Op-Ed from Carl Blackstone: October 2017

  1. Is your business prepared?

When you walk or drive around Columbia and the Midlands region, the evidence of positive growth is undeniable.  You see the progress and you feel the vibrant energy present in all parts of our community. Undoubtedly, it’s a great time for Columbia and for South Carolina. With all this positive momentum in the region, what’s not growing? Labor is the issue. For starters, let’s take a look at data regarding the change in the labor force.

The Southeast has experienced double digit population growth and positive job growth during the previous five years.  That trends continues in South Carolina with Charleston County population growth at 11% and job growth rate at 26.2%; and Greenville County reporting 9% population growth and 8.3% job growth. Focus even closer to the area many of us call home, and the data shows Richland County population growth of 5% and the job growth rate at -2.6%. (Source: EMSI Q2 2017)

With all indicators pointing to a growth and positive momentum, why then is Richland County’s job growth rate anemic at -2.6% and significantly lower than the job growth rate of nearby cities in our state?  This question is but one of the questions that the Columbia Chamber asks itself as we strive to fulfill our mission of being the unified voice of our business community.  It is questions like this that enable us to provide value to the more than 1,100 businesses who place their trust in the Chamber. Furthermore, it is questions like this that led us to embark on a transformative process which brought together 100 of the area’s top business leaders for two full days to ask ourselves the really tough questions: How can we be ready for the future?

That process created a framework for the future of the Chamber, called Forward, Together. As part of Forward, Together, we are narrowing our focus on public policy initiatives and issues which have an overall impact on the cost of doing business. We continue our work to advocate for transparency and accountability in order to foster a favorable environment for business.  We are planning for the accelerated pace of change our area is experiencing.  You can learn more about this at our website, www.columbiachamber.com.

2017 continues to have steady upward movement in activity and development within our region, and within our Chamber. We have a renewed commitment to our mission to provide the unified voice to our regional business community to create and promote an environment where businesses can flourish.

The Chamber is uniquely positioned to orchestrate connections between all stakeholders: government, non-profits, military, private sector, education and community. Our funding is through the businesses that choose to invest in us and their community. We are not funded by public taxpayer dollars. This places us in a unique and coveted position especially when it comes to asking hard questions like the one mentioned earlier.

What can you and your business do?  Get involved. It will take the serious work of all stakeholders to define a better path forward in regards to jobs and investment. Our region needs the private sector to be engaged and be a part of answering the hard questions. It is only through sharing a common vision that we will grow in a thoughtful way. As evidenced above, there is positive momentum within the Columbia Chamber and within our region.  It is an inspiring time as we are on the path to transforming our region. To borrow from James Cash Penney, founder of JCPenney: “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”

Carl W. Blackstone

President & CEO

Columbia Chamber


Read article from The State



Chamber Chat | June 26

Chamber FYIs
The Chamber, Midlands Business Leadership Group, Builders Industry Association and the Columbia Commercial Realtors Association interviewed candidates who have formally announced to run in the upcoming City Council elections | Welcomed Colonel James Ellerson as the new Post Garrison Commander and said farewell to Colonel Michael Graese who assumes a new position in Washington | Richland County Council passed the 2016 budget | Leadership Columbia Advisory Board began planning the upcoming class days

South Carolina’s Heart Break
Last week nine fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons and friends lost their lives in a heinous act of hate that has shaken the nation to its core. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the fallen as they continue these celebrations of life throughout the week. If you would like to respond to the tragic event with a donation, you can find more information here.

We Called…You Answered
This week, the Columbia Chamber hosted “Your Chamber Connection,” an event that grew the Chamber by 137 partners! Welcome to all of our new partners and kudos those of you who stepped up and made this successful event happen!

The deadline to nominate someone for Military AdvocateSmall & Minority Business Advocate and the Young Professional of the Year is July 1.  Do you remember last year’s winners?

