Overheard

Mayor Steve Benjamin on how investing in infrastructure is crucial to job creation

Innovators share ideas with WorkingNation Overheard at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2021
By Laura Aka
October 18, 2021

Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina is proud that his administration has created a pathway to careers during his nearly 12 years in office. “Our greatest contribution to the city has probably been our investment in the infrastructure and the jobs created as a result of it. Not just infrastructure—taking advantage of the low cost of capital offered by the markets the last decade or so—but also our investment in green infrastructure, building infrastructure that lasts the test of time.”

WorkingNation sat down with Mayor Benjamin at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2021 in Beverly Hills as part of our #WorkingNationOverheard interview series. With Charting a New Course as the guiding theme, thought leaders and innovators shared ideas about the changing economy, jobs, education, tech, philanthropy, and more.

“We were able in the wake of the 1,000-year flood in 2015—the greatest natural disaster we had in our city’s history—to pass the green bond. The largest and maybe only stand-alone storm water green bond in the history of the country that was certified green by the Climate Bonds Initiative.”

That job creation has come with strong efforts to ensure a more inclusive workforce. Benjamin says, “We have a local preference policy putting local people to work utilizing national, international capital to support that growth.”

“You have to be very intentional to try and drive people into the sectors where there will be good jobs and high-paying jobs. We want more jobs. We want high-paying jobs and, if we’re lucky, jobs that also have benefits. We have a very good apprenticeship program in South Carolina, buy usually focused on advanced manufacturing. But (we’re) working closely with our technical college system, driving more and more men and women, particularly those who live in the two bottom quintiles of our economy, into construction jobs.”

Benjamin’s is in his third term and says he is not seeking re-election in November. He credits his time in office as giving his now-teenage daughters the opportunity to participate in and celebrate the American Dream. “What motivated me to run for mayor in the first place, and has served as my foundation in public life, is a recognition that so many children are not as fortunate as the Benjamin girls.”

“If we do what we’re supposed to do, then every child—regardless of where they are from, what zip code, what census track, regardless of who their parents are—will all have the same opportunity that my children have. While opportunity is not universal, talent is.”

Click here to learn more about Columbia, South Carolina.

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