By Mike Fitts
Published Feb. 10, 2011
Addressing a business breakfast this morning, Midlands mayors highlighted regional cooperation and economic development among their top priorities as they look to 2011.
Four mayors discussed recent accomplishments and pending challenges at the Business Report’s Power Breakfast at the Embassy Suites.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the city has not emphasized economic development enough in the past, and he said that is changing. Columbia is “very aggressive” on pursuing new opportunities now, Benjamin said.
And that new growth won’t necessarily be within the city limits, Benjamin noted. He emphasized that he’s glad to see regional growth, whether it is Amazon coming to Lexington County or AQT Solar to Blythewood. Columbia needs more places where a new company can open, he said.
Two other mayors emphasized that handling current growth is among their current concerns. Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre said the town is launching a major program to deal with “a huge problem with traffic congestion” downtown. Phase 1 of the project will cost $12 million, more than half of which will be spent to buy right of way easements, Halfacre said.
Blythewood has prepared a master plan to handle what looks like major growth in the next 20 years, Mayor Keith Bailey said. That includes beautification of the main exit off Interstate 77, which he called “a front door” for the Midlands.
This kind of growth needs to be planned for, Halfacre said.
“If we don’t get a handle on it now, it’s going to slip away from us,” he said.
Cayce Mayor Elise Partin said her town has a different challenge: getting the word out about the community and its opportunities. Its many longtime residents love it, she said, but others don’t know about amenities such as the riverwalk, she said.
“Pride in our area and our city is strong,” she said.
The loss of Southwest Airlines to two other in-state markets showed the need for regionalism, Halfacre said. At a recent meeting with Southwest, Columbia Metro Airport Executive Director Dan Mann was told, “We did not see your region, your area, working together.”
Two new groups are seeking to remedy that, Halfacre said. He has helped put together an alliance of midstate chambers of commerce, and West Columbia Mayor Bobby Horton is chairman of a new group of Midlands mayors. These groups should help build teamwork and draw legislative attention when necessary, Halfacre said.
Benjamin said the community needs to work on the big picture — a regional master plan. He recounted some of the area’s assets but said that the vision to tie all these things together has been lacking.
“We need to start moving aggressively forward,” Benjamin said.