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, SC last September. In Charleston’s experience, those statements are the core of their ability to balance quality of life, development, historic preservation, an incredibly strong manufacturing base, and retain the quality of place that makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
37 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 Charleston business and civic leaders 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 Charleston achieved between leaders and policy development, bringing together its city planners, economic development recruiters, environmentalists, elected officials, preservationists and the general public for common causes. Their decision makers work in concert…and you can’t argue with the results. Charleston has attracted businesses like Boeing and Volvo while they’ve written the book on historic preservation and tourism. They’ve been able to encourage new business development without being detrimental to the environment or their quality of life, so much so 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 leaders felt the same way. The Charleston Chamber has organized fifteen InterCity Visits, including one to Richmond, Virginia in 2015, and they 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 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 the capital city, Richmond’s population is significantly larger at 218,000. Like Wilmington, however, it’s also 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 quell the need. Rents are a mix of affordable market rates, opening the areas 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 of an InterCity Visit to Richmond that will take place September 26-27, 2016. Core themes 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/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 another 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.