Upcoming Events:
7/7 Chamber Issues Forum  | 7/14 Small Business Workshop Series  | 7/15 Partner Orientation & Reception

Chamber Chat | May 8

Potential infrastructure plan
On Thursday, after failing to set an infrastructure funding bill for debate last week, 18 senators stood together, during a press conference led by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (Cherokee) to release their proposal. The Columbia Chamber is pleased with the plan and the leadership from the Senate. Please contact your Senator and ask them to support infrastructure reform.  You can find more information on the S.C. Chamber of Commerce’s website.

Celebrating Small Business
This week, the Chamber, the City, and the County hosted Small Business Week. Hundreds of small businesses across the greater Columbia area came out to learn important keys to creating and sustaining a successful small business. As this week comes to a close we at the Chamber want to thank our small business partners and look forward to our continued relationships.

Congratulations to Brookdale Columbia on their ribbon cutting Tuesday! Check out their new facility on Springtree Drive.

LCAA Leadership Summit
Join the Leadership Columbia Alumni Association (LCAA) at its 18th Annual Leadership Summit featuring luncheon keynote speaker Governor Nikki Haley.  Presented by Adams and Reese LLP, this half-day conference will feature informative and interactive panel discussions.  You can find more information here.

Golf Tournament was a “Hole in One!”
Thursday, the Columbia Chamber and over 200 partners gathered at Fort Jackson Golf Course to celebrate #30YearsofGolf. It was a beautiful day and a good time had by all…even those who came in came in “Dead Ass Last!”

Leadership Columbia Applications Due Friday!
Are you one of Columbia’s up-and-coming leaders?  Then apply for the Leadership Columbia Class of 2016! Leadership Columbia offers emerging and existing community leaders a unique opportunity to be part of a group that is moving Columbia forward. The application deadline is Friday, May 15. Don’t wait until the last minute. Apply today!

Know any outstanding community leaders?
Nominations are now open for the Military Advocate, Small & Minority Business Advocate and the Young Professional of the Year. This awards will be giving out at the 113th Annual Gala, set for September 24.  Apply now!

Midlands Gives
On Tuesday, May 5, COR  participated in the second annual Midlands Gives, a 24-hour online giving presented by the Central Carolina Community Foundation. Thanks to everyone’s contributions, the organization was able to raise over $10,000!

Save the Date:

5/12 IT Council Luncheon | 5/12 LCAA 18th Annual Leadership Summit

Chamber Chat | May 1

No plan for infrastructure this year…
This week the Columbia Chamber encouraged our partners to contact their legislators and ask them to vote in favor of setting the infrastructure bill for special order. That did not happen, but there is still hope! Make sure to let your legislators know how important it is to have a comprehensive infrastructure solution this year.

Supporting small business
April 29, the Chamber hosted a small business training sponsored by TD Bank. Attendees learned how to apply for financing and received one-on-one advice.

In other small business news, the Chamber is all geared up and ready for Small Business Week! View the full agenda of next week’s activities here and come out to show the love to the small business community!

Military Happenings
Tuesday, over 60 Chamber Partners attended the Military Affairs Committee meeting to hear updates from Fort Jackson and the U.S. Guard and Reserves.

Today, the Chamber is participating in the S.C. Combat Veterans Group, 10th Annual Vietnam Veterans Survivor’s and Remembrance Day Program. This is a day to remember the brave South Carolinians whose service to this country ended with the ultimate sacrifice. So fly your biggest flag to support our vets!

Thursday, the Chamber attended a ribbon cutting with Waxing the City to celebrate the opening of their new business out at Bower Parkway. So check them out for your summer needs!

Leadership Columbia – Applications are available now!
Are you one of Columbia’s up-and-coming leaders?  Then apply for the Leadership Columbia Class of 2016! Leadership Columbia offers emerging and existing community leaders a unique opportunity to be part of a group that is moving Columbia forward. The application deadline is Friday, May 15. Don’t wait until the last minute. Apply today!

Know any outstanding community leaders?
Nominations are now open for the Military Advocate, Small & Minority Business Advocate and the Young Professional of the Year. This year’s awards will be given out at the 113th Annual Gala, set for September 24.  Apply now!

Midlands Gives
On Tuesday, May 5, COR will participate in the second annual Midlands Gives, a 24-hour online giving presented by the Central Carolina Community Foundation.  Give $50.00 or more to COR and receive an annual COR membership, or renew your existing membership. For more information, visit www.MidlandsGives.org.

