January 12, 2009

City of Charleston Restructures Economic Development Efforts, Splits Office in Two

Ashley Fletcher Frampton  /  Charleston Regional Business Journal

The city of Charleston has revamped its economic development office, splitting it in two, with one division to support existing businesses and one to recruit new jobs and firms.

The new Office of Business Development, which will focus on attracting new jobs, is modeled after the city's Charleston Digital Corridor initiative. Ernest Andrade, director of the corridor, will head the Office of Business Development.

The Digital Corridor, the public-private initiative begun in 2001 to attract and expand knowledge-based jobs, will fall under the Office of Business Development, and Andrade will remain its director, as well.

The city has hired Jonathan Oakman to direct the Office of Business Services, the division focused on the needs of companies already in Charleston. Oakman starts work today.

Oakman previously worked for the Alliance for Downtown New York and managed business attraction efforts for the Lower Manhattan Business Improvement District. He has also worked for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The Office of Business Services remains associated with planning and preservation functions, while the Office of Business Development is separate.

Mayor Joe Riley has described his creation of the Business Development Office as a proactive strategy for recruiting jobs, especially technology jobs, in a slow economy.

Technology jobs are important because of the high wages they typically pay, Riley said. The technology focus is also a natural extension of research and innovation at the Medical University of South Carolina, he said.

"During a time of economic challenge, it's so important that you mentally not operate defensively but rather you act offensively, creatively, energetically," Riley said. "We thought that by creating this new Office of Business Development and merging the Digital Corridor in there, it would give us the focus and the challenge of working even harder and bringing new business opportunities to Charleston."

The new Office of Business Development will bring more accountability to recruitment efforts, Andrade said. Moving forward, the Office of Business Development will produce an annual report the same way the Charleston Digital Corridor does.

The new office will extend to all businesses the Charleston Digital Corridor's market-driven, nimble approach to supporting technology businesses based on their needs, Andrade said.

"This is the perfect time to expand out what we know has worked for this community," he said.

In his new role, Andrade will not focus exclusively on technology companies. But, he said, "The line between technology companies and traditional companies is blurring every day."

Andrade said he has created a plan for the office's work but will modify it based on feedback from businesses.

The city is seeking new office space for the Business Development Office and the Charleston Digital Corridor, now located on Meeting Street near Mary Street.

Larger facilities are needed, in part, to provide meeting space and individual office space for new companies that need somewhere to work before they are fully established here.

The Charleston Digital Corridor is not one single corridor but four geographic areas of the city considered to be well-suited for technology companies.