Midlands leaders band together to take advantage of stimulus

This afternoon we were visited by a rather distinguished and diverse group of business, academic and political leaders who have been putting their heads together to see how our various interlocking existing community ecodevo initiatives — Innovista, the 3 rivers greenway, hydrogen and fuel cell efforts, and so forth — can position our community to take advantage of the stimulus funds once they start flowing to achieve some of our existing goals.

As Lee Bussell said when he asked for the meeting:

With the first mention of the stimulus bill we pulled together a working group of about 25 people representing business leaders, USC, the city, counties, Midlands Tech, Central Midlands, The Chamber, Good to Great Foundation, SCRA, Columbia USC Fuel Cell Collaborative and a number of others .
Our purpose was not just to make sure Columbia participated in the creation of jobs through this special program. We identified that for the last 5 years we have been working toward building a sustainable and green community with the creation of an economy based on alternative energy solutions. Sustainability and green jobs have become a central part of our community development strategy.
I am asking on behalf of all of these groups that you consider pulling together a group at the State that we could come meet with next week. We think it’s critical that you understand what we are attempting to accomplish. It could truly enable our regions to find opportunity to not only create jobs, but also to create an everlasting impact on the sustainability of our community and a whole new economic approach.

Lee didn't actually make today's meeting (he's out of the country, I understand) but the following folks did come (starting with left to right in the photo above, from my phone):

  • Paul Livingston of Richland County Council
  • Neil McLean of EngenuitySC
  • John Lumpkin of NAI Avant
  • Columbia Mayor Bob Coble
  • Tameika Isaac Devine, Cola city council
  • USC President Harris Pastides
  • John Parks, USC Innovista
  • Bill Boyd, Waterfront Steering Committee
  • Judith M. Davis of BlueCross BlueShield
  • Jim Gambrell, city of Columbia
  • Ike McLeese, Cola Chamber of Commerce
  • Kyle Michel, Kyle Michel law firm

… and several other folks who I know I must be forgetting as I try to reconstruct who was sitting around the table (or whose names I missed).

Basically these folks represent a lot of different efforts that will be combined and coordinated as the situation warrants to seek funding for things they were going to do anyway, with the goal of long-term economic transformation for the community. As Harris Pastides said, the test of success will be whether, after the construction workers are gone, we still have jobs here that put us on the cutting edge of the nation's move toward a greener economy and greater energy independence.

Toward that end — and with Congress not yet decided toward the final shape of the stimulus — Mayor Bob has set up a War Room in his office at City Hall. Pres. Pastides says he'll be doing the same at USC. The watchwords, says Coble, will be nimbleness, persistence and resources as opportunities are seen to match local projects with stimulus funding streams.

The group was very optimistic that the sorts of things they're working on here in the Midlands are a good match, and at a good point in the pipeline, for matching up with priorities they're seeing in the stimulus, and also with longer-term priorities of the Obama administration.

That's what I recall off the top of my head; I haven't gone back through the recording I made. (Sorry, no video; I took out my camera last night for a family birthday party, and forgot to put it back in my briefcase.) I expect some of the news folks who were there will have something in the paper that will flesh this out a little. I just wanted to go ahead and get my contact report filed…

(And no, in case you're wondering, neither the governor nor any representative of his was there. As Coble said, our governor is seen as an obstacle in this process; whether that obstacle will be surmountable or not remains to be seen, but the folks in the room seemed determined to try…)

22 thoughts on “Midlands leaders band together to take advantage of stimulus

  1. Doug Ross

    Yeah, much better to take government handouts than develop a real business plan.
    When things don’t go well, you just ask for more.
    Any government money should come with a person’s name attached who will accept full responsibility for the success of the project.
    And is this a loan they want which will be paid back to the taxpayers who assume the risk or a just a plain old handout?

  2. Phillip

    when I skimmed through this post and saw that “Lee didn’t actually make this meeting,” I thought you’d invited Lee Muller to the meeting, which I thought very open-minded of you. Make sure you have your video camera for that one!
    When you say the governor is seen as an obstacle to this process, you should also add that our two US Senators are an obstacle to this process as well, though of course not in the facts-on-the-ground way that the governor would be.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Well, Phillip, you have to remember that I’m ambivalent about this stimulus package in its various forms.
    But there seems little question that once such a package actually PASSES, the city and USC and their local allies should be doing their best to match whatever passes to preexisting local initiatives to the available funding. If Columbia and South Carolina don’t get this money, it doesn’t go “back to the taxpayers” (especially since it’s deficit spending, in which case one asks, back to WHAT taxpayers); it goes to other parts of the country.
    Add that to the fact that the kinds of things local folks are talking about — the sort of green, energy-innovative projects that are poised to be carried out — are really a good match to national priorities and the expressed goals of the Obama administration.
    Local officials who did not do all they could to match those worthy local projects with funding that is GOING TO BE SPENT one way or the other would be derelict in their duty to their communities.
    So you see, for me the topic that these folks came to talk to us about is quite distinct from the issue of whether the stimulus should pass, or in what form — although those questions DO have a big impact on what sorts of requests come from this community once it passes. For instance, there’s a lot more opportunity for USC, as I understand it, if the House bill is what prevails. But as Coble said, 90 percent of the stimulus is settled because it’s in BOTH bills, and this is the basis of much the local planning, if I understood him correctly.
    I believe local officials should do all they can to promote the success of Innovista, the riverfront and hydrogen and fuel cell research, and to a great extent the stimulus is likely to be able to help with all of the above.

