Columbia is a city with passion.
Passion for a few things, in particular.
Business is big here in the capital city. The region finally landed some of sought-after national chains in the past year — Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods — and there’s talk they could help lure others.
Business leaders are working to reshape our economy with a high-tech core that could boost Columbia’s national reputation while drawing — and keeping — more young workers. Meanwhile, the Midlands, like the rest of the state, continues to draw manufacturing and distribution work that have been employment staples for decades.
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Anyone new to Columbia will learn quickly that life revolves around the University of South Carolina, the state’s flagship college. The school’s nearly 40,000 students and employees occupy a campus that carves through downtown Columbia, from the historic tree-lined Horseshoe quad — the original campus — to a riverside baseball stadium.
The college mingles with the community through lectures and concerts as well as medical, social and volunteer work.
But it’s the athletics side of the school that generates the most buzz around Columbia.
The Gamecocks have posted recent 10-plus win football seasons and won two national baseball championships. There are some big-name coaches here, like Steve Spurrier in football and Dawn Staley in women’s basketball. Matching the excitement on the field are some $200 million in new and improved facilities, from a football gameday parking lot to a new softball field.
The other sport in town is politics.
The S.C. State House — festooned with bronze stars marking spots struck by General Sherman’s cannons during the Civil War — is the centerpiece of Columbia’s government core.
The historic building is electrified during the first half of the year, when the governor — currently Republican Nikki Haley, a rising star on the national political state — and the state’s 170 representative and senators work on laws and attend social functions.
State government is a huge employer here. Columbia is home to more than 100 state agencies and dozens of state trade groups, advocacy organizations and lobbying firms.
Adding federal government operations just makes the public sector an even more dominant economic force in town.
And so the city’s power bases are intertwined.