Future CEO’s Unite!
Wednesday, 25 future leaders attended COR’s Table for Six event at the Marriott. On April 29, our executive table hosts let these up and comers in on the secrets of their success.

Service Saturday
This Saturday, May 2, COR will partner with Special Olympics of S.C. to host Olympic Town during the Special Olympics Summer Games at Fort Jackson. Volunteers will man booths such as bobbing for apples, face painting, video gaming stations, and so much more!  Volunteer today!

Save the Date:
5/4 Small Business Week | 5/5 Chamber Issues Forum | 5/7 Golf Tournament | 5/12 LCAA 18th Annual Leadership Summit

Columbia Chamber Board of Directors Named “Most Influential”

As a resource for local, regional and national businesses, the Columbia Chamber provides networking and learning opportunities while also serving as an advocate for our partners. The Chamber would not be nearly as effective without the strength and leadership of our Board of Directors. Our board is a top-notch group of Midlands professionals who volunteer their time and brain power to set policy and guide the Chamber in the right direction.

This fall, the Columbia Chamber Board of Directors was recognized as one of the Top 10 Most Influential Boards by SC Biz. In addition, board members Mike Brenan, S.C. President of BB&T, Judy Davis, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Dr. Harris Pastides, President of the University of South Carolina, were named among the Top 10 Most Influential Business Leaders in the Midlands.

On December 17th, the Chamber board was officially recognized at an reception at the Agape Senior Conference Center sponsored by SC Biz and Dr. Harris Pastides was named the #1 Most Influential Business Leader.

bod top ten

Thanks again to our Board – your dedication, service, and expertise are invaluable to us!

A Conversation with Carl Blackstone

Our President and CEO Carl Blackstone recently sat down with Alan Cooper of MidlandsBiz to discuss his ideas for the Chamber. This article is republished with permission from MidlandsBiz. See the original article on the MidlandsBiz website.

What is your education and professional background?

Carl Blackstone:
My professional background is in public policy, government relations, and strategic communications. I have worked in and around the South Carolina State House for much of my career, working as senior legislative advisor to Governor Mark Sanford, manager of state government relations for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and a government relations advisor for the clients of Copper Dome Strategies, LLC. I graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in business administration.

How did you become the President of the Chamber?  What unique characteristics do you bring to the Chamber job?

Carl Blackstone:
My background with the State Chamber, my experience at the Governor’s Office, and my focus on public policy the last few years made me a unique candidate for the job. My career in government affairs taught me to reach across the aisle consistently and collaborate with others to make progress.

What is your leadership style?

Carl Blackstone:
My leadership style is simple: surround yourself with hardworking and innovative people, and give them a seat at the table. Everyone has something to contribute to the conversation. Once I’ve heard all the angles, I’m much better equipped to make the right decision.

How does the Chamber under your leadership differ from the Chamber under Ike McLeese’s leadership?  How has the mission of the Chamber evolved over time?  Does the mission change under your leadership?

Carl Blackstone:
Ike was a great leader and visionary for the Columbia Chamber. He was known for his love of Fort Jackson and the military, and was the face of business in the Midlands. While it is important for us to respect and glean lessons from the past, I hope to take the Chamber in a slightly different direction. Our biggest focus will be making the Midlands more business-friendly through an enhanced public policy program.

The Columbia Chamber’s mission will remain the same: to create and promote an environment where businesses can flourish. We will continue to provide valuable networking opportunities, professional development, and small business workshops. In the next several years, however, we will be looking at how we can affect change at the city, county, and state level through our advocacy efforts.

What are the Top Three issues facing the Chamber in 2015? What is new and exciting at the Chamber under your leadership?

Carl Blackstone:
We recently underwent a major rebranding, which you’ll see in publications, on all of our social media channels, and on billboards throughout the area. The idea behind our new brand, “Partners for a Greater Columbia,” is bringing Chamber businesses together with a common vision and idea: to create and promote an environment where businesses can flourish. We now reference our members as “partners,” reinforcing the idea that we’re all in this together. The Columbia Chamber is only as strong as our partners, and we intend to serve as their united voice in our community and government.