  4. Doug Ross

    If they are good ideas, there should be a business plan that demonstrates the return to investors/taxpayers in such a way that it wouldn’t require a handout to make it happen.
    I’ve got plenty of good ideas I’d love to try and implement using risk free dollars.

  5. Brad Warthen

    This is where Doug and I part company. The way I look at it, when you’ve got a good idea that needs money to implement, public dollars spend just as well as private ones. I lack the ideological view that he has. I’m neutral.
    Mind you, I say that within the context of the fact that this is NOT a decision whether the money will be spent or not. It WILL be spent, and on projects very much like these. So how crazy would we have to be NOT to advocate that the money — which WILL be spent — go to worthwhile projects right here in this community.
    It is grotesquely irresponsible to let an ideological distaste for a) local governments trying to give their economies a boost or b) any and all public funds get in the way of trying to further the interests of our community.
    There are some who comment on this blog who apparently do not believe that local government CAN, or SHOULD, promote local economic activity. They scorn any effort as doomed to fail, and despise those officials who dare to try. I ask these folks to look at the Congaree Vista as an example of something that local governments have promoted over a period of years with great success.
    Each specific idea should be evaluated for whether it will work as proposed, given the particular circumstances. Some ideas will be bad ones, will truly be example of government trying to bite off too much. We believed it was foolhardy for the city of Columbia to try to operate a convention hotel on its own. However, we though the city’s investment in helping Publix get started in the old Confederate printing plant was a good example in which local government HELPS the private sector, but doesn’t try to supplant it. Near as I can tell, that Publix is a resounding success.
    But I digress. Back to my original point — we have a lot of people trying to accomplish some fine things in this community, and it looks as though some of those things may correlate fairly well with national priorities in spending this stimulus. To the extent that those two tracks converge, that’s a very good thing.

  6. Lee Muller

    How nice! Crooked Democrats in Congress printing fiat currency to bail out all the bankrupt cities run by Democrat mayors.
    Money we don’t have being spent on projects we don’t need to enrich people who shouldn’t be allowed near City Hall.

  7. Steve Gordy

    I’ll take Lee’s comments and p.m.’s comments about “Democrat mayors” more seriously if and only if I see the GOP governor of our western neighbor Georgia declining all the stimulus $ ticketed for his state.

  8. Lee Muller

    The band of mayors who went to the White House begging for bailouts at the end of January were all Democrats.
    Yes, there will be Republican mayors who accept bailout money, or even ask for it.
    But this is a Democratic spending bill filled with a backlog of Democrat projects, and the cities in the most trouble are ones mismanaged by Democrats. Those with years of black Democrat mayors and councils are examples of the worst sort of corruption and waste – Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore, Gary.

  9. Doug Ross

    The difference between private dollars and public dollars is in who assumes the risk. If Innovista doesn’t pan out, who foots the bill? The taxpayers.
    Maybe any federal government funds should be provided only on a matching dollar basis. If it’s a good idea, let the local governments put some skin in the game.
    When it’s free money, the incentive to be efficient is much lower.

  10. Lee Muller

    I am afraid that a lot of this battery and fuel cell research at USC is just a Johnny-come-lately attempt to ride a fad and grab some federal money.

  11. Lee Muller

    Democrats get the first places at the trough. After they gobble up the economy, everyone else can fight over the scraps.

  12. Lee Muller

    “The money is going to be spent anyway, so our state might as well grab all it can.”
    “Someone was going to steal that wallet anyway, so why not grab it? I have a better use for the money than those other thieves.”

  13. Doug Ross

    Would someone show me the business plan for the James Clyburn bridge over 277? That’s a perfect example of what happens when you allow politicians to spend other people’s money.
    I’ve gone past that bridge maybe a thousand times and I can count on one hand the number of pedestrians who I have seen using it.
    And you want the same level of accountability for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars?

  14. Brad Warthen

    Lee, you found a wallet with money in it? Split it with us, or we’ll all turn you in.
    As to how I spend my part, that depends on the amount. I’m sort of doubting I get enough to buy a big-screen HDTV (which is sort of my standard for windfall money — is it enough for HDTV? unfortunately it never is).
    But how about this? How about, if there’s enough TOTAL in the wallet for us to buy an HDTV, we pool our resources and do the communitarian thing, and buy the TV together? We can buy it at Best Buy, so it doesn’t have to go out of business like Circuit City. Win-win-win. In the spirit of this cooperative exercise, I volunteer to keep the TV at my house, and y’all can come watch it on a rotating base. Don’t thank me, really.
    And here’s the good news — it’s Michael Phelps’ wallet, and he’s not likely to go to the sheriff and report it stolen…

  15. Birch Barlow

    In the spirit of this cooperative exercise, I volunteer to keep the TV at my house, and y’all can come watch it on a rotating base. Don’t thank me, really.
    What do you have in the fridge?

  16. Brad Warthen

    How many wallets have you “found,” Lee? Is this a regular thing with you?
    I found one once, when I was about 12 years old, living in New Orleans (Algiers, really, across the river from downtown). I found it on a tennis court on the Navy base there. I called a number in it and the guy’s wife came and got it and thanked me and gave me a dollar.
    But it would have to happen a lot more often than that for me to be able to make a living at it. Or to buy an HDTV.

  17. Lee Muller

    I found an envelope of cash at the ATM last year, with $480.00 in it. The bank was able to look at the transactions, find who had just made that withdrawal, and call them. It was a USC student, and that was his rent money.


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