The Military impact on Columbia's small business community

Our salute to the military’s impact on Columbia’s business community

by Susan Vaughan McPherson

As Columbia’s business community continues to grow, maximizing all our resources will be the key to reaching our fullest potential. Most Columbia residents have probably noticed that we pride ourselves on being military-friendly. But not everyone might realize how critical of a role our military community plays in our economy and beyond.

In 2019, Columbia was named a Great American Defense Community.  That’s an honor awarded annually to five communities across the country that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to embracing and supporting the military men and women in their regions. This designation attracts a diverse talent pool of soldiers and families contributing to the Midlands, both in service and civilian life.

Columbia is also home to the nation’s largest military training base, Fort Jackson. The base trains 54% of the army’s basic combat soldiers and 61% of the army’s female soldiers. Specific ways in which Fort Jackson contributes:

  • $2.4 billion in annual economic impact for the Midlands
  • Supports 7,000 jobs
  • Trains 76,000 individuals

Over 250,000 family members visit Columbia annually to attend graduation, military exercises, and to spend time with their loved ones. Families shop, dine, and play throughout our city, contributing $45 million annually to our local economy.

Those are game-changing numbers that can play an integral part in establishing the Midlands as a competitive business community. It’s easy to assume that most of the economic impact is generated through active service soldiers and employees. But we shouldn’t underestimate the potential of the massive support system that surrounds those who are serving.

What a military family brings to the community

Columbia’s military-friendly designation has created a thriving community of military spouses and families that benefit the region in a wide range of capacities. Military family members serve in a broad spectrum of civilian jobs that enrich our city, as nurses, lawyers and more. Columbia’s dedication to fostering a military-inclusive environment allows us to attract such an impressive talent pool, and retain and encourage such families to see a future for themselves in our city.

Many military family members and spouses also often have entrepreneurial pursuits of their own. Military spouse and vetrepreneur small businesses play an important role in promoting growth within our community. Qualities developed in the military and that guide military families, such as discipline and adaptability, give these small businesses the grit they need to succeed.

As we continue strategizing ways to fuel our region’s growth, we should support our military community. We should also make an effort to find ways to uplift and empower our talent pool of military families. Shopping at military spouses’ small businesses and actively hiring military family members within your own business are just a few examples of ways you can support this essential community that plays such a major role in our community at large. Moving forward, let’s show our appreciation for the ways our military friends make our home a more vibrant place to live.


Susan Vaughan McPherson is the Columbia Chamber’s Director of Public Policy & Military Affairs.