Chamber seeks alliances to build region’s future

Published in the Dec. 26, 2011 edition of the
Columbia Regional Business Report

By C. Grant Jackson
Senior Vice President/Community Development
Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce


A lot has changed over the past four years since I last wrote a regular newspaper column. For starters I’m not what you might consider a practicing journalist any more.

The journalism purists would say this is not a real column because I’m writing about the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the activities of its Navigating from Good to Great Foundation while an employee of the chamber and foundation. Ok, point granted – I’m not an employee of the Columbia Regional Business Report and I’m not being paid to write. And this column will provide the voice of the chamber.

Cards on the table: the idea for this column (and my return to some form of journalism) came out of a feeling that many in the business community and in the greater Columbia regional community don’t know what is being done, often quietly and behind the scenes, to connect the dots and move our region from good to great.

Attracting the creative class

We are making tremendous strides in everything from dealing with the homeless to regional cooperation to creating a place where bright, young, creative professionals want to live, work and play.

We pitched the idea to Bob Bouyea, this paper’s publisher, of my writing a once a month column to explain not only how we are connecting the dots, but also provide insight into what a connected region can mean . And along the way we’ll also provide a bit of praise to some of those who are making it happen. And Bob graciously agreed to give us a try.

But why now and why me?

The why now is easy to answer. We believe our Navigating from Good to Great Foundation has changed the community conversation as we approach year five of our first five years and prepare for the next five years. Business leaders, education leaders, politicians and community activists all have become part of the conversation that believes we can move the Columbia region from a good place to live to a great place to live. People are talking a whole lot more about what is already great in Columbia and talking less about Charleston and Greenville. And people from Greenville and Charleston are talking a whole lot more about Columbia.

We have taken on the role of community convener to bring those disparate elements together to sit at the table and seek solutions as one rather than simply finger-pointing. If something is a problem for our community it is not your problem, it is not my problem, it is not their problem. It is our problem, and we need to find solutions collectively.

We do not need two or three different groups working on issues independently. We need to come together collaboratively, pool our resources, find a solution and implement. It is amazing what we can accomplish collectively when we don’t care who gets the credit.  But collaboration is hard work.

The business community, aided by a broad swath of the community, is doing some of that hard work and helping connect the dots. A few examples where we have seen success, some of it just beginning to happen, include the opening of Transitions, the region’s only comprehensive service center for the homeless; the work of a joint Richland County-City of Columbia task force to reform business services such as licensing and permitting; the effort to reform the operations of the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority (CMRTA) and keep public transit rolling while seeking a solution to permanent funding for transportation.

Regional cooperation

A major accomplishment has been the creation of the MIDSTATE Chambers Coalition. Led by Lexington Mayor and Chamber of Commerce President Randy Halfacre, the coalition, a broader region encompassing 11 counties, is looking to rival the Upstate and Lowcountry as influencers of public policy.

We’ll explore how the dots are being connected on these and many more issues over the coming months.

As for why me? Well, I suppose I hope that at least a few former readers from my time as business columnist for another newspaper will remember me and be curious enough to read.

We do hope we’ll have something to say, and we do hope you’ll want to read. We also hope that if you disagree or have a better idea about something, you’ll let us hear from you.

Moving the Columbia region from good to great requires connecting the dots. And connecting the dots isn’t the province of any one person or group of people or organization. It takes all of use working together.

C. Grant Jackson can be reached at (803) 733-2513 or at


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