January 29, 2009

New Business Resource Center to Open; City Plans Seminars

John McDermott  /  The Post and Courier

Keying off a theme from his annual assessment of the city the previous night, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley announced plans Wednesday for a new Business Resource Center to help employers navigate the troubled economy. The location was not disclosed, but the center should be ready to open by May 1, Riley said.

The facility will be staffed by volunteers representing such specialties as law, accounting and marketing, and it will provide employers that operate within the city with "first-rate business offerings," said Ernest Andrade, director of business development and head of Charleston's high-technology-focused Digital Corridor program.

The city also plans to organize a series of business seminars to be held in different areas of Charleston to provide small companies with professional advice and counseling, such as how to refinance a loan or renegotiate a real estate lease.

"Challenging economic times call for proactive measures," Riley said. The cost of the new initiatives was not immediately available. Riley said they are all part of a new "business stimulus plan" that Charleston is rolling out in response to the stormy economic conditions, which he likened to Hurricane Hugo.

As in 1989, he said, the goal is to make sure "no one is injured and the recovery is quick." The economic stimulus plan was featured prominently in Riley's annual State of the City Address on Tuesday. As part of that effort, qualified startup firms in "knowledge- based" industries, such as life sciences and biotechnology, will be reimbursed for the city business license fees they pay under a two-year program. The refund money will come from a nonprofit, privately funded foundation that is affiliated with the city-owned Digital Corridor initiative. Also, Riley said, the city said it eliminating some of the fees that restaurants must pay if they want to offer sidewalk dining.