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Columbia: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Columbia prides itself on a diverse and stable economy based on jobs in local and state government, manufacturing, and services and on being the site of the Fort Jackson military base. In recent years, distribution, manufacturing, and research and development have increased that diversity. The city is relying on its technology infrastructure, active entrepreneurial community, major research university, and diverse quality of life to attract and keep new business. Columbia's diverse economic base includes 31 Fortune 500 companies, and the city serves as a service center for the insurance, telecommunications, computer, and real estate industries. Dozens of international companies from Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Belgium, Luxembourg, Taiwan and Canada have operations in the region.

The University of South Carolina bolsters the economy through the expenditures of its more than 32,000 students as well as 7,900 faculty, staff, and support personnel. Fort Jackson, which is located within the city's boundaries, employs more than 4,400 civilians and spends nearly $716.9 million annually for salaries, utilities, contracts and other services, much of it in Columbia. It hires local firms for construction work and buys its supplies from local businesses.

Ample rainfall and the temperate climate promote the area's success as an agricultural center. The wholesale trade industry, which began its growth in the years prior to World War I, benefits from the fact that approximately 70 percent of the nation's population and 70 percent of its industrial/commercial power are within 24-hour ground access.

Items and goods produced: electronics, military equipment, marine products, chemicals, processed foods

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

The City of Columbia Economic Development Office stands ready to provide a wide range of services to companies interested in the Columbia region; incentives range from new business tax incentives to site planning. The Central Carolina Alliance is a public/private partnership engaged in the recruitment of capital investment and jobs to the Columbia region.

State programs

South Carolina is a "right-to-work" state and has the lowest unionization rate in the country at only 3.7 percent. The State provides a variety of business incentives. South Carolina emphasizes helping companies expand by offering low tax structures. The following incentives and financing sources may be available to qualifying companies: 20 percent state tax credit for development or lease of qualified office facilities; elimination of inventory, intangibles, unitary and value added taxes; job creation tax credits for five years up to $1,500 per employee; the Childcare Program Credit; Sales Tax Exemptions on a variety of production goods; fee-in-lieu of taxes option for investment and job creation; Enterprise Zones incentive; and property tax incentives.

Job training programs

The Columbia Work Initiative Program is a work training program developed by the City of Columbia and the Sumter-Columbia Empowerment Zone. It provides opportunities for empowerment zone residents to develop marketable skills in carpentry and masonry to supply area industry with a pool of trained workers. South Carolina's Special Schools program, a division of the State Board of Technical and Comprehensive Education, assumes the entire training responsibility and designs programs to suit a company's needs. The program may include trainee recruitment and testing, instructor recruitment and training, provision of training sites, development of instructional materials, and complete program management. South Carolina's Center for Accelerated Technology Training (CATT) pre-employment training program provides new and expanding companies with a fully trained and productive work force on the first day of operation. In Columbia, the Midlands Education and Business Alliance is one of the 16 School-to-Work consortiums, which offer pre-employment, internships and worker training programs to ensure that high school graduates are prepared to enter the workforce. South Carolina administers the Job Training Partnership Program.

Development Projects

Attracting area residents to live and work in Columbia is a main objective of the city's Economic Development Office. Its City Center Residential Initiative aims to increase the number of people living in the heart of the city. A 40,000 square foot Confederate Printing Plant has been redeveloped into a Publix grocery store, which opened in 2004 to accommodate the needs of urban residents. This redevelopment is part of an effort to revitalize the Huger Street corridor, which once housed a steel business. Other developments in the corridor include two office buildings and two multi-million dollar residential projects. Six other properties in the corridor have potential for redevelopment.

The Three Rivers Greenway is a multi-year ongoing project which has brought together a partnership of city and county governments and other area institutions to develop a 12-mile linear park system for the 90-mile interconnecting Saluda, Congaree and Broad Rivers. Conceived in 1995, the River Alliance has constructed parks, river walks, an amphitheater, bike lane, running trail, housing communities, and water sport activities along the rivers. In 2005, plans for student housing apartments and an upscale condominium project near the river were underway. Work on the Columbia side of the river is scheduled in phases.