A lot of our exciting changes have happened behind the scenes – we have a new website, we’re transitioning to a new database, and we’ve been focused on putting more structure in place internally while implementing new technologies. All of these changes will help the Columbia Chamber operate at an optimal level to better serve our partners.

Of course, we’ll continue to provide networking opportunities, professional development, and business training. Our mission remains the same, but we will be enhancing the advocacy piece of the equation so we can give even more value to our partners. Our biggest focus will be ramping up our public policy initiatives. We’re drafting position statements and a legislative agenda. We’ve been sitting down with our partners over the last several months, and our main priorities for 2015 will be transportation, workforce development, and tax policy.

Our guiding principle is simple: we will support legislation that will help the region to attract new quality business, industry and jobs, help entrepreneurs create new businesses, and help the region retain and grow existing business and industry. With reference to transportation and infrastructure, we recognize that without the ability to move goods and services to customers, businesses cannot compete and succeed. We will advocate for investment in and maintenance of modern road, airport, rail and other infrastructure required for the region to effectively compete in the global marketplace.

Developing a highly-skilled and well-educated workforce is critical for increasing job opportunities for our region’s citizens and securing long-term growth for business. We will advocate for necessary changes in early childhood, K-12 and higher education to prepare our students for the careers of the future.

Another priority will be advocating for a tax climate that is conducive to business expansion. We’ll be looking into local taxation and lowering the cost of doing business in the Midlands so that our region’s tax structure is competitive with neighboring regions and states.

What are some of the roadblocks to advancing this strategy?

Carl Blackstone:
As with any advocacy effort, there are opportunities to bring differing viewpoints and new faces to the table. I think the Columbia Chamber is better equipped for this role now than it ever has been, and our partners are eager to see some positive change in the business community that will affect their bottom lines. The key to moving our region forward, however, is getting people from all sides of an issue to sit down and have frank discussion about where we’re headed.

What is the business model for the Chamber?  How does it make money?

Carl Blackstone:
The Columbia Chamber is a non-profit association. We get our support from our partners. The Midlands business community realizes that the sum is greater than the parts, and through partnership, they can have a stronger voice in the community. Our business partners also support us through our programs, events, and initiatives.

Talk about the Good to Great Campaign.  Where does this program stand?

Carl Blackstone:
When the Good to Great foundation was formed eight years ago, the idea was to create a dialogue throughout the Midlands. We’ve been very successful in partnering with Randy Halfacre of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce and working with other regional chambers through the Midstate Chamber Coalition. Another part of Good to Great focuses on the military presence we have in central South Carolina – and there’s no doubt that we’ve been very successful on that end. Our goal moving forward is to continue that mission of broadening our regional focus. The Good to Great foundation knows that what’s good on one side of the river is good for the other. We’re seeking to answer the question, “How can the Midlands region speak with a stronger, more unified voice?”

Ike Mcleese Receives Sgt. William Jasper Freedom Award

The Columbia Chamber fondly remembers our past leader Ike Mcleese. Ike was posthumously recognized with the 2014 Sargent William Jasper Freedom Award at the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s 35th Annual Summit in November. Ike was our fearless leader for 19 years and he indelibly left his mark on our staff, our Chamber, and our city.

Please enjoy this video as a testament to Ike Mcleese’s character:

Columbia Chamber Honored 2014 Award Recipients at 112th Annual Gala and Auction

Five Business Leaders Recognized at the 112th Annual Gala

The Columbia Chamber honored five business leaders at its 112th Annual Gala and Auction on Thursday, October 9. Dr. Harris Pastides, President of the University of South Carolina and recipient of the Ambassador of the Year Award, gave the keynote address following the silent auction and dinner. The honorees represent members of the business community who have significantly contributed to the Midlands region over the past year. This event, sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, was held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

(L-R) Past Chairman of the Columbia Chamber Holt Chetwood, Ambassador of the Year Dr. Harris Pastides, and Lee Bussell of award sponsor Chernoff Newman

(L-R) Past Chairman of the Columbia Chamber Holt Chetwood, Ambassador of the Year Dr. Harris Pastides, and Lee Bussell of award sponsor Chernoff Newman

“These five individuals have worked tirelessly to elevate the Midlands business community over the past year and throughout their professional careers,” says Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber. “We are honored to be able to recognize these outstanding representatives of our region.”

