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Columbia Business Monthly

EngenuitySC’s 2018 Midlands Regional Report Identifies Areas of Growth/Opportunity in Economic Competitiveness

On Monday, Jan. 28 at 4 p.m. at the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, S.C., EngenuitySC unveiled its 2018 Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report. Official results (showing a mix of improvement and regression in economic competitiveness) were announced by the organization’s founding co-chair Steve Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, S.C and Dr. Doug Woodward, professor & director of the Division of Research at UofSC’s Darla Moore School of Business.

The Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report is a major annual initiative of EngenuitySC, a nonprofit focused on long-term competitiveness and prosperity in the Midlands. View report info here:

An Overview of the Competitiveness Report

The report analyzes economic competitiveness in the Columbia metropolitan statistical area (MSA) compared with that of nine other city regions in the Southeast, including Raleigh, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina and Lexington, Kentucky. The report measures success based on the following five major indicators of economic competitiveness: talent, entrepreneurial/business environment, innovation, industry clusters and livability. The index for each indicator shows how the MSAs compare to both peers and to the national average. Research for the report is gathered and analyzed by Dr. Doug Woodward and his team.

Key Findings

Notable positive trends for Columbia in this year’s report include the following results: a rise in STEM salaries by over $5,000; an increase in the percentage of population holding a graduate degree (the highest in S.C.); an increase in the share of employees in business services; and Columbia surpassing Charleston in growth in arts, entertainment and recreation employment.

While historically Columbia’s strongest index, “livability” fell this year to below the national average for the first time since the report has been published. Metrics contributing to this fall include a rise in commute time, a fall in the Gallup Well-Being Index and an increase in the cost of living — some of which may be attributed to increasing sprawl and population growth.

The Midlands Business Leadership Group (MBLG) Takes Action

Since 2016, the MBLG — an organization of 45+ CEOs and senior executives from the largest private-sector employers in the region —  has been leading a collaborative effort to identify and address top priorities to advance competitiveness in the Columbia region.

One tactic for addressing the livability index dip is the launch of the new MBLG Coordinating Council, announced by John Folsom (MBLG Chair and President and CEO of Colliers International | South Carolina) at the event.

The Coordinating Council is a private sector-led civic alliance focused on building a more prosperous region and improving livability for all. Their objective is to bring forward-thinking civic and private sector leaders together at the same table, sharing successes and challenges, prioritizing opportunities for impact and taking accountable action.

MBLG invited 53 organizations from Lexington and Richland Counties to join the Coordinating Council, and they will select up to three projects of focus each year, projects that must result in an improvement to livability and prosperity in the Midlands. The Council is co-chaired by John Singerling of Prisma Health and Mike Crapps of First Community Bank.

“The MBLG is committed to strengthening livability for all residents in the Columbia region,” said Folsom. “The new Coordinating Council is an exciting way for the private sector to step up its game. The local business community wants nothing more than for Columbia to shine brightly as a place to live our best lives, to learn freely, to work hard, to play and to enjoy. The Coordinating Council will foster collaboration and action and promote opportunities for young leaders. We feel strongly that this group of powerful and motivated local leaders will also help the region see improvements in livability for years to come.”

EngenuitySC as Regional Collaboration Manager

The Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report is one of the primary deliverables from EngenuitySC every year, and they are proud to serve as the project management team behind the MBLG's Regional Competitiveness Initiative.

"Now in its fifth year, this report continues the job we envisioned it would: to serve as a benchmarking tool for local leaders in business, government and education," said Meghan Hickman, executive director of EngenuitySC. "Every year the report ignites new conversations and uncovers new opportunities around ideas for progress. But one critical truth can’t be overstated: progress takes time. We’ve only been tracking this data for five years and powerful, systemic change can take decades. What excites me the most and gives me enormous pride is that there is a real commitment to the long game. Our team and board are ready to take on whatever it is we’re asked to do to help get us there.”

A public-private partnership that manages some of the most impactful initiatives in the Midlands region, EngenuitySC is guided by a board of highly engaged community and business leaders. The EngenuitySC board is steered by founding co-chairs Steve Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, S.C. and Dr. Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina, under the leadership of current board chair Lee Bussell of Chernoff Newman. Find out more about EngenuitySC at

This year marks the fifth year in which EngenuitySC’s Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report has been made public. It will be published as an insert in Columbia Regional Business Report on February 11, 2019.

The launch of the 2018 Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report is part of EngenuitySC’s second annual Midlands Regional Competitiveness Week presented by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. Complete details for events held during Competitiveness Week can be found at

See below for report summary, and find more info, in addition to the full report, via this link:   


EngenuitySC’s 2018 Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report

Overview of Results:

1. Talent                                                                                                           

Overall index rank: tied for #8 of 10

Index value 89

Positive Trends:

  • Weighted average STEM salaries rose by over $5,000, as demand for high-skilled positions increased in an already-tight labor market
  • Columbia’s success in attracting and retaining talented workers continued, with a greater-than-average percentage of population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher 

Negative Trends:

  • A decrease in GDP per worker can be tied to slow real GDP growth and a low percentage of employment in high economic-value traded clusters
  • Columbia’s percentage of knowledge workers decreased, despite growth in this area nationally
  • The percentage of STEM degrees awarded increased, but slipped on an index basis and relative to our peers


