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Benjamin focuses on nurturing city’s business environment

Travis Boland
  • Travis Boland
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Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said in his State of the City address, he will make competitiveness of the city a priority, and presented a five-part focus plan for the continued growth of business in Columbia.

“The State of the City is a unique opportunity,” Benjamin said. “It is how we reflect upon, summarize and analyze the year past and look forward to the year ahead.”

Benjamin shared a few of the highlights Columbia has earned this past year including receiving $13 million in federal, state and private grants and being named one of the Top 50 places to live by U.S. News and World Report.

Columbia also has the fourth-lowest startup cost at $232,541, 5.3% lower than Charleston.

Benjamin praised Columbia metro for its current unemployment rate of 3.8% which is lower than both the state and national unemployment rate, and represents a 58.2% drop in unemployment over the past six years.

During that time, Columbia has also created over 63,000 new jobs, including over 10,000 this year.

Benjamin had five major points, or bones, that he believes will make the city more attractive to businesses looking to start in Columbia. They will be the foundation for which he hopes to build going into the new year.

  • Talent – Developing a strong pipeline, including a strong focus on skilled trades across the city that can give someone a good standard of living for a lifetime.
  • Entrepreneurial and Business Environment – Constantly investing and rethinking how we do business.
  • Innovation
  • Industry Cluster – Insurance Technology, Health Science and Future Fuels
  • Livability – Extending the Greenways, adding Railroad Quiet Zones, creating vibrant public spaces and promoting the arts.

When mentioning current businesses, he talked about big new projects and developments including China Jushi ($300 million and 400 jobs) along with new entrepreneurs taking advantage of the Vacant Abandoned Building incentive. He also mentioned TCube Solutions planned move to the First Base Building at Bull Street.

“It’s the deliberate, step-by-step work every day building a momentum that drives us into the future,” Benjamin said. “We’re going to change the world right here in Columbia, South Carolina.”

Benjamin rattled off his facts and figures with the help of the Virtual Inter-Columbia Intelligence expert, or VICI (pronounced Vicky). The computer would answer questions and present slides during the address. Benjamin said it was part of the new partnership between USC and IBM.

“The USC partnership with IBM in the Center for Applied Innovation will facilitate groundbreaking research concentrating on computing technologies and data analytics demanded by global businesses,” Benjamin said. “This partnership will also focus on the application of cognitive capabilities and the Internet of Things to develop new solutions to world problems.”

Benjamin said VICI is a representation of what IBM’s Watson is able to do.

“Imagine what type of innovation can emerge from here and from the potential new medical campus at Bull Street, which we remain excited and look forward to making it a reality,” Benjamin said.  

The mayor also talked about connecting people with housing they can afford.

“What we’re doing it right now is working to create an environment that encourages developers and contractors to build mixed use, mixed income, workforce housing across our city,” Benjamin said.

 He also said the influx of students living downtown was intentional and deliberate and has led to unparalleled urban growth.

 “We should be willing to apply those same principles to continue incentivizing private contractors who want to build the millions of dollars worth of beautiful, yet affordable, housing our citizens deserve,” Benjamin said. “I will be submitting a plan to council focusing on those broad themes for us to hash out the idea together.”

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