What makes a community healthy and livable? What is the relationship between community health and economic development? Businesses, governments and community stakeholders have grown increasingly interested in understanding the health, well-being and livability of our area. The World Health Organization states that good health is linked to economic growth through higher labor productivity, demographic changes and educational attainment. Today, researchers and economists alike use a variety of different methodologies to gauge quality of life within Columbia. On the whole, we’ve begun to make real progress.

We’ve seen marked improvement in areas like unemployment and median household income. Premature mortality is decreasing in the region, as we see Columbia residents seeking preventive care like mammograms and monitoring conditions like diabetes more regularly.

A reduction in unemployment has helped to strengthen our middle class, and it might have also served in reducing the number of uninsured in our community. Preventable hospital stays have decreased, reducing the strain on health systems and demonstrating the value in using healthcare resources designed to keep us healthy for the long term.

Economic developers are paying much more attention to the overall health of a region. Employers’ expectations are higher than ever, with even more focus on health and livability initiatives. As an example of both a large employer and participant in healthcare, IBM believes the ultimate goal is to create communities that are more desirable places to live by reducing healthcare and social program costs, by improving care quality, by increasing economic productivity and by making it more cost effective to conduct business.

While we’ve successfully moved the needle on certain health factors, economic prosperity and happiness, work remains. Instances of smoking, obesity rates and high school graduation rates may be in line with the rest of South Carolina, but they lag behind many peer communities, including Greenville and Charleston.

Encouraging healthy behavior, providing easy and convenient access to healthcare, and sharing data to support holistic care delivery are key contributors to community health. As we continue to get more proactive about our health, we must address the gap that remains between top performing communities and ourselves.

Get involved, whether as a business or community leader. Identify or create opportunities to participate in conversations revolving around our community’s health and well-being. The livability and development of Columbia relies on us all improving our overall health.

EngenuitySC would love to hear your ideas related to our community.

Keith Shah, EngenuitySC Chair