As the chief executive of a global company that's among the nation's largest privately held businesses, Anita Zucker maintains a busy, fast-paced schedule.
But the InterTech Group CEO agreed to carve out several hours from her calendar when approached a few months ago to give her assessment of the local economy. Representatives from other industries also participated in the morning session.
"It's nice to be invited," Zucker said last week.
This was no routine breakfast get-together. The organizer of the inaugural and quietly organized "Charleston Industry Roundtable" was a regional branch of the Federal Reserve Bank seeking a closer look at what's happening in the Lowcountry.
The central bank's Richmond, Va.-based outpost, which monitors business conditions in the District of Columbia and five states, including South Carolina, has made Charleston one of a handful of sites where it regularly convenes roundtable talks. The first were launched in Charlotte, Baltimore and Richmond.
"But we didn't feel we were getting enough engagement," said Rick Kaglic, who runs the programs.
So the Fed's Fifth District decided to add the Holy City to its lineup.
Kaglic, a Charlotte-based economist for the Richmond Fed, oversaw the first meeting at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. The local group will meet privately twice a year for about three hours to provide real-world perspective to the raw statistical data the bank collects.
"This one of the way we stay grounded on Main Streets across our district," Kaglic said last week.
The first class of 12 recruits represent a diverse swath of the local economy, such as manufacturing, real estate, banking, retail, maritime and hospitality.
Charleston attorney Wilbur Johnson is among them. He's also been a board member of the Fed's Fifth
District for the past two years.
The anecdotal feedback gleaned from the roundtables won't gather dust in a spreadsheet, said Johnson, the managing partner at Young Clement Rivers. It will be filtered, distilled and handed up the line for consideration by the central bank's powerful Federal Open Market Committee, which dictates the direction of interest rates.
"Eventually, some iteration of that information makes its way to Washington, D.C.," Johnson said.
While it wasn't widely touted, the creation of the roundtable is being held up as official acknowledgement of Charleston's growing economic influence in the state and the Southeast.
The port, the medical industry and, naturally, Boeing Co.'s 787 campus all are of immense interest among the number crunchers in Richmond.
"I think it's another one of those signs that Charleston is definitely changing in a major way," said roundtable member Mary Graham, a senior vice president at the Charleston Metro Chamber. "Here we have the Federal Reserve, and we're on its radar as an economy to watch."
Chris Fraser, president of the commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis|WRS who also serves as chairman of the Charleston County School Board, is on the panel as well. He will be traveling to Richmond this week for a Fifth District industry roundtable summit.
Fraser noted that the region has had great success in the past racking up various accolades, many of them tied to its thriving tourism industry. This formal recognition from the Fed signals there's more to Charleston than nice hotels, great restaurants and historic homes.
"We're a lot bigger than we think we are," Fraser said.