Lexington's Amazon announcement highlights slow growth in Columbia

Columbia's North Main Street
Columbia's North Main Street

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Some business and political leaders in Columbia and Richland County are asking "what about us?" after Tuesday's announcement that online giant Amazon.com is adding a distribution center in Lexington County.

They're trying to keep up. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says the city is taking steps to spruce up and improve security off Bluff Road at the Columbia Industrial Park, but the city has to look at Lexington county's gains as a plus for the entire region.

Meanwhile, Columbia is celebrating some smaller-scale victories. After years of decline, the climate for economic development on Columbia's North Main Street continues to improve.

Nowhere is the change more apparent than the city's North Main Plaza. Already home to two new restaurants, two more small businesses have also opened up -- First Choice Rehabilitation Center and the Natural Escape Day Spa.

City leaders say this part of the community is on a roll. "I say to those of you who live in the Eau Claire community, support the North Main Plaza with all of the things that we have here," said Mildred McDuffie.

"The effort continues," said Columbia City Councilman Sam Davis. "We have a number of corridors out here that we've targeted. And we intend to follow through on the commitment that we've made."

But as encouraging as the picture seems on North Main, Columbia and Richland County can't match Lexington County on large-scale economic development.

Lexington already has the state's lowest unemployment numbers, and the addition of major employers like SCANA, after its move from downtown Columbia, and now Amazon.com will keep Lexington County on the leading edge of job creation.

"We're not fettered or bothered about where the jobs land," said Benjamin. "But I will tell you that Lexington's had some great success because of the focus on economic development and because they have the foresight to build a world class business park. That's something I think the city of Columbia should also do."

The mayor says one way Columbia can help itself is to keep red tape at a minimum for new business developers. "People ought to be able to come and make an investment and be able to at least forecast three months, six months, nine months, when will I be able to start getting a return on my investment," Benjamin continued.

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