Growth Engines: Cities and towns power the South Carolina economy
By B. Todd Glover
South Carolina's cities and towns are some of the most important engines in the state, driving economic development and quality of life improvements. Throughout its history, the Municipal Association of South Carolina has emphasized how critical these local governments are to the state's economy.
Municipalities provide services vital to residents and businesses alike—services such as police and fire protection, water, sewer and trash collection. Many municipal efforts can be harder to notice but are often just as important to concentrations of people and commerce—things like construction design standards, planning and zoning, parks and recreation, or arts and culture. The work of city and town governments is not only to make places livable, but to make them attractive for people who live, work and visit a community.
Municipal governments are often in a position to tackle critical needs that might otherwise go neglected. Our state's population is growing fast, having topped 5 million people in 2017. While growth is far from uniform around the state, it is advancing so much in some places that a lack of affordable housing is disrupting communities and threatening workforce availability.
Municipalities have gone to work on this problem. The efforts of the Town of Mount Pleasant's housing task force have led to the creation of an attainable housing nonprofit foundation. In Greenville, the overall effort to develop Unity Park has coincided with the establishment of the Greenville Housing Fund, a public-private partnership aimed at reducing the city's affordable housing deficit.
Downtown revitalization efforts have in recent years become a noticeable way that city governments are transforming the state's economic landscape. Improved downtown districts often result from projects that local governments begin and then sustain over a long period of time. The individual efforts can be major construction efforts like those seen in Sumter and Florence, both of which have recently recruited new hotels into their downtowns and built the parking decks that can make a downtown come alive.
Success often comes from a city understanding the need and then finding an opportunity. The Town of Bluffton, for example, which has experienced explosive growth, was able to fit in 220 new parking spaces into its historic district in the process of a recent streetscaping initiative.
Cities and towns can bring about economic results as long as they have proper support. The backing they need takes several forms, such as appropriate, adequate funding as well as well-trained elected officials and staff. Training is one of the areas the Municipal Association can help, between training institutes for elected officials and professional development associations for various job functions.
Cities and towns also need engagement straight from their residents—a willingness among individuals to show up at city council meetings, to bring their ideas and concerns, even to run for office and volunteer for commissions.
Municipal governments have long provided powerful examples of what local communities can do when people work together, and the future of our state depends on their continued success.