As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, EngenuitySC is examining its potential impact on the Columbia region’s economic competitiveness, both now and in the future. Over the past month, our team led two virtual roundtables featuring economic development experts as we discussed the pandemic’s effects on businesses, government and education. 

On June 4, we featured Dr. Joey Von Nessen, a research economist at the UofSC Darla Moore School of Business, to explore data from the most recent Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report and the projected impacts we’ll see due to COVID-19. Dr. Von Nessen and participants also examined potential strategies our region can employ to mitigate the negative effects of the resulting recession. A few key takeaways:

  • The Columbia region is somewhat more insulated than some of the state’s other metro areas due to lower reliance upon tourism revenue and broad consumer demand, a finding borne out in recent SC Department of Employment and Workforce data releases. 
  • Small businesses and their employees will be disproportionately affected, with many restaurants and hospitality businesses likely to go out of business in the coming months. According to Dr. Von Nessen, this represents a critical opportunity to retrain unemployed workers with skills in perpetual demand, including coding, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing. 
  • Livability will become ever more important as workers – many of whom will no longer be tethered to office spaces – look for places with attractive opportunities for recreation and lower costs of living. The Columbia region fits this role perfectly, as Dr. Von Nessen emphasized the importance of building the region’s brand awareness. 
  • The pandemic is expected to significantly impact colleges and universities around the country in terms of enrollment and revenue, potentially catalyzing a shift in the overall marketplace. This gives our region a chance to reevaluate the role of four-year institutions as training centers for higher-tech local industry, but we must be cautious about the effects of reduced enrollment on local businesses, as well. 

On June 25, Morgan Crapps – a site selection consultant with Parker Poe Consulting and an EngenuitySC Board Member – presented new research on livability in Richland and Lexington Counties, the urban core of the Columbia metro. This research examined county-level data across a variety of indicators against comparable counties from peer cities in the Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report.  Major findings from this research included the following:

  • Columbia is well-positioned on the whole, with favorable costs of living and relatively easy access to basic needs like grocery stores and restaurants.
  • Lexington County stood out as the county among those studied with the lowest cost of housing relative to residents’ wages, and Richland County also fared well in comparison to other urban counties.
  • In a survey, the audience defined diversity as a key facet of livability, and this was reflected as Richland County ranked 4th of 20 counties in ESRI’s Diversity Index while also attracting over 7,000 international migrants. 
  • Both Richland and Lexington Counties have excellent air quality, a testament to the fact that the region’s industrial profile centers more on office-using employment than on manufacturing.
  • As commute times skyrocket in competing counties like Greenville and Charleston, impacting the quality of life for residents and visitors alike, Richland County enjoys some of the shortest average commute times of those in the study. 
  • The Parker Poe team noted that while there were some areas for potential improvement, the Columbia area meets the basic needs of major employers looking to expand operations; the team highlighted the need to communicate the area’s livability as a key facet of its value proposition.