It will take time to quantify the financial impact, and the exact formula for computing the numbers has yet to be developed, but Charleston’s first-term mayor says the presence of new businesses in downtown is already visible to the naked eye.
“Just look down Capitol and Summers [streets], just look downtown,” Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said. “They’re doing more than betting on us — they’re banking on us.”
Goodwin’s directions are correct.
Visual proof indeed shows that some new spots have popped up along Charleston’s downtown streets over the past year. The optics are in stark contrast to the COVID-19 pandemic that has stymied — and, in some instances, shut down — businesses worldwide.
And while the numbers that are still being crunched don’t yet indicate any expected economic impact or new tax revenue, the base data is still defiant of an otherwise global trend.
At last count, the City Collector’s Office said there have been 621 business accounts processed by the city since March 2, 2020. Some of those are renewals, some are existing businesses that have undergone name changes or who are exploring new opportunities. The rest are traditional start-ups hopefully striding into a world that continues to be wrought with uncertainty.
The numbers are still down from the 923 registrations the city saw in 2019, but they’re only slightly off the 640 registrations reported in 2018 — a notable feat considering the extra gymnastics required for so many previously mundane tasks.
“Our city collector has really been doing an exceptional job of making sure we’re getting businesses registered,” Goodwin said. “It’s that hospitality spirit that we have, making sure that it’s an easier process and that you can comply.
“But what’s really neat that’s happening — and not just in Charleston, but across the country — is the pandemic showed us a lot of different things. It showed us that we can work from home, and also there is a path for us to make our own destiny, whether you lost your job or got scaled back. It’s also a great opportunity for folks to start their own business.”
There is a caveat, however, as it’s still nearly impossible to quantify what it all means. It will take time and more information to clearly illustrate the impact.
Christina Merbedone-Byrd, Charleston’s city collector, said in an email that “just because a business has registered, it doesn’t mean it is a Charleston-based business or even has a physical location here, but could be some out-of-city entity doing business in town. Also, based on how the business is structured and registered, may cause these numbers to be misleading, as well. Overall, it is difficult to obtain that data.”
She also explained the date on the registration is not necessarily the same as the business’ start date; that it might have a different start date based on when the business actually opened versus doing business in or with Charleston.
Regardless, the steady stream of registrations indicates businesses are either operating in Charleston or are targeting the Capital City for the future.
The city is helping some that have already set up shop through its Small Business Investment Grant program. Thirty-eight businesses have been awarded funds totaling $175,358.43 over the past two grant cycles. A five-person scoring committee awards the grants based on “projects that would enhance the image of Charleston either physically or socially, help maintain or increase current customer base or strengthen a small business’ sustainability.”
The most recent cycle saw $98,617.43 doled out to 20 Charleston businesses across an array of industries ranging from food and hospitality to fitness and real estate. A new cycle started on Monday.
“Opening up a small business is certainly no small feat,” Goodwin said. “And although I know mayors probably would love to say, ‘Oh, wow, hundreds of new businesses open?’ Yes, we’re making it a little bit more business-friendly to working in the city of Charleston. But while I’d like to be able to take credit for it all, we have a lot of passionate people who want to put their passions into their businesses.”