Carl Blackstone selected as new president, CEO of Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce
The Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce announced the selection of its new leader to helm the business-friendly organization. Resident Carl Blackstone will serve as chamber president and chief executive officer beginning Monday.
“I am humbled and honored to be selected to lead the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and serve this thriving community,” Blackstone said. “I am excited about the opportunity ahead to make the region more competitive and help align businesses with the resources they need to grow and expand, ultimately bringing new jobs into our community.”
Blackstone will succeed former President and CEO Ike McLeese who died in October at the age of 70 after serving nearly 20 years as the organization’s leader. McLeese will be remembered in the business community for his efforts to bring the chamber back to a strong financial footing in the 1990s, increase membership and preserve the Midlands two military installations, Fort Jackson and McEntire Joint National Guard Base, during the 2005 round of federal Base Realignment and Closure.
“It’s hard to replace Ike,” Blackstone said. “Ike had done so much in this community in the last two decades. There’s always going to be a piece of Ike in this business community.”
But Blackstone also recognized the need to move Columbia forward, and he plans to do so by continuing to collaborate with regional partners, other chambers and economic development officials in Richland and Lexington counties to create jobs and forge a new direction for the Midlands.
“You always have to make changes to stay competitive,” he said.
The 43-year-old enters his new role with an extensive resume in public policy, government relations and strategic communications. He previously served as a government relations adviser for the clients of public policy firm Copper Dome Strategies, a subsidiary of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, assisting with legislative and other governmental actions before the South Carolina General Assembly, South Carolina Governor’s Office and executive branch of the state of South Carolina.
Blackstone also worked closely with the members and staff of the South Carolina U.S. Congressional delegation in that position.
Prior to working as a government relations adviser, Blackstone maintained a close relationship with then-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, serving as his senior legislative adviser and liaison to the state’s legislature. He also served as district field manager for Sanford in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This is also not Blackstone’s first time working for a chamber. He previously served as the manager of state government relations for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and he had been involved with the issues committee at the Columbia chapter for the last eight years.
“We had many strong candidates from throughout the country, but Carl’s experience and expertise, combined with his extensive knowledge of our region’s current and future needs stood out among the rest,” said Holt Chetwood, chairman of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
“His skill-set and experience is exactly what is required to keep the Columbia Chamber and the business community on its current path of economic success and growth,” Chetwood said.
Blackstone also serves as a member in several organizations including the Riverbanks Society, the South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association, Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital board of directors and a member of First Presbyterian Church.
He is also a graduate of Leadership South Carolina, a program established by the Governor’s Office to improve the leadership qualities of highly motivated South Carolinians. Blackstone received his degree in business administration from the College of Charleston.
Blackstone said he could leverage his relationships to build consensus among various groups to make Colombia a competitive business environment.
“South Carolina is so small and it’s a relationship based state,” Blackstone said. “I think one of my strengths is sitting down with different folks and working out a solution … I think there’s a great desire and willingness from all stakeholders in the business community to find some common ground.”
Blackstone said he would spend the next few weeks with chamber staff to get an overview of what is happening in the community. He also said he would speak with members to discuss how the chamber makes improvements.
Blackstone said he is hopeful for the future of the Chamber and the city of Columbia.
“I can’t think of a more exciting time in Columbia,” he said. “We have so much going for this region.”