If Jennifer Brown, director of business retention and expansion at the Charleston County Economic Development department (CCED), is sitting in your company’s lobby, help is on the way. Brown is making a sales call, except instead of asking for your business, she wants to walk away with homework.
Brown visits 150-200 local companies each year and listens to their concerns. Then she heads back to CCED and works with the team to find resolutions to the issues discussed.
Charleston County Economic Development sees itself as the concierge for local business. “We’re your business partner,” said Steve Dykes, executive director and founder of the department back in 1993. “We’re here to help you succeed.” CCED knows that recruitment of new employers can’t happen without retention of existing ones.
CCED can assist business with almost any issue, most often by connecting them with resources that already exist. Dykes says businesses have requested aid on a host of issues, like finding skilled labor that matches their needs, determining the permits they’ll require, dealing with zoning issues and seeking specialized vendors. It also supports expanding businesses with site selection, industrial financing, infrastructure support and incentives.
The county recognizes that a strong business community providing stable, well-paying jobs, is critical to the vitality of the community. “You’re in business to run your business. Let us handle the other things,” said Dykes.
In addition, CCED holds networking events that create connections and facilitate engagement among business people. Often, says Dykes, these meetings help business leaders find solutions to problems. For example, employers have discovered at these gatherings that Trident Technical College offers classes designed specifically for local employees to build their workplace skills.
While most people think of hospitality and tourism when they think of Charleston, CCED’s focus is on the newer, growing industries: automotive, aerospace, biomedical, high tech and call centers. Charleston County Economic Development collaborates with a host of state, local and regional entities, like the SC Department of Commerce, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, and Berkeley and Dorchester’s economic development teams. Since 1993, CCED has attracted $6 billion worth of business relocations and expansions resulting in the creation of over 28,000 new jobs.
All that job growth brings challenges with it. An estimated 35-40 people are arriving in the Lowcountry each day, and not necessarily with the skills those new and expanding employers seek. That has made workforce development a key issue for Charleston County Economic Development. The county is an ally in various workforce development initiatives, like Tri-County Cradle-to-Career, chaired by Charleston businesswoman Anita Zucker; the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s workforce academies and acts as a liaison with local school districts, and can point employers to a host of resources, like readySC, which offers workforce training programs customized to the special needs of relocating and expanding companies.
Charleston County, like the rest of the Lowcountry, is booming, with many new opportunities for businesses and the local residents they employ. Charleston County Economic Development wants to make sure that the conditions necessary to help businesses thrive continue into the future.