opportunities for collaboration many.
As Fetten said, "“Let’s work together and identify those areas where we can really transform the region."