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Globalization: A Mayoral Take

July 28, 2016

Foreign-direct investment (FDI) is so prevalent in the Palmetto State that South Carolina was named the “national champion” of FDI in February 2016 by fDi Magazine. The presence of foreign-owned enterprises (FOEs) is especially strong in the Upstate, where 10.6 percent of jobs are tied to FOEs, and in Charleston, which was ranked the No. 9 metro area in the U.S. for the largest share of international jobs by the Brookings Institution. 

During the recent Global South Metro Exchange, coordinated by the Upstate SC Alliance to unite leaders from Atlanta, Charlotte and Charleston in conversations about global competitiveness, Greenville Mayor Knox White and Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg shared a panel discussion about globalization’s effect on communities.

“You see the statistics about 500 foreign-owned businesses in the Upstate, but behind those numbers of foreign-direct investment and export-oriented businesses are relationships — people, and you cannot walk on the streets of downtown without hearing German and running into people from all over the world,” White said. “It’s built into our DNA now.”

White cited Michelin as an example; the tire manufacturer established Upstate operations in 1975 in Anderson, S.C., and has since been a conduit between the Upstate and Clermont-Ferrand, France. Such connections also serve to shape the character of communities, such as downtown Greenville’s walkability.

“It’s a very European feel on the streets of downtown Greenville, and that is on purpose, in terms of attracting foreign investment and highly skilled people from around the country,” White added.

Asked how Charleston is working to preserve its character in the face of globalization and industrial growth, Tecklenburg harkened back to the Reconstruction era. In recent years, Charleston has welcomed major projects such as Boeing, Volvo and an expansion of the Daimler vans assembly site – but is focused to maintain its historic charm.

“Our citizens realized back in the ‘20s and ‘30s that we had this architectural heritage that should be preserved, so rather than tearing down all of those old buildings and building new ones, we kept the ones that we have. It’s really contributed to the unique character of our downtown and made us a heritage site,” Tecklenburg said. “All the cultural things really add up.”

White added regional representation and collaboration on a larger scale are the most effective ways to begin dialogue with companies overseas.

“All you have to do is some foreign travel to understand that regionalism is what it is all about,” White said. “When you’re looking at a map of the United States from Asia or from Europe, there is no such thing as Greenville, S.C., there’s only the Southeast United States.”

Both mayors noted that effective, efficient modes of transportation are critical to sustaining industrial growth and for attracting new foreign investments. Tecklenburg said Charleston is considering rapid transit solutions exploring a sales tax referendum this fall to jumpstart funding. 

TOPICS: Upstate Thoughts