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Metrics, benchmarks help magnify economic development opportunity

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By Marc Rapport

The Columbia area needs to “magnify its opportunities” but is making a lot of progress as business and community leaders work to build a thriving, dynamic place for people to live, work, learn and play in the years ahead.

Meghan Hickman, executive director of EngenuitySC, previewed the 3rd annual Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report earlier this month during the USC Economic Outlook Conference. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)“Magnifying Opportunities” is one of the benchmarking metrics used by EngenuitySC in the organization’s annual Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report.

The organization is focused on helping Columbia and the Midlands become more economically prosperous and competitive by encouraging and managing regional collaborations between business, government, education and community leaders.

EngenuitySC’s third annual report, which will be published report as an insert in Columbia Regional Business Report’s Jan. 16 print issue, was previewed at the USC’s 36th annual Economic Outlook Conference earlier this month.

The report compares Columbia against similarly sized metro areas across the Southeast, using five indicators of success among competitive communities ― talent, entrepreneurial/business environment, innovative capacity, strong industry clusters and livability.

Meghan Hickman, executive director of EngenuitySC, briefly touched on what was going well and what could be improved in the Midlands.

For instance, in the area of “Talent”, Columbia ranks in the middle when it comes to GDP per worker, STEM degrees and overall educational attainment. Doing better in that regard is important to addressing the “skills gap” that earlier speakers noted was making it challenging to fill many local job openings. That, however, would require increasing state funding for public institutions so college degrees are more affordable.

That would be magnifying an opportunity. An educated workforce also would be more likely to produce the kind of innovative capacity shown in the metrics (including patents and advanced degrees) from Raleigh and the Research Triangle. “They blow away all the rest of us in that measure,” Hickman said. “It’s a result of what they began doing up there 30 years ago.”

Livability is an area where the Midlands already ranks high, with a slight ding from an uptick in violent crime from the previous year’s report. “We do have a strong small business culture, a cool factor, and a reputation as an easy place to do business,” Hickman says. “We need to capitalize on that and on the new, vibrant spaces being created for incubators and co-working.”

That, she said, would help “generate excitement for investing in the next generation of business opportunities here.”

Investment can be measured, of course, and that helps benchmark progress in areas that can sometimes be hard to quantify. “Numbers are incredibly important,” Hickman said. “But benchmarking doesn’t become powerful until it informs and catalyzes decisions that are being made.”

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