Awards recipients for 2014 are:

Ambassador of the Year | Dr. Harris Pastides, University of South Carolina
Sponsored by Chernoff Newman

Small & Minority Business Advocate of the Year | Tom Felder, S.C. Community Bank
Sponsored by Colonial Life

Young Professional of the Year | Will Johnson, Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, P.A.
Sponsored by Willoughby & Hoefer

Military Advocate of the Year | Dan Mann, Columbia Metropolitan Airport
Sponsored by AT&T

Diplomat of the Year | Mary Safko, Trevett’s
Sponsored by All South Federal Credit Union

Congratulations to all of the award winners. For more information about the Chamber’s Annual Gala and Auction, please visit this address. For more pictures of the evening, please visit this address.

To become a partner or to learn more about the Columbia Chamber, as well as its events, programs and initiatives, visit www.ColumbiaChamber.com.

Maj. Gen. Becker | Local Voices Could Make Difference in Potential Cuts at Fort Jackson

Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, Fort Jackson’s commander, discusses the base and its future with reporters Wednesday. (photo by Allen Wallace)

Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, Fort Jackson’s commander, discusses the base and its future with reporters Wednesday. (photo by Allen Wallace)

Fort Jackson’s commander said Wednesday that he is very optimistic about the immediate future of the base but is uncertain about the long term.

Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker held a round-table discussion with members of the media to discuss his first year as the commander of Fort Jackson and his priorities for his remaining time in command.

Becker said Fort Jackson trained about 70,000 soldiers since this time last year, with about 45,000 going through basic combat training.

“That’s the heart and soul of what we do,” he said.

Becker does not expect any reduction in those numbers in the fiscal year, which began Wednesday, but said the future beyond that is murky. The U.S. Army is evaluating the economic impact of personnel cuts at 30 bases nationwide, including Fort Jackson.

The Columbia Chamber organized a Save Our Fort initiative, sending the army a petition with more than 17,000 signatures protesting potential cuts of up to 3,100 Fort Jackson personnel.

Becker said only two communities of the 30 being evaluated submitted more signatures than Columbia, and many submitted much fewer.

“Seventeen thousand is huge,” he said. “I believe the voices of the community here were heard in Washington.”

Becker said those voices could make all the difference as army leadership decides where to make cuts.

“There are times when the army will make decisions on closings based on where they can get away with it politically.”

Midlands residents will have another chance to be heard early in 2015, as army leadership will hold local public forums in January and possibly February, although the exact dates have not been set. Becker said he does not expect any decisions before next summer.

“There are all kinds of options and none of them are concrete at this point,” he said. He added that much depends on whether Congress passes a new budget or extends the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which expires at the end of 2015.

Failure to do so by Congress would mean a return to sequestration budget numbers as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011, and Becker said that could make the future of Fort Jackson extremely shaky.

“I don’t think any installation in the U.S. Army should feel safe if sequestration level cuts go into effect in 2016.” He added that the 3,100 cuts being evaluated is a worst-case scenario. “It’s not a number I think they’re fixed on,” he said.

He said if that scenario were to come true, it would drastically change Fort Jackson’s training mission. That level of cuts in military personnel would leave the base able to train only about 14,000 soldiers each year, as opposed to the current number of more than 70,000.

Becker said despite the long-term concerns he is pleased with the current state of the base and with the coming year.

“What I hear from families is how proud they are,” he said, and added that he thinks that pride is justified.

“I am very confident that we are producing the best soldiers and best leaders in the world,” Becker said. “For that reason, I sleep well at night.”

Check out this article as published on ColaDaily.com

South Carolina Chamber Grassroots Meeting Coming to the Midlands

Mark Your Calendar to Attend this Important Discussion and Networking Opportunity You are invited to join the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and Midlands area chambers of commerce for the Midlands Regional Grassroots Meeting on Thursday, September 25 from 11:30 … Continue reading