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Smart people, smart ideas

Posted: July 31, 2014 12:24 p.m.
Updated: August 1, 2014 5:00 a.m.

When elected officials from different South Carolina cities meet to discuss economic development, the oft-heard cry is, “Let’s work together!” The energy in these conversations is palpable, even though it’s not yet clear how we can partner. For that reason, at the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s (MASC) annual meeting in Charleston this July, its Achievement Awards were particularly exciting. If we can do nothing else, from city to city, we can learn from each other’s ideas and borrow courage from one another’s progress.

The ideas in the awards, described in the MASC booklet, are worth sharing:

In the population 1-1000 category, the town of Ridgeway, pop. 360, has been enjoying economic momentum fueled by a strong business community and a massive public relations and marketing campaign. Ridgeway’s new slogan, “One Tank Town,” refers to how little gas it takes to get to the centrally located community. Town officials and the local chamber of commerce promote popular events like First Fridays downtown and a 43-mile garage sale.

In the population 1,001 - 5,000 category, the city of Manning converted a rundown, private baseball field into a park in an area that had none. Through multiple partnerships, the park includes an 1,800-square-foot facility with storage, restrooms and a fenced playground. The building can host parties and corporate events; in the near future residents can look forward to a walking track and free Wi-Fi access.

In the population 5,001 - 10,000 category, the city of Lancaster: When the police and sheriff’s department outgrew their offices, officials found an abandoned, dilapidated building; with the county, it developed a multi-department facility to include police, fire, EMS, and public works with a free meeting space for community groups.

In the population 10,001 - 20,000 category, the city of Conway created Rebuild Conway to infuse blighted neighborhoods with infrastructure to reverse their decline. The targeted areas: overgrown lots and abandoned buildings that promoted crime. Residents volunteered for clean-up days, beautification events and neighborhood crime watches. Federal and state grants helped. In six years, the city has cleared 235 overgrown lots, demolished or rehabilitated 79 structures, and spent more than $500,000 on such infrastructure needs as sidewalks, landscaping, and drainage, with a 23 percent decrease in crime.

In the Economic Development category, the city of Greer with its newly-opened Inland Port has already become an economic engine in the state. The idea for the port came about when the Port of Charleston began to pick up speed after years of deep recession. With concerns about overcrowding in Charleston, Greer was the ideal location for the state’s first inland port. State and private entities contributed to the massive project, which resulted in a 400,000-square-foot warehouse and 300 new jobs.

In the Public Safety Category, the city of Orangeburg and Claflin University forged a partnership in 2004, the only local law enforcement and university alliance of its kind in the country, to improve forensic laboratory services critical to solving local criminal cases; the time lag created a dangerous backlog of services necessary for convictions. The full-service laboratory is utilized by 17 municipalities; more than 4,000 cases have been processed so far, with results often returned within a week.

In the Public Service Category, the city of Rock Hill’s iRock initiative created a partnership between the city and the school system that leverages the talents of 800-plus city employees, 17,400 students and 1,450 teachers/administrators to create practical solutions to community challenges. Fifth graders created a civil rights walking tour with city staff. High school math and science students developed community wellness campaigns by examining local eating and exercise habits. Residents can thank students for the new bike racks around town. City officials estimate they saved $100,000 in staff time and consulting services by using student talent rather than traditional service providers.

In the Public Works Category, the city of Florence’s new wastewater plant is not unlike ours, and like us, they were committed to constructing the new plant in a socially responsible way. Florence’s partnership with the school district and ScienceSouth, a science education program led to an educational component within the facility’s environmental laboratory, allowing students to learn about real-world applications of the wastewater management and its ecological challenges. Soon, the new plant will be developed further with green space and a trail system.

As we push forward with positive developments at KershawHealth, with Central Carolina Technical College, and with our increasingly beautiful shopping districts, we are also showing other cities how to move forward. Kudos to us.

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