Hot Cities

Columbia (1998)

A cultivated spirit of cooperation has resulted in 87 consecutive months of economic growth in Columbia, South Carolina, and has propelled this Southern metropolis to the top of Entrepreneur's 1998 list of best midsized cities.

This attitude has even influenced local beliefs about business. Small and midsized firms are being encouraged to get involved in international commerce with help from entities like the University of South Carolina (USC). The university recently received two donations totaling $26 million, now earmarked for the school's Darla Moore School of Business and its top-rated Master of International Business Studies program. USC is also at the center of a push by five counties in the region to become a technology hub: The university has a new $5 million microelectronics lab with an educational chip manufacturing facility, and an incubator in the school of engineering that nurtures high-tech start-ups.

Downtown Columbia is becoming a high-tech haven, with a fledgling software industry growing by leaps and bounds. Other growth sectors include transportation, spurred by the proximity of the East Coast's second-largest containerized deep-water cargo port in Charleston, and tourism, due at least in part to a world-class zoo.

Government is also a big contributor to Columbia's strong economy. A new Department of Justice training center for federal, state and local attorneys will host 10,000 trainees annually, and Army military base Fort Jackson, with its $735 million annual impact on the area, has become home to units from other closed Army bases. Service and retail companies have opened to support the influx.

Like most growing cities, Columbia has its problems--among them, an archaic transportation system and a tight employment market. Officials are aggressively promoting downtown redevelopment with tax incentives and plans to turn the area--located at the junction of three rivers--into an upscale pedestrian haven. Work-force readiness is being tackled jointly by school officials and business leaders. And as with growth, continued cooperation will be key to conquering Columbia's challenges.

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This article was originally published in the October 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hot Cities.

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