January 27, 2010

Rosy Outlook

David Slade  /  Post and Courier

In State of the City address, Riley says Charleston well on its way to economic recovery

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley proclaimed the city's future bright and its economic recovery "well under way" in an optimistic address Tuesday night.

Riley, whose 2010 budget requires city employees to take unpaid days off to help balance the budget, focused his annual State of the City speech on the economy and efforts in Charleston to create jobs.

I feel a great responsibility for those who are out of work. ... I am very proud of all that was achieved this year, and we have lots, lots more to do.' - Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, in his State of the City speech

Riley pointed out that, despite facing unusual budget constraints, the city has developed new parks, pursued historic restoration projects and has hired more police officers for what is already the state's largest municipal force.

The mayor also focused on the city's partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Research Authority in developing the Innovation Center bio-tech business incubator on upper Meeting Street.

The center provides high-tech lab space to new companies.

"What a scientist needs after a concept has been identified is a place to test it; high- quality lab space that allows for a successful incubation of the idea," Riley said. "That is what is now going on in the Innovation Center, which I believe will prove to be a pivotal point in our community's economic development history."

The city's long-term plan is to redevelop vacant land between Lockwood Boulevard and Hagood Avenue as a location for biotech and life sciences businesses, and for new housing.

At another business incubator location, the city's Flagship site at East Bay and Calhoun streets, Riley said the city's Digital Corridor initiative is currently helping seven businesses to get up and running, and create jobs.

Turning his focus to the waterfront, Riley said Carnival Cruise Lines' decision to make Charleston a home port is good news for job creation, though he also mentioned the need to make sure the city's isn't overwhelmed by cruise ships.

He said the planned new cruise ship terminal that the State Ports Authority is working to develop will have only one cruise ship berth, limiting the number of ships in the city at any one time.

He said development of a new cruise ship terminal also will signal the start of long-awaited plans to redevelop Union Pier and its roughly 50 waterfront acres downtown.

Riley also applauded the decision by Maersk Shipping Lines to continue to use the Port of Charleston, after earlier announcing it would leave.

"This represents not only a huge number of jobs and economic activity but affirms our Port's leading role among the ports of our country," the mayor said.

Among Charleston's bright spots touted by Mayor Joe Riley was the Innovation Center bio-tech business incubator on Meeting Street, where engineer Brian Corbett was working Tuesday on a process to reduce the energy used in producing biofuels.

Of course, Boeing's decision to build a Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston was the big economic news in the region in recent months, and Riley said Charleston has created a task force in order to "do everything we can to avail ourselves to the opportunities, commercially and residentially, to support the businesses and services that will be a part of this new industry."

The mayor has used past State of the City addresses to announce large initiatives, such as the International African American Museum. Riley made no announcements on that scale this year, but did say the city is rolling out a program called Charleston Works to help knowledge-based companies with employee recruiting.

He closed by celebrating Charleston's residents who have given back to the community, and singled out several.

Riley praised the work of Water Missions International founders George and Molly Greene, and their son, George IV, whose nonprofit organization is helping to provide clean water in Haiti.

He also recognized local resident and neighborhood association volunteer Michael Allen, who Riley said lost his job during the past year.

"And what did he do?" Riley said. "While looking for another job, he decided to give his newfound time to his neighborhood and his community."

Allen was awarded the city's Harold Koon Award earlier Tuesday evening in recognition of his volunteer work.