Urbanizing cities of the U.S. Southeast, such as Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina, and Asheville, North Carolina, are facing the trade-offs of continued growth. Speaking at the 2018 ULI Carolinas Meeting, the mayors of those three cities discussed how and where their cities invest to attract job growth, while attempting to avoid displacement of longtime residents.
“We are engaged in a fantastic experiment to turn Columbia into an entrepreneurial hub,” explained Steve Benjamin, the city’s mayor. “We’re trying to change the paradigm to show that private capital is welcome.”
That is a challenge in itself. South Carolina’s capital city has struggled with high crime and has a poverty rate of almost 25 percent, close to double the U.S. rate. Meanwhile, well over half of the city’s real estate is not on the tax rolls, a problem typical of capital cities.
Benjamin understands that attracting business-including the tech sector-will require a wholesale shift. Mayor since 2010, he started by focusing on the basics: rebuilding the city’s financial reserves to what they were prior to the Great Recession; reducing the tax rate to where it was a decade ago; investing $1.5 billion in the urban core, including basic infrastructure like water and sewer; and boosting public safety funding. He has got some more ambitious plans, too, including establishing a program that would pay the college tuition of Columbia high school graduates, bringing 5G wireless to the city, and revitalizing downtown.