Study Group’s recommendations

Midlands mayors urged to unite on tourism, business development

jwilkinson@thestate.comAugust 6, 2013 

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and mayors from around the Midlands and the state were hosted by the North Columbia Business Association at an economic development luncheonTuesday. From the right is, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Camden Mayor Tony Scully, Chapin Mayor Stan Shealy, Blythewood Mayor Mike Ross, Mauldin Mayor Dennis Raines, Union Mayor Harold Thompson, Irmo Mayor Hardy King and Eastover Mayor Geraldene Robinson.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

The Midlands should market itself as a regional destination for tourists and entrepreneurs – from Sumter and Camden to Chapin and Eastover – with Columbia as its hub, according to study group which made a presentation to a meeting of mayors on Tuesday.

Members of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism told the mayors of seven Midlands-area cities that they should market themselves together in both printed material and online as a great place for a vacation or to locate a business.

“We do a really good job as a region with industrial recruitment,” said Grant Jackson, the chamber’s senior vice president for community development. “But when it comes to quality of life, we don’t market ourselves very well.”

The gathering was part of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s third annual Mayor’s Economic Development luncheon. It was held at Columbia College and hosted by the North Columbia Business Association.

Among the group were mayors of Union, Eastover, Camden, Chapin, Blythewood, Irmo, and a representative from Sumter.

The authority’s chief executive Ric Luber said that each city or area has distinctive attractions that, when taken as a whole, make the region a more attractive place to do business or visit.

Chapin has Lake Murray. Camden has history. Columbia has attractions, such as the State Museum and Riverbanks Zoo. Lower Richland has the Congaree National Park.

Travelers and business people nationally and globally view the entire region as Columbia, its largest city and the state capital, Luber said.

“But the entire region is what they visit,” he said.

Luber and Jackson said the study committee is working on a marketing plan, perhaps based on Greenville’s “Think Greenville” Website, which links industrial recruitment, employment opportunities and tourism throughout the Upstate in one place.

“There needs to be an identity,” said Luber, who said the group also is looking at a shared funding plan.

Benjamin said that all of the Midlands communities need to work together “because our futures are inextricably intertwined.”

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