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EngenuitySC report ranks Columbia No. 1 in livability among S.C. metro areas

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The Columbia metro area outranks Greenville and Charleston and is tied with Raleigh in livability — one of five indicators used to measure the region’s economic competitiveness, according to EngenuitySC’s third annual Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report.

The report, published as an insert in the Jan. 16-30 print issue of the Columbia Regional Business Report, analyzes economic competitiveness in Columbia as compared with nine other metropolitan areas in the Southeast.

Indicators measured in the report include talent, entrepreneurial and business environment, innovation, industry clusters, and livability.

"The importance of this report is really threefold," said Meghan Hickman, executive director of EngenuitySC, an economic development nonprofit. "First, it provides an annual gut-check as to where the region stands compared to our peer and aspirant regions. Secondly, it tells us where we've made progress and where we need to focus more resources. Lastly — and most importantly — it provides a road map to inform decision-making and catalyze action across the Midlands."

The report was announced Friday by the organization’s founding co-chairs, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides.

BlueCross BlueShield CEO David Pankau, who chairs the Midlands Business Leadership Group, said the EngenuitySC competitiveness report will be used to form community working groups. (Photo/EngenuitySC by Jeff Blake Photography)The Midlands Business Leadership Group, a coalition of more than 40 CEOs and executives from the Columbia region's largest employers, will be using the report to spark action through the formation of community working groups — mapped to the five areas of competitiveness, said David Pankau, president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and chairman of the coalition.

Pankau said the leadership group “has a primary objective to accelerate the development of the Midlands as a cool region that attracts and retains top talent, produces vibrant job offerings, and provides necessary resources to improve livability for all people. Remarkable things can happen when the private sector takes the lead in working collaboratively with local government and other organizational leaders. We are proud to play that role and excited about what the future holds for this region.”

The Columbia MSA analyzed for the report includes Richland, Lexington, Kershaw, Fairfield, Saluda and Calhoun counties. Nine other metropolitan areas analyzed for comparison were Charleston, Greenville, Raleigh, Knoxville, Tenn., Greensboro, N.C., Winston-Salem, N.C., Augusta, Lexington, Ky., and Tallahassee, Fla.

Data used to compute the livability index include the employment growth rate in arts, entertainment and recreation, cost of living, and vitality — the percentage of population ages 18-44. Columbia tied for second among the 10 communities measured.

Among positive trends noted in the report, the Columbia region shows the highest growth rate in the share of employment in arts, entertainment and recreation among its peer MSAs. Other positive factors the report found were: The share of population 18-40 years old is above the U.S. average and continues to rise, contributing to a young and vibrant culture; and the cost of living improved, making an already affordable area an even better place to live, work and play.

Negative trends impacting livability were: volunteer rate slipped for the second consecutive year and continues to be lower than many peer regions; the region saw an increase in violent crime year over year.

Here’s how Columbia stacks up in the other four indexes:

Talent – Overall index rank 8 of 10

Positive Trends

  • The share of workers employed in knowledge-intensive occupations increased and is approaching the U.S. average, an indicator of the Columbia MSA’s growing knowledge economy.
  • Columbia remains strong in educational attainment, with 31.7% of the population holding a bachelor's degree or higher (higher than the U.S. average).
  • The percentage of foreign-born population rose slightly, indicating a MSA attracting an increasingly diverse pool of talent.

Negative Trends

  • GDP per worker slipped for the second consecutive year and remains below the U.S. average.
  • While the percentage of degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields rose, it slipped below a fast-rising U.S. average.

Entrepreneurial & Business Environment – Overall index rank 7 of 10

Positive Trends:

  • Small business activity saw a substantial increase of 10.48 percentage points and is above the U.S. average, indicating a business environment conducive to small business growth.
  • Share of employment in professional and technical services increased for the second straight year, in line with similar gains in knowledge-intensive occupations.

Negative Trends

  • Proprietors’ share of income decreased slightly.

Innovative Capacity – Overall index rank 8 of 10

Positive Trends:

  • A high percentage of residents (12%) hold a graduate or professional degree, higher than the U.S. average and an increase over last year.
  • Indicators of innovative work from higher education, the number of SBIR/STTR awards per 100,000 and R&D expenditures per 1,000 both increased over last year.

Negative Trends:

  • Overall R&D funding awarded from all sources per 1,000 dropped from last year, though it remains above the U.S. average.
  • Employment diversity worsened ever-so-slightly from last year, but remains strong as the 2nd best of the MSAs compared.

Industry Clusters – Overall rank 7 of 10

Positive Trends:

  • All indicators show the presence of strong industry clusters within a business environment highly conducive to cluster growth.
  • The Columbia MSA saw strong growth in employment per square mile, indicating economic development both in the city as well as in rural areas.
  • Concentration of jobs in high-wage employment grew over previous data.

Negative Trends:

  • Employment diversity slipped slightly from last year, but remains strong as the second best of the MSAs compared; this indicates a diverse economy across a variety of sectors.

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