By Christina Lee Knauss
The Columbia region is a great place to be an entrepreneur, but presents some challenges for employers trying to find and keep talent, according to the latest Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report 2021-22.
The report, a collaboration between EngenuitySC and the Midlands Business Leadership Group, measures the Columbia metro area against similar communities in the Southeast to determine how competitive it is for business and economic growth. It was released on March 11 during a panel discussion at the Pastides Alumni Center.
This is the seventh competitiveness report the groups have compiled and the first to reflect initial data from the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Columbia area continued to be a favorable place for entrepreneurship and new business start-ups, the report showed some concerning trends in the region’s ability to attract and retain employees with the necessary skills. to increase the region’s workforce. This included low overall income gains, particularly in Richland County.
“Columbia has grown slowly overall compared to its peers,” said Joey Von Nessen, an economist in the Research Division of the University of South Carolina School of Business. “We have a strong talent base here, but we’re not retaining that talent the way we should, in part because we’re not producing enough good job opportunities to retain that talent.”
The report compiles data for the Columbia Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes six counties: Richland, Lexington, Kershaw, Fairfield, Saluda and Calhoun. As of the 2020 census, it was the second largest MSA in the state, with a population of 838,433.
Columbia’s MSA peers were chosen because they share at least one comparable economic asset, including: a major local university; similar geographic location and landscape; comparable population size; and/or a state capital. MSA peers include the Greenville/Anderson/Mauldin and Charleston/North Charleston areas in South Carolina as well as Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Greensboro/Highpoint, North Carolina; Knoxville, TN; Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia, Lexington-Fayette, Ky. and Tallahassee, Florida.
The Midlands ranked first in entrepreneurial and business development, third out of 10, and remained the same as previous years in terms of innovation capacity at seventh.
However, the region came in last on talent, which measures a region’s ability to attract, develop and retain a dynamic and skilled workforce. In this category, the Columbia area scored low, especially on the percentage of degrees awarded in high-demand STEM fields and average salaries for people in STEM positions.
Another concerning result is Columbia’s ninth-highest ranking for livability, a measure of an area’s ability to provide an inclusive and vibrant space for residents to “live, learn, work and play,” according to the report.
Among the lowest scores in this category were Columbia’s employment in arts, entertainment and recreation (eighth) and the cost of living index (seventh), with the region coming in last in terms of the violent crime rate per 100,000 population.
The Midlands also ranks ninth among industry clusters, which is a region’s ability to support and develop industries that can compete in a global market.
Von Nessen noted that Columbia is still struggling to bounce back from the economic effects of COVID-19, called “The Great Reset” by economists, as it led many jobs away and caused many workers to change. careers.
He said the Midlands can improve its appeal to potential new residents by encouraging industries that allow remote working.
Community and business leaders from across the Midlands discussed the report’s findings on March 11. Among their suggestions on how to improve Columbia’s competitiveness were the need to grow the community brand not just in South Carolina but across the country and develop new opportunities for workforce development. . while building on the region’s already strong reputation for innovation and startups.
Lou Kennedy, president and chief executive of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, said the Midlands also needed to develop and promote natural assets such as the riverfront areas of Richland and Lexington counties, which could present a natural attraction for young people planning to move to the area.
Kennedy also said the region in general needs to do more to promote its growing number of businesses in the health and science sectors.
“Recently, the biosciences and life sciences market in South Carolina has been on fire,” Kennedy said. “These are good paying jobs, and we need to come out of our shell, come together and let people know what we have here.”
A new group formed by the MBLG, the Regional Competitiveness Council, will bring together Midlands leaders to work on initiatives to improve the region’s competitiveness. The council will include members from area business, government and educational institutions and will be led by Scott Graves of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and Ron Rhames, president of Midlands Technical College.
The MBLG took over compiling the annual competitiveness report when EngenuitySC, a non-profit project management organization, disbanded last December.
“There is a lot of passion and positive momentum here in the Midlands, and we want to use this report to identify ways to develop initiatives to move the Midlands forward,” said Graves. “We want to work with the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors to achieve this.”