This week marks the latest installment in City Paper's ongoing series "After Riley" presented in conjunction with Lowcountry Local First, Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C. Community Loan Fund, Coastal Conservation League, and IfYouWereMayor.com. In it, candidates have been asked to answer a series of questions regarding culture, commerce, and livability. Candidates have responded with no knowledge of any other participant's answers.
The series will culminate on Sept. 30 with a forum put on by these organizations. The forum is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP at YourCharleston.org.
As the number of minority businesses decrease and commercial prices increase, what type of economic development plan would you develop that provides prosperity for all people?
Diversity makes our city unique and interesting. We can't lose that. Minority-owned businesses are key to that diversity. Even if there are challenges ahead as commercial prices increase, as mayor, I will work to create an environment where minority- and women-owned businesses will prosper.
The city's Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) office assists new and established companies with marketing and managements consultation and mentoring. It's time to ramp up these services and help businesses achieve MWBE certification, positioning them to secure city contracts.
Money is time, especially for small businesses. As mayor, I will lead an effort to cut red tape and making permitting easier for small businesses. In a Deerin administration, the entire permitting system will be available online and businesses will be able to use their mobile devices to see where they are in the permitting process.
Diversity and inclusion are essential to Charleston's future. Promoting minority- and women-owned businesses has and will always be a focus of mine. As a City Councilman, I continue to challenge low participation rates for women and minority businesses. As a result the city of Charleston participation rates on the Gaillard alone exceed state and national averages at roughly 30 percent of a $142 million project. Also I will make sure that there is always a level playing field for these businesses to have an opportunity to participate. I will establish business incubators that will help educate and develop these businesses so that they may effectively enter the economic landscape that is here. As mayor, I will introduce tax incentives and zoning bonuses to those developers that provide affordable commercial space so that these businesses have a chance to get prime locations.
My economic development plan is based on two key questions: how is the community doing and what is it lacking? I see a substantial gap, and opportunity, in economic development as it relates to communities on the edge. Edge communities are watching but not participating, and I believe that our community has wealth for anyone who wants to work hard for it. I mentioned the Eastside in an earlier question, and the history of that community, to me, is a stronger indicator of what could be there now. It was once filled with business-owning, free people of color who didn't have access to a third of what's available today. For example, have you ever heard of Jehu Jones? He and his wife, Abigail, owned a hotel in what is now the church yard of St. Michael's Church. They sold the land and hotel and bought another property which they converted into a new hotel and ran until 1833. How many black-owned hotels do we have today? There's a gap waiting for an opportunity.
Economic development for any region begins with quality education options. The next mayor must be a champion for our children's education. As the father of three children in Charleston public schools and a product of Charleston's public schools, no candidate understands this better than I do. As mayor, I will start by organizing a monthly meeting among city department leaders, principals, and school administrators to enhance coordination and ensure that our city schools are getting the resources they need, but also so that I can better advocate for Charleston to receive its fair share of funding from the state. As mayor, I will also embrace Trident Tech so that Charleston residents and students are better prepared for jobs in the burgeoning manufacturing, aeronautics, and digital industries in our community.
Having a prepared workforce is an essential component of economic development. As former chairman of County Council and state legislator, I am an experienced advocate for our city and region and will continue to work alongside economic development organizations in our area to recruit quality jobs. That means better schools and the resources to train our citizens for the jobs available locally. I will also reduce the bureaucratic red-tape that burdens businesses in the city and move city services online to create an environment where our existing businesses can grow and create jobs.
As I said in response to an earlier question, in Charleston today, economic development requires a two-prong approach. First, we have to ensure that future growth is consistent with maintaining and improving our citizens' quality of life. And at the same time, we need to encourage projects that have the potential to revitalize the under-performing areas of our economy.
Specifically in terms of increasing opportunity and prosperity for all our citizens, there are a number of things we should be doing, including: (1) Strategic economic development to revitalize our under-performing areas, similar to the work we did on Upper King Street when I was the city's director of economic development; (2) Streetscaping and other infrastructure improvements to certain retail areas, particularly in the West Ashley area; (3) Work to recruit and retain knowledge-based and value-added jobs, and make sure our citizens have the skills and training to do those jobs; (4) Use our business incubators to foster minority- and women-owned businesses; (5) Implement the kind of public transportation and workforce housing initiatives that will make it possible for all our citizens to compete and succeed here in the Charleston area.
As mayor, I would put forth an economic development plan that would be fair to everyone. We must make opportunities available for local- and minority-based businesses. We can achieve this through public-private partnerships, increased investment in training programs, and the creation of a dedicated staff position of minority economic affairs.
The Local Development Cooperation is a great resource for minority business owners. As mayor, I will enlist the LDC and the Chamber of Commerce to create a diversity and inclusion program that provides financial resources and develops programs aimed at supporting minority business success through networking, mentoring, and partnering. The city must lead this charge by example by ensuring our procurement practices are cognizant of diversity and inclusion.
The reality is, minority businesses in Charleston (particularly the peninsula) have been nearly eradicated. It is time for a serious, open, frank, and thoughtful community discussion on this issue. Together, we must move forward with creating an economy that provides opportunities for all of our citizens and we must have real discussion around diversity and inclusion. To avoid such talk may imply that we lack faith and confidence in one another as Charlestonians.