The Charles R. Drew Wellness Center, scheduled for completion in late 2005, is one of the city's newest municipal projects. The 40,000 square foot complex features an indoor swimming pool and gymnasium, cardio/weight room, jogging track, and meeting and activity rooms. The Five Points District, Downtown Columbia's shopping and nightlife destination, is the beneficiary of a $28 million revitalization. Scheduled for completion in mid-2006, the two year project is designed to renovate and rejuvenate not only the streets, sidewalks, streetlights and signage, but to also repair some major underground sewer lines and other utility lines. Columbia's Main Street is also undergoing a renovation with new landscaping, paving, lighting and the installation of a fiber duct bank. Lady Street, Harden Street, and North Main Street are other city roads which have recently benefited from streetscape improvements. Other economic development projects on the city's drawing board include a plan to develop a technology-focused industrial park and plans to attract research projects to the University of South Carolina and the community.

Economic Development Information: Economic Development Division, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, 930 Richland Street, P.O. Box 1360, Columbia, SC 29202-9896; telephone (803)733-1110. City of Columbia Economic Development Office; telephone (803)734-2700; email

Commercial Shipping

With the benefit of its location where three major interstate highways cross within its regional boundaries and two rail systems operate, Columbus is positively positioned for businesses that require major transportation access. The Columbia Metropolitan Airport handles more than 10,400 tons of cargo annually plus an additional 93 tons of airmail. The airport's Foreign Trade Zone #27 is a 108-acre tract with a 40,000 square foot warehouse and office building and an additional 52,000 square feet of multi-tenant space. The U.S. Customs Services offices, Port of Columbia, are also located in this zone along with several Custom House brokers. Columbia is served by more than 60 motor freight carriers and is the site of United Parcel Service's southeastern regional air cargo hub, ensuring low costs and timely delivery for local industry. Charleston, the second busiest seaport on the east coast, is just 110 miles away.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Columbia boasts a large and growing workforce, especially in the 20-to-40 age group. Many retirees from Fort Jackson choose to stay in the area, adding skill and maturity to the available workforce. Workers are described as efficient and productive, and work stoppages are rare. Forbes magazine ranked Columbia 17th of the best cities for business climate in 2003. South Carolina is a right-to-work state and is one of the country's least unionized states. The Columbia area workforce is also an educated one, ranking 23rd in the nation for doctoral degrees and 32nd for college degrees, according to the Columbia Office of Economic Development.

While Columbia has been successful in creating jobs, it has not achieved the same success in raising its residents' standard of living. Growth in wages in the state from 1994-2004 fell below the national average. Per capita income was 80 percent of the national average. The Columbia region, historically insulated because of State government, the University of South Carolina, and Fort Jackson, lost more than 10,000 jobs between 2002 and 2004. The city's challenge is to create more high-paying jobs, according to Mayor Bob Coble in his 2004 State of the City address. To that end, the city has plans to increasingly focus on attracting technology companies to the area and especially to the University of South Carolina Research Campus.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Columbia metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 303,800

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 17,400

manufacturing: 23,800

trade, transportation and utilities: 55,800

information: 5,600

financial activities: 25,200

professional and business services: 33,800

educational and health services: 32,800

leisure and hospitality: 26,200

other services: 9,300

government: 73,800

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: not reported

Unemployment rate: 4.9% (December 2004)

Columbia: Economy

Largest private sector employers (Greater Columbia) Number of employees
Palmetto Health 7,500
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of SC 5,100
Richland School District One 5,000
SCE&G 4,000
United Parcel Service 3,528
Wachovia Bank of South Carolina 3,422
Richland School District Two 2,500
Branch Banking and Trust Company 2,093
School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties 2,000
Santee Cooper 1,650

Cost of Living

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Columbia area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $246,380

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 96.2 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: Ranges from 2.5% to 7.0%

State sales tax rate: 5.0%

Local income tax rate: none

Local sales tax rate: none

Property tax rate: Millage rates set annually by local government tax authorities and applied to 4.0% of fair market value.

Economic Information: Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, 930 Richland, Columbia, SC 29202; telephone (803)733-1110