CRDA Uses Public Money to Push Command Economy

August 9, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveThe Charleston Regional Development Alliance is devising a new game plan to guide economic development, but it appears to be basing its strategy on old Soviet-style state planning.

The organization, which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funding annually, is embracing a planning initiative that will evaluate economic conditions, performance of so-called “target clusters” and global economic trends.

According to the Alliance, “A changing economic landscape means it’s time to … study and reset our course for regional economic development.”

The goal, according to the Alliance, is to create a plan that will “ultimately ensure a robust environment in which companies can prosper, residents have diverse career opportunities, and the unique character of the region is enriched.”

As part of the process of planning the Charleston area’s economy, the Alliance is encouraging “residents to share their vision for the region” through an online survey.

Called Opportunity Next, survey questions include: “Which three industries do you think would be best for the Charleston region over the next five years?” and “If you were king or queen of the Charleston region, what one action would you take to improve the area’s future potential?”

(To the latter question, one survey taker responded: “Return all of the resources siphoned out of the economy via taxation and overregulation by economic development professionals, planners, and other such self-anointed experts to the more productive members of society.”)

The Alliance is an economic development organization representing Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. It gets a majority of its funding from county appropriations – nearly $900,000 in fiscal year 2008-09 – although it does receive a sizeable amount in private contributions, as well.

The organization seeks to promote the Charleston region to attract businesses and entrepreneurs.

“Ultimately, our goal is to strengthen regional employment, build our base of high-value industries, and significantly improve the economic future for all who live and work in the greater Charleston area,” according to Alliance information.

The current economic-planning push comes on the heels of the Alliance’s first “five-year plan,” adopted in 2005.

According to the organization, the Charleston region that year “adopted a cluster-based economic development strategy focused around five industry sectors that match the region’s strengths and its vision for the future: advanced security, aerospace, automotive, biosciences and the creative industries.

“Since then, regional business, academic and governmental leaders have aligned their efforts to ensure that public policy, community development and marketing activities consider the needs of these target sectors,” it added.

According to the Alliance, the Charleston region has made “significant progress in advancing these industry sectors over the past five years, including opening a bioscience incubator, establishing an annual homeland security innovation conference, and landing Boeing’s second 787 assembly operation.”

What’s unstated is that those “successes” came at the expense of taxpayers:

  • The bioscience incubator most likely refers to the S.C. Research Authority MUSC Innovation Center, which opened last year. SCRA was created by state legislation in 1983. As seed capital, the General Assembly gave the SCRA about 1,400 acres of undeveloped land – estimated at that time to be worth $10.7 million – and $500,000, according to a 2005 review of the Research Authority.
  • The homeland security innovation conference has several sponsors who are the recipients of public funding, including SCRA and affiliate SC Launch, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, Clemson University, the Lowcountry Graduate Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and charter school Palmetto Scholars Academy.
  • As The Nerve has pointed out previously, the total taxpayer cost of the Boeing project, including various corporate income and sales tax credits and property tax breaks, is projected to be at least $500 million.

With the current survey, funded by the S.C. Power Team (the economic development alliance of the state-owned utility Santee Cooper and the state’s 20 electric co-ops), along with  MeadWestVaco, First Federal and SCANA, the Alliance will revisit the 2005 study and “reset our course for regional economic development.”The Alliance adds, “As the world emerges from the most severe economic recession since the 1930s, this is a highly critical time for regional economic development planning. The Charleston region can differentiate itself from other places by adopting strong future goals and a tactical plan for accomplishing them.”

It was during the 1930s, of course, that the Soviet Union completed its first five-year plan and embarked on two more – all during a severe economic downturn, and all concluding with ultimately disastrous results.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.