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Making Kershaw County even better

Posted: April 27, 2012 10:39 a.m.
Updated: April 30, 2012 5:00 a.m.

I happen to think Kershaw County is a pretty great place to be. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be living here.

But, as they say, there’s always room for improvement. Which is why I’m out of the office today.

Huh?

If you’re actually reading this on Monday, I’m in Rock Hill. I’m there with a number of Kershaw County movers and shakers who are meeting with their Rock Hill and York County counterparts. I can’t tell you who I’m with because I didn’t find out until getting on the bus at 8 a.m. today. I do know we’re supposed to have between 20 and 30 people along for the ride.

The trip was organized, by NBSC’s Karen Eckford, who was just named an economic development ambassador by the S.C. Department of Commerce, and First Citizens’ Dennis Stuber, who used to live in Rock Hill. In their invitation letter about the trip, Eckford and Stuber said we’d be meeting with Rock City Mayor Doug Echols and York County elected officials and business leaders.

“The purpose of this trip is to gain knowledge from a community that has been extremely successful with their economic and recreational development,” they said. “The economic impact from this development has been significant to the area.”

They said we would be touring some recreation facilities and then have lunch with Echols and the other community leaders.

Some of the topics the Rock Hill folk are supposed to touch on will probably be of special interest to Camden. According to Eckford and Stuber, Rock Hill has worked with both York County and Rock Hill School District 3 to take advantage of -- wait for it -- tax incremental financing (TIF) “for major improvements to their downtown and other areas of the community.” They said Rock Hill won national recognition for something called “brown field reclamation.”

Brown fields are lots, acreage or tracts that have, basically, gone to seed. I’m not talking about natural wildlife areas -- I’m talking urban areas that have been used and abandoned and need to be reclaimed. Apparently, using TIF money, Rock Hill and its partners took a brown field and turned it into Manchester Meadows, “a state-of-the-art soccer complex,” according to Eckford and Stuber.

“Manchester Meadows and the surrounding commercial development would not have been possible without the funding provided by (the) TIF (and) accommodations and hospitality taxes,” Eckford and Stuber wrote. “This project has also been a great example of the potential tremendous increase in surrounding real property values for a well-thought-out tax increment district. The success Rock Hill has enjoyed in both economic development and the development of their recreational facilities would not have been possible without tremendous input from the citizens of the greater Rock Hill area.”

I spoke to Eckford Thursday and she made it clear that the point isn’t to take a position on anything.

“It’s just for informational and educational purposes,” she told me.

What do I get out of it by tagging along? Well, I hope, a good story, of course.

More importantly, though, I hope to gain some insight into how another community has dealt with some of the same issues Camden (especially) and Kershaw County are facing right now. It will be interesting to see how a TIF district -- which the city of Camden has proposed for at least West DeKalb Street -- worked for Rock Hill.

Should Rock Hill be our model? I have no idea yet. I’m there to find out whether our business and civic leaders think it should be.

Eckford and Stuber’s letter started off with the positive statement that we can all agree that “Kershaw County is a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise families. Our community offers a variety of opportunities for visitors to enjoy the area as well. With appropriate planning and research, Kershaw County has the potential to become successful with continued development. Job creation and the economic impact from development affect each and every citizen. We must be prepared for the future. Our next generations deserve the very best!”

I agree.

But that’s not why I’m going with them on this “field trip.” My job is to see what they see, hear what they hear, listen to and watch their reactions, have conversations with them about what they learn and then pass that all on to you.

In fact, as we know well here in Camden, TIF districts, recreational complexes and hospitality taxes are not universally loved. If anyone mentions any drawbacks about what Rock Hill and York County have done, you can be sure I’ll report on that, too.

All in all, though, my hope is that this trip is about the positives. What can be done is a far more useful story, in my opinion, than what can’t be done, but I’ll write whatever story comes along.

The main thing here is that someone’s taking the time to get a bunch of people together, go somewhere where things have been tried and (reportedly) been successful, in an attempt to educate themselves on what might be possible here.

This is important to me not just because of what I do here at the C-I, but because I live in Camden and, therefore, in Kershaw County. My family and are a part of this community and we plan to be for the rest of our lives.

I think Kershaw County is great, but I want it to be even better, too.

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