I have just returned from Charleston, South Carolina. I lived there for 10 years serving as the Chamber Executive and then the Director of the South Carolina Development Board (now the Department of Commerce). People who visit Charleston today cannot believe the transformation that has taken place there over the past thirty plus years. When I moved there “we were too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.” East Bay Street was boarded up with only one freight-forwarding office and fast food restaurant open. Over all these years, there has been one constant, one force for continuing positive change: Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Now serving his tenth consecutive term, he has as much passion and vision as he had in 1975 when he was first elected. As I visited with him last Friday and we talked about the many projects that I had the pleasure of working with him on and his current priorities, I thought about where the public sector leadership is coming from today. It is coming from the nation’s Mayors.
As Market Street continues to work across the country we see the difference great Mayors make. Mayor Sly James is doing great things in Kansas City from the passage of a new bond issue for major roadway improvements to reorganizing the City’s economic development programs. Mayor Todd Strange has brought great attitude and support for the public education in Montgomery, Alabama and is lead supporter of “Imagine A Greater Montgomery.” Three Mayors in Oklahoma City supported and led their transformational MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) programs. Kirk Watson, Will Wynn, and Lee Leffingwell have all been top supporters of Opportunity Austin in their role as Mayor of Austin over these past 10+ years. Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, Wisconsin has made it much easier for companies and citizens to get needed city data by his data policies. The list goes on and on.
Written long ago, House Speaker Tip O’Neill told us that “all politics is local.” So is all economic development. Great Mayors make a difference. Joe Riley and Charleston are living proof.