EngenuitySC’s second annual Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report provides us an opportunity to evaluate trends, celebrate our growth and identify areas for improvement.
First, let’s celebrate our achievements. More of our community has an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and we have increased the number of degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and math. Columbia was recently named the eighth best college town in the country, and we have seen growth in the number of graduates who choose to stay in the Greater Columbia area.
This increases the vitality of our community and creates a skilled workforce, attracting more business and industry. Our innovation capacity has increased; the growth rate for patents is higher than the U.S. average.
On the flip side, we have seen a decline in knowledge workers (think science, technology and engineering) and in worker productivity. Small business activity has decreased. Colleges spent less money on research and development. Volunteerism went down and remains lower than many of our peer regions. Violent crime increased from 417 per year per 100,000 to 578.
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This past year, we saw the tragedy of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church shooting and then suffered through severe flooding and the resulting loss of homes, businesses and infrastructure. Despite the tragedy and loss, there was one positive theme that ran through these events: “community” — or “common unity.” Our great state did not respond to these losses with violence, disunity or crime. We came together; we unified.
If we can harness this sense of community to collaborate on a shared economic vision of the Midlands, to drive competitiveness and innovation, to encourage pride, what can we achieve?
I strongly encourage you to get involved. Join your chamber of commerce; keep in touch with economic development groups such as EngenuitySC; volunteer; support local businesses. Most importantly, be a leader. Be a driver of change and growth. Take pride in our community. Imagine more. Imagine what we can achieve.