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Though it's easy to focus on manufacturing giants like Boeing, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, Brent Jonas of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance said that what they're after now is not those "elephants," but smaller businesses across a spectrum of industries. File/Wade Spees/Staff

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The one to watch

For the last 10 years, Charleston's economy has been growing. Where can the region grow from here, and what can businesses expect during a slowdown?

That decade-long expansion and those predictions for the future were the subject of the Post and Courier's latest Inside Business LIVE event, a quarterly networking and discussion series about the forces driving business in the region and the state. 

Wednesday's event featured a panel of local experts: Gerald Gordon, a professor with the College of Charleston's Masters of Public Administration program; Jamee Haley, the executive director of Lowcountry Local FirstBrent Jonas, the director of stakeholder relations for the Charleston Regional Development Alliance; and Perrin Lawson, the vice president of business development for Explore Charleston

Below are some of the topics and highlights from the discussion: 

The tight labor market: Lawson chimed in on this topic first, saying that the area's lack of available workers impacted the hospitality industry "tremendously." There are a number of hotels and restaurants that are operating short-staffed or opting to cut back on hours to deal with the shortage.

The No. 1 thing companies ask the CRDA when considering a move to the tri-country region, Jonas said, is whether the area has enough available workers.

"We're in a global war for talent," Jonas said. 

Locally, Haley said, companies need to raise their wages. Haley said she frequently talks to people who want to move to Charleston and search for jobs locally but end up opting to keep a job in Washington, D.C. or New York City by working remotely since Charleston "cannot compete with the salaries." 

Areas for future growth: When it comes to future development of the region's economy, diversification is "absolutely critical," Gordon said. 

Though it's easy to focus on manufacturing giants like BoeingMercedes Benz and Volvo, Jonas said that what they're after now is not those "elephants," but smaller businesses across a spectrum of industries. Think of those large manufacturers as big rocks in a jar, he said. 

"We're trying to fill in the sand around them," he said. 

When it comes to new areas for growth, Jonas said that the life sciences and information technology sectors are "the real opportunity" for Charleston. He also noted growth in venture capital. A new report found that venture capital funding in Charleston has increased 135 percent since 2010.

Opportunities for minorities: Haley said the community has a long way to go when it comes to lifting up underrepresented communities in the local economy. African American-owned businesses are only making about a third of what white-owned businesses in the area are making, she said. 

Business owners need to be thinking about who they're hiring to do marketing, accounting, landscaping and other services to ensure that "we're bringing others along with us." 

Haley also discussed Lowcountry Local First's new Good Enterprises initiative, a 12-week training program for local entrepreneurs.

"The biggest way to build generational wealth is through ownership," she said.

Preparing for a slowdown: "We're way past due for a big recession," Gordon said. Due to the length of the expansion period, Gordon said he thinks that when it hits, it will be "an extended recession." 

For businesses, it's important to be prepared by easing back on spending and saving up reserves. For workers and students, it's important to learn sought-after technical skills and encourage study of STEM fields. 

After the last recession, the Charleston area rebounded more quickly than many parts of the country, Jonas said. While no one can say that would happen again, Jonas said he thinks the diversification of the economy over the last 10 years will help with recovery from a slowdown. 

"Preparing for this is important, but it will be sustained," Gordon said. 


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Openings, closings:

  • Just 10 weeks after opening, Bishopp’s Chicken Biscuits has closed
  • Italian eatery Savi Cucina + Wine Bar opens Saturday in Mount Pleasant.
  • Outdoor ice skating rink Summerville Skates is opening for the season. 
  • Clothing retailer J. McLaughlin is upfitting a Mount Pleasant storefront.
  • A second Waffle House restaurant has opened in Moncks Corner

Financial statement:

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Sean Flood, CEO of Gotcha, leaves his company's office in early summer 2019. The firm, which has been based in Charleston since 2014, announced it is being acquired Tuesday. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

“I still fully believe in what we’re doing at Gotcha and want to continue what we’re doing." Sean Flood, CEO at Gotcha

Gotcha, a Charleston firm that sets up electric bike and scooter rental programs for colleges and cities, is being acquired by the California-based company OjO Electric. Flood said he'll stay on board as CEO and expects to remain in Charleston, along with the rest of the Gotcha staff. 

Other stuff you should know:

  • The second biggest bank headquartered in South Carolina, Carolina Financial Corp., is being sold in a $1.1 billion deal. (Post and Courier)
  • Construction at Charleston International will cut into some of its most convenient parking spots during the holiday season. (Post and Courier)
  • The solar industry believes investments in large-scale solar farms in S.C. may dry up due to recent decisions by utility regulators. (Post and Courier)
  • The Middle East's biggest carrier, Emirates, announced an order for 30 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets in an $8.8 billion deal. (Associated Press)
  • Uber plans to start recording audio during rides in the U.S. as a security measure. Riders would opt in to activate the feature. (Washington Post)

Sound smart at work:

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Charlestonians are spending more time in traffic slowdowns, according to a new report. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

"Hey boss, did you know drivers in the Charleston area now spend an average of 51 hours a year in traffic delays?"

That number is up from 40 hours in 2005, according to a new scorecard measuring economic factors and quality of life. Compared to eight other high-growth metro areas, Charleston got mostly average grades. Read more here.

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Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.