Development and Economic Growth in Charleston... Should We Embrace It or Resist It?

If we're being honest, most of us have had this conversation with our friends and loved ones over dinner at some point in the last few years. The landscape of our beloved city is changing before our eyes. We sit in traffic longer than we ever have before, our beaches seem to be so much more crowded than we remember them being "just yesterday," and we are spending more and more of our wages on rent or our mortgages.

Let me begin by saying that I'm not a Charleston native. I moved here in 1996 and went to Bishop England High School when it was still downtown, so perhaps I'm at least qualified to call myself a local. I remember riding my bike to Dunleavy's for a burger and never having to stand in line on a Saturday. I remember walking our dog on Sullivan's Island after dark, and the only other movement on the beach was the repetitive glow from the lighthouse. Charleston became home to me very quickly, but does it still feel that way now?

There is no question that our city has gotten much more crowded in the last several decades. With over 100,000 people moving to our metropolitan statistical area since 2010, we were bound to experience some growing pains, right? Politics aside, it has been a huge challenge to meet the growing demand for housing and infrastructure to keep pace with job and industry growth.

Let's highlight one thing that hasn't changed. Charleston's largest employment sectors are still tourism, trade, healthcare, and government. We still depend on our hospitality industry just as much as the "old days." With over 5 million visitors a year, Charleston continues to bring business people and vacationers from all over the world, resulting in a $4.2 billion economic impact according to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

Change is Coming:

When discussing development in our region it is also worth noting the factors that are making it necessary. I'm talking about economic growth. Unemployment in the Charleston area has dropped from 9.3% in 2010 to 3.2% in 2018. During the same period the average wage rose to almost $45,000 per year. In fact, Charleston ranks #4 in the top 15 cities that people are moving to because of their jobs and wages.

Economic growth also allows new industries to take hold in our region. Many are aware of the impacts that manufacturing companies such as Volvo, Boeing, Daimler, and Robert Bosch have on our local economy. Technology companies continue to flock to our area. For example, Google recently announced that they will invest $600 million in their growing data center in Moncks Corner. The technology industry in Charleston is growing so fast that our region has affectionately been dubbed "Silicon Harbor."

As new industries grow deep roots in our communities, our economy becomes stronger and more resilient to challenges like recessions and trade disputes. New skilled labor jobs will require education resources from the shop floor training to graduate programs. As our academic programs grow, it will bring new talent and research opportunities to our market.

Embrace or Resist?

As a community I believe we should recognize that economic growth is a reality for our immediate future, and as development occurs to meet commercial and residential demands, we should focus our efforts on preserving the character that has come to define the Lowcountry as such an amazing place to live and work. If we can find a way to embrace the growth while resisting a loss of "identity," perhaps our children will grow up to love our city for the same reasons we do.


Thumbnail photo by Shane McLendon on Unsplash