• Relatively stable local economy
• Central location, proximity to Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta
• Attractive to and affordable for commuters


• Reduced local tax base thanks to state presence
• Looming state budget cuts
• Unfocused approach to growth and development

Columbia, the state capital, weathered the bad economy better than most because its main employers are the University of South Carolina, the state government, and the nearby U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson. “The university has learned to leverage resources through private resources and grants, and there’s a little state support,” says Michael Watson, AIA, principal of local firm Watson Tate Savory Liollo Architecture. “Federal work is still pretty active, but the private sector is dead right now due to lack of financing and lack of owner-occupied deals,” laments Scott Garvin, AIA, president of local Garvin Design Group.


2010 population: 129,272. The Columbia metropolitan statistical area is growing at about 2.0% annually. The unemployment rate in February was 8.5%. Job growth increased 11.9% from 2000 to 2010.

Most of the job growth came from the healthcare, insurance, advanced-manufacturing, and retail sectors, according to James Gambrell, the city’s director of economic development. “Our [future] job growth is hindered slightly by the continued downsizing of state government.”


The median home sale price was $180,000 in April, up from $148,000 for the same period last year.

“The demand in the marketplace is for more innovative development in multifamily … and mixed-use properties,” notes Doug Quackenbush, AIA, principal at Columbia-based Quackenbush Architects + Planners. “I see a real cultural shift away from sprawl.”


The average asking rate for Class A office space, which is about 40% of the total market, ranges from $17 to $21 p.s.f. on 87% occupancy. “The real issue is the lack of financing in the market,” says Gambrell.


“I see the future of Columbia having growth that is more incremental and tentative. With Columbia’s strategic location, it’s destined to be the next great city in the Southeast, after Charlotte and Atlanta overwhelm people,” Watson says. “Here, there are no natural boundaries to stop sprawl—that is a concern. But with the low-density town ripe for infill growth, done right, Columbia could be a great city of the future.”