Connecting state and local government leaders
Becoming an inclusive, international city requires more than a title change.
South Carolina’s contentious removal of the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds in Columbia in 2015—after a racially motivated mass shooting that took nine black lives inside a Charleston church—placed unwanted, negative attention on the city.
Two years later, in an effort to move on, Columbia is spending upwards of $100,000 on a rebrand complete with new city motto and flag.
Gone is the “Famously Hot” slogan circa 2008, a reference to high summer temperatures, in favor of the new tagline “The Real Southern Hot Spot.” And the nearly 100-year-old flag recalling Columbia as a cotton and corn crossroads, no longer applicable, will be replaced with one of 18 publicly submitted designs.
“We’re not competing with Greenville and Charleston. On any given day, we’re competing with Richmond, and sometimes it’s Mumbai. Sometimes, it’s Mexico City,” Mayor Steve Benjamin told The Post and Courier. “We’re trying to create a place where we become attractive to recruit and also to retain the most talented people from around the world.”
Aside from becoming more inclusive, Columbia wants to be recognized as an international destination that’s home to people from about 200 countries speaking 90 languages.
Critics have argued the rebrand is a distraction from the work ending homelessness in the city, revitalizing parks and repairing roads on the path to a more inclusive, international Columbia.
New Orleans recently took down its most painful reminders of the Confederacy, Charlotte is investing in diverse workforce development and Boston developed an entire city plan with social equity in mind.
But forging a new identity with a rebrand, if done thoughtfully, could be a good first step.
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.