If anyone still had doubts about Charleston’s recovery from the economic downturn, two late May announcements stand as proof positive: The Horizon Foundation confirmed it has selected a master developer to bring two million square feet of apartments, offices and retail space to Charleston’s West Side, while the Evening Post Publishing Co. named a developer for the first phase of its effort to overhaul 12 acres of prime midtown property.
Momentum is gathering for these and other projects, massive investments that will change the face of the city and alter its economic identity.
The local business community and the residents they serve need to recognize and react to these changes now, before ground is broken and decisions are made that will resonate for generations.
Over the past five years, Lowcountry Local First has seen tremendous change and growth in Charleston. It’s been a pleasure to work at the center of a citywide shift towards local, sustainable choices for all kinds of goods and services.
Yet throughout that time, our efforts were undertaken against the backdrop of a national economic slump. The housing bubble had burst, banks weren’t loaning money and consumers were saving what little they had left over after gas, food and utility bills.
Now that’s all changing. More than 10,000 homes were sold in Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties in 2012, the most since 2007. Unemployment is down, with sharp job increases in the professional and business services sectors. Our hospitality industry has rebounded and it seems like a new restaurant opens every day.
While there are still challenging times ahead for many families, the overall economic picture in Charleston is good and that is something worth celebrating.
It also makes our mission to support local, independent business all the more important.
Whether the economy is good or bad, some things remain the same.
A landmark study from researchers at Civic Economics found that for every $100 spent at a chain store, the local economic impact was $13, whereas when those dollars were spent with a local store the impact was $45.
In study after study, economists have shown that investing locally makes an enormous impact on employment, diversity of offerings, tax dollars for infrastructure improvements and more.
In a down economy, consumers aren’t spending at local or national stores and the threat is one of stagnation. As the economy recovers and consumer spending rises, our challenge to support local, sustainable businesses becomes all the more important.
A growing economy means expansion, construction, redevelopment and more (see Horizon and Courier Square, exhibits A and B). Businesses will fill new retail and office spaces and serve incoming residents. But what kind of businesses will they be?
Where will their profits be taxed and saved?
And how will their aims and offerings blend in with the unique character of Charleston?
For now, before contracts are signed and ground is broken on many new development projects, these are still just questions.
So let’s work together to make sure the answers are what we truly want for ourselves and for generations to come.
Let’s choose local.
Jamee Haley is executive director of Lowcountry Local First, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to advocating for local, independent businesses (www.lowcountrylocalfirst.org).