Editor’s note: Philip Merry is one of two candidates running for a vacant City Council seat previously held by Don Wells who was elected as the District 81 Representative to the S.C. State House in November. In Tuesday’s edition, readers will have a chance to read about City Council candidate Randy Rashad Gaines, who is also running for the seat.

  Philip Merry believes that Aiken thrives through its history and character.

Those are two things he wants to help preserve while also attracting more business to the community to not only improve the area’s economic base but also give local youth a chance to continue calling Aiken home.

Merry, 46, is the Republican candidate for this race and a native Aikenite.

He said the No. 1 priority of any local government should be public safety. The next important task before City Council is to create an environment that will foster a high quality of life with a low cost of living which can be done by broadening the local economic base, Merry said.

Merry said that can be made possible through partnerships through Aiken County and North Augusta as well as marketing Aiken more aggressively. He said coming up with programs, incentives and packages to offer prospective business before they even look at Aiken could be beneficial.

“If Aiken’s reputation becomes one that’s considered employer friendly and we make up our minds as a community to seek, encourage and recruit new business, then we’ll do it,” Merry said. “If we’re all rowing the boat in the same direction, we’ll be able to get a lot farther.”

After serving more than 10 years on the Design Review Board, six of those as chairman, Merry is also passionate about maintaining the city’s historic character when bringing more business into Aiken.

“That is what makes Aiken unique and is ultimately the drive for people and employers,” Merry said. “A lot of these employers can chose to locate anywhere in this country. What stands out, what makes us different, I believe, is that character, that charm, that history, that lifestyle we have here.”

Over the years, Merry has watched several historic properties spring back to life such as the award-winning Willcox and most recently, the Gaston Livery, through the efforts of people in the community. Those are efforts he hopes will continue, he said. He added that such endeavors should be encouraged and supported.

“We have to balance those two (historic preservation and business) in which many consider to be conflicting entities,” Merry said. “They go hand in hand. In order to preserve the great historic properties, you have to have a vibrant economy.”

City Council was approached recently by Aiken Young Professionals, a local group of young, career-minded individuals between the ages of 22 and 39, which offered ideas of how to attract and keep the younger generation in this area.

Merry said that jobs are one way to accomplish that goal, as well as promoting the city’s recreational activities, offering multiple entertainment and dining opportunities in a more closely condensed area and offer more affordable housing.

Merry said it’s also vital to connect more with USC Aiken and Aiken Technical College students, as well as those who visit from other schools around the state.

Merry believes the city can continue its trend of more than two decades of not raising the millage rate.

Merry said it’s all in planning for the future by continuing to make Aiken a great destination. He said drawing more employers and more people in will help keep the pressure off the city from having to consider raising taxes.

“We cannot take anything for granted – we cannot take today for granted, and we definitely cannot take tomorrow granted,” Merry said. “We can’t rest on our laurels. We need to invest everyday in our future.”

Merry is a graduate of Wofford College with a degree in business and economics. He worked for an insurance business in Greer for about two years before returning to Aiken and currently works at Hutson-Etherredge Companies, a local insurance business established in 1876. Merry also ran his own residential construction business, Merry Custom Homes, since 2006.

Merry and his wife, Amy, have two children.

The unexpired seat, currently an at-large position, will be on the ballot during a special election in March.

In November, the term officially expires and will be on the ballot again but under the new six-to-one plan as District 6. The two current City Council at-large seats will become single-member districts, and the mayor will still be elected by all eligible City voters.

Merry said he currently lives in what will be District 6.

The election, in which any resident of the City of Aiken can participate, will take place March 12.