  • Promote Columbia’s high number of college graduates - over 10,000 annually - to attract companies looking for young talent
  • Develop metrics and methods to track student retention from regional colleges and universities to address graduate needs strategically
  • Create stronger links between businesses and K-12 programs focusing on high-demand careers of the future in areas such as cybersecurity, computer science, and life sciences

2. Innovative Capacity

Overall index rank: #7 of 10

Index value 70

Positive Trends:

  • While college/university research and development expenditures decreased slightly on an index basis, expenditures actually increased on an absolute basis, as well as relative to Columbia’s peers
  • In line with a higher percentage of bachelor’s degree holders, Columbia also saw an increase in the percentage of graduate or professional degree holders - a strong indicator of long-term success

Negative Trends:

  • We still generate patents at a much slower rate than the national average, though the University of South Carolina is ranked among the top 100 patenting universities
  • Overall R&D funding slipped, likely indicating less ongoing research activity in the private sector


  • Continue to coordinate priority research areas with economic development efforts, attracting R&D labs and innovative companies
  • Develop a strong support system for spinoffs in promising areas of technology
  • Ensure alignment between corporate research needs and university research priorities to generate high-impact collaborations

3. Entrepreneurial & Business Environment

Overall index rank: #3 of 10

Index value 116

Positive Trends:

  • The addition of a revised metric - Establishment Growth Rate - contributed to the spike in this index; however, it would have risen even without this addition
  • Small business activity increased over last year, indicative of growing businesses
  • The share of employment in professional and technical services rose, indicating a functioning support ecosystem and a strong overall economy

Negative Trends:

  • Proprietor’s income share decreased slightly, possibly indicating a flatter overall pay structure


  • Develop and share a complete asset map showing the spectrum of resources available to entrepreneurs, ensuring alignment and discovering gaps while minimizing overlap
  • Convene entrepreneurial resource providers on a regular basis to share “wins” and solve issues
  • Encourage greater participation in regionally-focused angel investment and venture capital groups, linking the area’s long history in finance and law with its growing strength in advanced technologies

4. Industry Clusters

Overall index rank: #9 of 10

Index value 111

Positive Trends:

  • Columbia’s share of high-wage jobs - those paying above the median household income - increased, especially relative to its peers
  • Concentration of employment continued in our strongest industries, indicating solid clusters
  • Employment density increased over last year as the region hovers around full employment, with unemployment at just 3.2% as of December 2018

Negative Trends:

  • Columbia’s traded cluster employment remains much lower than its competitors; when considering that these industries generate a disproportionately large economic impact, this means our economy lacks some short-term growth potential


  • Create purposeful connections between growing biosciences companies and capital providers, including both debt and equity sources, to ensure innovators can access the resources needed for growth
  • Support spinoffs as they emerge from research at the McNAIR Center, while leveraging its unique research capacity and industry partnerships to attract new companies to the region
  • Continue to position Columbia as a rising star in advanced technologies such as machine learning and IoT
  • Leverage Columbia’s dense distribution cluster, much of which is within a 10-mile radius of downtown, as a potential testing ground for growing capabilities in automation and unmanned vehicles

5. Livability

Overall index rank: #7 of 10

Index value 88

Positive Trends:

  • Violent crime rates dropped significantly, a big step in the right direction - though much more remains to be done
  • Growth in arts, entertainment and recreation is the fastest of all our peers, surpassing Charleston for the first time
  • Columbia remains a relatively young city, compared to both our peers and the national average

Negative Trends:

  • Average commute time increased once again, symptomatic of growth in outlying suburbs
  • Columbia has steadily dropped in the Gallup Well-Being Index, measuring people’s perceptions of their lives and community, and is now among the bottom fifth of all metropolitan areas
  • Cost of living remains somewhat higher than many of Columbia’s peers, though housing costs generally remain affordable - especially when compared nationally


  • Continue supporting community health efforts, such as Mayor Benjamin’s community weight loss challenge, to improve residents’ long-term well-being
  • Actively pursue opportunities to increase residential density in downtown areas while developing infrastructure to connect districts, such as the MBLG’s efforts to improve safety along Assembly Street
  • Evaluate long-term feasibility of expanded mass transit options, such as the COMET bus system, to ease suburban commutes

Find the full report online here:

EngenuitySC board members include the following:

  • Dr. Harris Pastides, Founding Co-Chair – President, The University of South Carolina
  • Steve Benjamin, Founding Co-Chair – Mayor, City of Columbia
  • Lee Bussell, Chair - Chernoff Newman
  • Elise Partin, Chair-Elect – Mayor, City of Cayce
  • Paul Livingston, Secretary/Treasurer – Chair, Richland County Council
  • Tameika Isaac Devine – Columbia City Council
  • Joyce Dickerson – Richland County Council
  • Scott Graves - BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina
  • Steve Hall - Ovation Partners, LLC
  • Cheryl Harris - Richland County School District One Board of Commissioners
  • Bill & Lou Kennedy - Nephron Pharmaceuticals
  • Bill Kirkland - The University of South Carolina, Office of Economic Engagement
  • Lasenta Lewis-Ellis - LLE Construction, LLC
  • John Lumpkin
  • Ted Nissen – First Community Bank
  • Dr. Ron Rhames – President, Midlands Technical College
  • Dr. Keith Shah - Prisma Health
  • Debbie Summers – Lexington County Council 

About EngenuitySC

Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., EngenuitySC is a nonprofit focused on long-term competitiveness and prosperity in the Midlands. EngenuitySC specializes in managing collaborations between business, government, education and community leaders. For more information, visit

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