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Mayors: Life sciences key to Charleston area's economic growth

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From left: Goose Creek Mayor Greg Habib, North Charleston Mayor Kevin Summey and Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg participate in a panel discussion at Tuesday's North Charleston Business Expo. (Photo/Jessica Yurinko)

By Jenny Peterson

Charleston-area mayors have their eyes on bringing more life sciences industry to spur economic development.

At a Power Breakfast to discuss Regional Resilience on Tuesday at the North Charleston Business Expo, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and Goose Creek Mayor Greg Habib both said their ideal future is new opportunities in life sciences, biotech and software engineering.

“A hospitality job’s average pay is $25,000 a year for restaurant worker; members of our Charleston digital corridor say the average salary is over $100,000,” Tecklenburg said at the event, which was hosted by the Charleston Regional Business Journal. “That’s why it’s so important for this region—even though we have all the accolades for tourism — is to focus on innovation, technology via software engineering or life sciences.”

Tecklenburg said in the last two years, the city added 500 jobs in the life sciences industry. The city’s Technology Center, an incubator and co-working space for companies in the life sciences industry, has grown jobs and industry.

“The future for job opportunities is life science technology; we have such as asset here,” Tecklenburg said.

Goose Creek Mayor Greg Habib said his city is also looking at bringing in companies in the life sciences market, with an overarching goal to keep residents working and living in the area.

“Technical professionals are very at home in Goose Creek; that’s what I find most of our city to be,” Habib said. “Goose Creek grew during COVID. We opened new businesses during the pandemic. If you recognize that growth is inevitable, the best was to do that is through economic development.”

He said attracting quality businesses will lessen traffic woes. “Fifteen thousand people leave Goose Creek to go to work; let’s make that 14,000 (people); identifying opportunities to keep some of those 15,000 people in (the area) in life sciences is a very big possibility for us.”

As for improving quality of life in their specific areas, many of the issues the mayors discussed overlap — including traffic woes and continuing to provide affordable housing for residents who work in the hospitality industry and in city services.

“Just in the City of Charleston, by the end of 2030, we’d need 16,315 units of affordable housing,” said Tecklenburg.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said the city is still feeling a post-COVID deficit in city employees and acknowledges that prices have increased across the board for maintenance and other city costs. He also called out the state department of transportation for not completing needed road improvements.

Summey noted the influx of young professionals who are moving to the Park Circle area and said the city’s focus is continuing to provide a quality of life for them to live, work and play in the area while looking at the area from a regional perspective.

“We don’t need to look at each other as competition, but people who are working together to grow this community as a whole,” Summey said.

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