The City of North Charleston is the future, and it has the potential to become one of the most successful economies in the state once the Port of Charleston expands to the Navy Yard. When that happens, the Port of Charleston will increase its capacity by 50 percent.
Currently, the State Ports Authority claims that its ports are responsible for "260,800 jobs across South Carolina and nearly $45 billion in economic activity each year." According to the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the construction of a $55 million containment wall alone "will support an estimated 720 jobs and create a $78.4 million economic impact in the Charleston region during the 15 months it will take to complete" it. The Chamber adds that "approximately 430 of these jobs will be in the construction sector" and "the project will pump $27.7 million in personal income into the region."
Now the question for the African-American community, more specifically the communities surrounding the new home of the port, is how will these dollars benefit them? The first answer should be the creation of more jobs. The second should be the development of new businesses that can service the new port at the Naval Yard.
There are examples around the nation of agreements being reached by cities, communities, and port authorities to ensure that a percentage of the jobs created by new ports go to residents in the communities surrounding these ports.
The best example exists at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In California, it was agreed upon that the port would continually fund a job training and placement program for local residents.
When these ports were being expanded, they had to go through the same approval process that the Port of Charleston went through. A key part of this is working with the community on a community benefit agreement or a mitigation agreement.
In North Charleston, residents in the largely low-income neighborhoods surrounding the port are represented by the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC). But while the agreement between LAMC and the State Ports Authority is focused on the construction phase, most of the port's economic impact will actually occur once the facility begins its day-to-day operations. SPA has not made any commitment to fund job training and placement over the long term for area residents. LAMC, the City of North Charleston, and SPA must enter into an agreement to do this.
While most people are familiar with the jobs at the port directly related to cargo handling, there are others associated with the port, including work assembling materials that flow through the port and at businesses that support shipping or goods movement, as well as jobs related to cruise ship tourism and in the retail sale of imported goods.
LAMC has done a phenomenal job in negotiating with SPA, but their work is not over. The community master plan being developed for the southern end of North Charleston must include a strategy that will prepare local residents to access the employment opportunities that will be made available after construction is completed.
Of course, not all new jobs will be directly tied to the port, but they will service the port and those who work there. LAMC and SPA reached an agreement by which the State Ports Authority will contribute an estimated $1 million towards entrepreneurial training and assisting qualified vendors in securing new business.
The task now is to follow up and follow through. LAMC is the primary organization that will ensure these commitments are kept, but it will take residents, churches, local entrepreneurs, and city officials to make sure that the plans are realized.