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Economic Development
Mar 17, 2016

What Can We Learn From Richmond?

Sponsored Content provided by Connie Majure-Rhett - Former President and CEO , Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

Cities must have a strategic and targeted economic development plan …cooperation among all groups is the key to development and preservation … high-quality public spaces are worth the investment … state support to recruit businesses is necessary … plan for the next 100 years, not the short term. 
Are those hard and fast facts? Opinions? Or maybe the opposite is true in each case? Reread them, but this time imagine them as questions.
Those types of dilemmas are faced by our elected leaders, economic development groups and other decision makers every day. Learning what has worked in other communities – their best practices – can provide perspective and increase the likelihood of success in our own efforts.
In this case, the declarations mentioned above were just a few of the broad takeaways gleaned from the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce InterCity Leadership Visit to Charleston, S.C. last September. In Charleston’s experience, those statements are the core of its ability to balance quality of life, development, historic preservation, and an incredibly strong manufacturing base while retaining the quality of place that makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Thirty-seven area business, municipal, economic development, and elected leaders attended the InterCity Leadership Visit organized by the Wilmington Chamber. Attendees met with panels composed of Charleston’s decision makers and took tours of redevelopment and infill sites downtown. The local delegation learned about innovative ideas, programs and initiatives which could be adapted and implemented in our community, and stronger relationships developed among attendees. The visit focused on four main areas: development, industry, quality of place, and tourism. Panel discussions featuring business and civic leaders in Charleston addressed topics such as industrial growth, job recruitment, density/sprawl, infrastructure (congestion/traffic), sustainability and historic preservation.
Our local delegation was impressed with the alignment that Charleston achieved in bringing together its city planners, economic development recruiters, environmentalists, elected officials, preservationists and the general public for common causes. The city’s decision makers work in concert, and you can’t argue with the results. Charleston has attracted businesses like Boeing and Volvo while it’s written the book on historic preservation and tourism. It has been able to encourage new business development, but not at a detriment to the environment or the city's quality of life. The city has been so successful that Condé Nast readers voted Charleston their favorite city in the world in 2012.
In the debrief after the visit, attendees praised the usefulness of hearing firsthand from peers in another city. Many were also surprised to learn that Charleston’s leaders felt the same way. The Charleston Chamber has organized 15 InterCity Visits, including one to Richmond, Virginia in 2015. The chamber's leaders recommended it as our next visit. Charleston, lauded as an example internationally, also looks beyond its borders to absorb new ideas.
Richmond has faced many of the same issues that Wilmington has or soon will. Richmond is a riverfront city. Redevelopment along the James River and its accompanying canals has been an on-going project that has involved building a natural amphitheater, theater renovations, creation of the Canal Walk, and much more.
As a capital city, Richmond’s population is significantly larger, at 218,000, than Wilmington’s. Like Wilmington, however, it’s expected to grow considerably over the next 20 years. Richmond is projected to add more than 134,000 jobs and will need to fill 180,000 positions as a result of retirement, thus elevating workforce to both a challenge and an opportunity. Affordable housing is a major issue, and Richmond’s Mayor Jones is turning declining public housing projects into mixed-income communities to help address the need. Rents are a mix of affordable market rates, which opens the area to a diverse populace, especially in the Manchester area downtown.
With the help of some new friends in Charleston, we are now in the planning stages for an InterCity Visit to Richmond that will take place September 26 and 27. Core themes of the visit will include economic development, riverfront/canal development, rail and public transportation, and affordable housing. Guest speakers from the following businesses and organizations will be invited: Venture Richmond; City of Richmond Regional Planning; Greater Richmond Chamber; Economic Development Authority Richmond; Virginia Bio Technology Park; RVA Has Talent; Lighthouse; and more. Discussions will include the Richmond Riverfront Master Plan; bus and rapid transit; the Capitol Regional Collaborative; creativity and innovation; urban living; and much more.
Richmond is known for its progressive atmosphere and ingenuity. Recent signature projects include the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge and the Brown’s Island Dam Walk – a fully accessible bike and pedestrian crossing of the James River – and development of the GRTC Broad Street Rapid Transit Project. These and many other projects will be discussion items on our developing agenda.
We look forward to hosting an InterCity Visit this year and more in the future. These invaluable learning experiences are eye-opening and could provide the type of synergy and fresh ideas that will continue to propel our community to greater heights.
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is the largest membership-based business association in Southeastern North Carolina. The Chamber’s mission is to ensure economic prosperity throughout our region. This is accomplished by: creating a diverse, inclusive organization that serves as a strong voice for businesses in the Greater Wilmington area; offering unique membership benefits, services and education; and challenging government officials to address long term community and business interests.

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