Mayor Steve Benjamin calls for industry creation, unemployment elimination

cleblanc@thestate.comJanuary 3, 2014 

Steve Benjamin

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

Mayor Steve Benjamin kicked off his second term on Friday afternoon with a call to convert Columbia into a city that boldly creates new industries and seeks to eliminate unemployment.

In a speech in City Council chambers, Benjamin reminded the audience of ideas that once seemed out of reach but became a reality for the capital city:

* Fort Jackson, which critics once said should not be located in a small, backwoods city

* Riverbanks Zoo, which detractors said the metropolitan area could not afford

* The opening of the State Museum, the city museum on Main Street or EdVenture children's museum.

"Let ours be a city of ideas because there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come," the mayor said.

Here is the full text of the mayor's prepared remarks:

Chief Justice Toal, fellow Council Members, family, friends and all Columbians.

In many ways, an inauguration is much like a wedding.

Both require an inordinate amount of planning going in. The day itself is usually a whirlwind of activity. And when everything’s said and done, all you can remember are the vows.

Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. The vows are pretty important. But if that’s all we remember, then we’re missing something equally important if not more so.

Because within this oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of this State and of the United States” lies an unspoken charge, a promise not only to serve but to aspire, to inspire and to lead.

And in order to lead we first must believe; both in ourselves and in each other.

It was Pearl Buck, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, who wrote:

“I believe in human beings, but my faith is without sentimentality. I know that in environments of uncertainty, fear, and hunger, the human being is dwarfed and shaped without his being aware of it, just as the plant struggling under a stone does not know its own condition. Only when the stone is removed can it spring up freely into the light.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand here today because I too believe.

I believe in you. I believe in us. I believe in Columbia, not just the city we are but the city we can be and are meant to be: a city of ideas – new and bold, reaching past the boundaries of our preconception and conventional wisdom to break new ground and find it fertile.

Ideas that spark and inspire, that spin like centrifuges and rise like towers of glass and steel reaching to the sky.

Ideas that speak to that undeniably American impulse within us all driving us to explore and discover, innovate, invent and achieve.

I believe we are destined to be a city of ideas. But ideas demand courage. They demand courage because the future scares us. Because all change – no matter how promising or long awaited – is frightening. And if we are to realize our potential…our promise… we must first find the courage to overcome that fear and the will to act in spite of it.

It’s a story we’ve repeated time and time again throughout our history.

Think back to the courage it took for General Leonard Wood and the War Department to ignore all those who argued that Columbia was too small, too backwoods and too Southern to train the soldiers our nation needed to fight the Great War bearing down in 1917. But today Fort Jackson stands as the United States Army’s flagship training facility and a source of pride for our city, our state and our nation. 40 years ago they said we didn’t need a zoo, didn’t want a zoo and couldn’t afford a zoo. But where would we be today without Riverbanks Zoo and the more than 1 million visitors it brings to our community every single year? What if the old Columbia Mills Building had never become the State Museum, if the Columbia Museum of Art had never moved to Main Street and if EdVenture had never been built at all?

Imagine our great city with no Interstate highways, no Lake Murray, no Finlay Park and no University of South Carolina.

It’s like trying to imagine Charleston without the harbor, Greenville without the mountains or Myrtle Beach with no ocean because they are so intertwined with what this city is, who we are, that separating the two is unimaginable. But it all began with an idea, some small spark of creativity nurtured by the warm breath of hope.

That is who we are, a city of ideas born by hope and in that we become so much more than we were ever meant to be, more than some compromise between the Lowcountry and Upstate, a Capital for travel convenience, but rather an idea, an inspiration and an act of faith, a promise of something greater waiting just over the horizon if we can just find it within ourselves to believe.

My friends, my fellows and my fellow Columbians; I stand here today because I believe.

I believe in that hope. I believe in this city. I believe in you and I believe that this is our time.

This is our chance to roll away the stone and spring up freely into the light of a new day. This is our moment to reach out beyond the shadows of misgiving and doubt, of division and fear, and take our destiny with both hands. This is our time not in 10 years or 20 but this year, right now, today.

So let ours be a city that doesn’t just recruit new jobs but creates entire new industries, a city that isn’t satisfied with lowering unemployment by fractions of a percent because we can cut it in half or wipe it away completely, a city that is safe not just safer and doesn’t need statistics to prove it.

So from the arts economy to alternative energy, from bike paths to baseball, let ours be a city of ideas and we will remember this moment for so much more than our vows because this is our moment, this is our destiny, this is Columbia’s promise.

Let ours be a city of ideas because there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Thank you, God bless you and God bless the City of Columbia.

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