In Greenville, South Carolina, they ask where you go to church. In Columbia, South Carolina, they inquire about for whom you work. In Charleston, they ask you what you want to drink,” notes Claire Gibbons, global marketing and communications director of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance. The organization, she says, is focused on managing Charleston’s remarkable business growth, especially the automotive, IT, life sciences and logistics sectors and the “supportive eco-systems that industries need to thrive.”
She points out the key role that the young, educated workforce is playing in that growth, a fact that is confirmed in overheard conversations in the King Street bars over cocktails. Boeing, Bosch, Mahle, Blackbaud, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, the Intertech Group – they are all here and they make up the throbbing engine of economic growth.
Boeing opened its factory here ten years ago to build 787 Dreamliners – it is now the largest private employer in the region with around 7,000 people on staff. According to its senior director of government operations, Lindsay Leonard, what attracted the aircraft manufacturer to the region was the fact that “there is a capable and available workforce here that can be trained. We have a robust internship program and have developed training partnerships with local technical schools as well as the universities.”
A crucial component of the city’s growth and development is the Port of Charleston, the deepest harbor in the southeast. It is one of the busiest container ports in the US and during my visit it was announced that a record 215,000 containers had been loaded on to ships in a single month.
As a vivid example, every day you will see the port’s parking lot filled with glinting BMW automobiles fresh off the assembly line in Greenville, SC. Every day that parking lot empties as the vehicles are stuffed on to a container ship and sent out across the world. The next day the lot is full again. Over the next decade, an estimated $2 billion is to be spent upgrading the port and it remains the beating heart of commercial Charleston.
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