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Eye on housing affordability, talent acquisition at Chamber 'Power Hour'

01) Chamber (Jason Brown) 01-25-23

Charleston Regional Development Alliance's Director of Stakeholder Relations Jason G. Brown was the keynote speaker at the Summerville/Dorchester Chamber of Commerce "Power Hour" event last week, where he touched concerns affecting current and incoming corporations in the Lowcountry insofar as employee recruitment, retention, housing affordability and overall quality of life.

Pervasive concerns relative to Tri-County firms being able to find adequate housing for new employees was on one several topics addressed by Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA) Director of Stakeholder Relations Jason G. Brown at the Summerville/Dorchester Chamber of Commerce's Jan. 18 "Power Hour" conference at the Summerville Municipal Annex Building.

Brown updated members of the Lowcountry's private and public sectors on results gathered by surveys, focus groups and numerous meeting presentations as part of the "One Region Roadmap" initiative to dig in on old and new local economic challenges, as well as preparing for future adversities.

Attendees were made privy to "what's next" in terms of widening "One Region Roadmap's" support base via the enlistment of lead agents for each of the action areas and/or themes in focus, which include:

* Global Fluency: This area was defined as integrating newcomers from the EU (European Union) and other parts of the world into the Lowcountry in relation to adapting to a new lifestyle and immersing themselves into a foreign culture.

* Infrastructure: Brown described this subject matter as all issues stemming from flooding, vehicular traffic and sprawl that most Charlestonians and Dorchester/Berkeley residents are keenly aware of.

* Innovation and Entrepreneurship: On this topic, Brown mentioned the "mind-boggling" 40 percent increase of business license applications from 2019-2021 regionwide, as many former employees are now entrepreneurs. How companies will cope with this reality is going to be a "major challenge," he predicted.

* Talent: Finding and retaining skilled workers was presented as a prevailing "pillar" of the "One Region Roadmap" game plan. Brown stated: "Both Volvo and Mercedes-Benz want to hire over 1,000 people in the next 12-18 months. So, they have to find people and they also have to retain them to make sure they're not jumping to another large manufacturer because they're not happy with their salary, they're not happy with their benefits, they're not happy with their quality of life."

* Quality of Place: This theme, Brown explained, is centered around helping individuals feel like they belong upon relocating to the Lowcountry.

* Affordability: Housing affordability, it was noted, may be the greatest issue that the local business community is facing. To that end, Brown recounted an example of how the high cost of living in the Tri-County area recently prompted a Greenville-based executive to decline a job offer from a local corporate entity based on his greatly-diminished housing options that his new salary would afford him if he had decided to migrate to Charleston.

In divulging a macro perspective of the current and future members of the region's workforce, the South Carolina-born and raised analyst reported that many recent retirees are turning to innovation in lieu of pursuing traditional post-retirement gigs. This has been especially true since the start of the global pandemic and continues to hold strong as communities are collectively emerging out of the isolation and lockdowns that resulted from the outbreak of COVID-19.

"Our workforce is aging. We talk about it all the time at CRDA. We're hoping to capitalize, and I think the state is also hoping to capitalize on being able to secure a lot of military retirees to plug in some gaps and fill some holes," continued Brown.

The CRDA rep emphasized that his forecast isn't in any way dire despite the looming concerns of escalating real estate prices and local traffic woes. The key, he pointed out, was to work toward maintaining the region's identity as a destination that people want to move to and settle in for years to come.

"I think we can get there and I think we have a lot of good positive momentum surrounding the announcements we recently had."

On that note, the Washington and Lee University law graduate highlighted 25 potential economic development projects in South Carolina of $1 billion or more, which is "unprecedented" for a state of its size.

The goal, he concluded, is to determine how to fit all those forthcoming investments together in a way that won't overwhelm local residents and area resources.

During a brief Q&A session with the audience, Brown responded to a question on how business community members could get involved in furthering the goals set in the "One Region Roadmap" endeavor by relating a real-life example of someone who is providing assistance.

His brother-in-law, a D.R. Horton realtor, he recounted, is collaborating with a CEO who is in the process of identifying housing stock for incoming employees.

"If you have a piece of the solution into some of the problems, let us know. We want to get you plugged in with not just a strategy, but also with some of the key players in the market who want your help and need to hear from the local business leaders who can impact some of those problems," observed Brown.

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