Volvo, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Bosch, Showa Denko, IHG, Gildan and many more – the number of foreign-owned businesses in the Charleston region is growing, bringing professionals from abroad to enrich our community and increase its cultural diversity. Is this famously insular area prepared to take its place as a participant in the global community?
Many Charleston business leaders believe it is crucial to the area’s continued economic vitality to do so. As part of the region’s One Region Global Competitiveness Strategy, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA) has established a Global Fluency Initiative to increase our appreciation of the region’s global connectivity and ease the transition for those who move here from abroad.
It’s going to be well-received by foreign nationals, says David McIntosh, director of the English Language Institute at College of Charleston. He says his students don’t always feel welcome here. An unpleasant experience many share is a trip to the DMV.
The two-pronged initiative aims to expand resources for foreign-born residents to integrate into the community, and increase local awareness of the growing diversity of cultures and the value of economic and culture connections between Charleston and the rest of the world.
“Every day our world is getting a little smaller,” said Sam Skardon, Project Director for the One Region Strategy. “The Charleston area economy is becoming a bigger player in the global economy.”
Foreign-owned businesses now account for a third of the manufacturing jobs in the region. More than two million containers of cargo worth $55 billion passed through the Port of Charleston last year, and the Charleston airport now boasts direct flights to and from London. International trade is a small but growing part of the regional economy.
Foreign students have comprised a growing percentage of graduate students taking courses at local colleges and at the Lowcountry Graduate Center over the past decade.
Just beginning its second year in this initiative, the CRDA created the online Charleston Community Guide, providing an overview of the three-county region for new and existing residents. It includes an international section updated by the Global Fluency action teams, which lists local international cultural organizations, religious organizations, and ethnic foods venues. A resident from India, for example, could discover the Indian Association of Greater Charleston, the location of the nearest Hindu Temple, and the sites of the two local Indian restaurants.
The initiative has also worked with the Charleston airport to post multi-lingual signage, a small act that can make foreign visitors and residents feel more at home.
At the same time, Skardon says, the organization is attempting to reach out into the community to raise awareness about the importance of opening our arms to new residents from other countries. “We’re trying to make multinational culture an integral part of the community. For example, when international executives come with their families, the trailing spouse sometimes has difficulty finding employment or making connections. We want to help those families integrate into the community and feel welcome,” he said.
“We’re trying to make multinational culture an integral part of the community. For example, when international executives come with their families, the trailing spouse sometimes has difficulty finding employment or making connections. We want to help those families integrate into the community and feel welcome,” he said.
David McIntosh agrees. He says some spouses have signed up for ESL classes despite their mastery of the language, just to have a certificate that proves their fluency.
The Global Fluency Initiative plans to engage more multinational organizations and participate in more multinational events around town in 2019. “We’re looking to expand our partnerships with community organizations and individuals who want to be involved and spread the message,” noted Skardon. “If you’d like more information please email us at [email protected]”