Looking Ahead: What Opportunities, Challenges Await Greenville in Coming Decades?Oct 04, 2023 03:07PM ● By John C. Stevenson
From textiles to high-tech, from agriculture to aerospace – we all know where Greenville has been, but to celebrate 30 years of Greenville Business Magazine, we wanted to talk with a range of community leaders about the next 30 years, and the opportunities and challenges facing the city, the county, and the Upstate.
It should come as no surprise that Greenville native Richard “Dick” Riley is acutely focused on the future of education in Greenville, as the former South Carolina governor also served as secretary of education under then-President Bill Clinton. Education is a continuing priority for Riley, and the Greenville native stressed the importance of providing a quality education to all Upstate residents.
“I believe we’ve had periods of very progressive progress in Greenville over the last 30 years, and if we look at the next 30, I hope we’ll have a progressive future, and I think we will,” Riley said.
“I was born and raised in Greenville,” said Riley, who turned 90 in January, “so I’ve seen a good bit of Greenville and I absolutely love this city and this area and the Upstate, and we are all so lucky to live here.”
When looking to the future, Riley said that “we are going to have a great future if we handle it well. I think it’s going to take a lot of care, love, thought, with an emphasis on things like education, for us to have the kind of future we want to have.
“Education is going to be our future,” he continued. “We have a wonderful superintendent (Burke Royster, Greenville County Schools). We have very good decision-makers in the Greenville County public schools. I am a big supporter of that and always will be. We need to keep our eyes on education and make sure we support it properly. Education is going to get more complicated, and we see that happening.”
As have other area leaders, Riley noted Greenville’s continued growth and both the challenges and opportunities that growth represents.
“Growth is going to be a big issue, and we need to handle growth carefully,” he said. “Attention is being given now to affordable housing, which is a very important area and one we need to be thinking about a lot. Traffic problems with overcrowding can be a big problem, but also it can have big benefits if we have good movement of traffic through the area.
“We’ve got so many things to work out,” he concluded. “We’ve got good leadership, and the business community in Greenville has always been very effective, and they are now, still. I follow the work of the chamber of commerce and other (bodies) in Greenville, and public education’s partners do a lot of great work in making sure our school district is progressive and moving forward.”
As a business leader and philanthropist, Minor Mickel Shaw continues to play an active part in leading Greenville through the current period of growth. She is a member of several boards of directors, and currently serves as chairperson of the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport Commission.
When looking toward Greenville’s future, Shaw said it’s vital that area leaders work to manage growth.
“South Carolina is one of the top three places in the United States where people are moving to,” Shaw said, indicating a statistic she said she had recently learned. “We in Greenville are capturing a lot of that because of where we live and the beauty of our area. And then the personality of our area, our town: People like it; they enjoy living here.
“I think one of the opportunities that we will have is to be able to capture that growth and capture it in the right way and be able to energize the opportunity for new businesses to move here that also will hopefully have higher-paying jobs,” Shaw continued. “But as those people and those businesses move here, the challenge is to be able to manage the growth appropriately, so that we can become even more vibrant so that we have more and more opportunities for our citizens.”
On the other hand, Shaw cautioned that, improperly managed, “those jobs, those businesses could transform our community in ways that we don’t like. So, I am all for growth and growth managed the proper way, and I’m for growth with the types of businesses and industries that will make our community better.”
Shaw also noted the need for continued infrastructure improvements: “We have a lot of challenges in the Upstate. We have the challenge of traffic. We don’t have the infrastructure we need, and we’ve got to do something about all of that. We all see what’s happening on I-85 and that could kill us. That could stymie what we want to accomplish in this area. We need to manage all of that appropriately.”
Finally, Shaw mentioned the combined strength of the communities that comprise Greenville County.
“We are very fortunate in the Upstate to have so many communities and cities that are only 30 minutes apart,” she said. “Spartanburg and Greenville. Greer. Anderson. And all the smaller towns that are now developing their own personalities, like Simpsonville and Fountain Inn. I think the opportunity is there for all of us to work together. I think it’s a challenge, but it’s an opportunity, and personally, I think if we don’t take advantage of that opportunity we’re not going to be as vibrant as we could be and we’re not going to be able to grow and to bring those businesses into our region that we want to bring in. We’ve got to work together.”
As mayor of Fountain Inn, George Patrick “G.P.” McLeer Jr. shares Shaw’s vision of local communities working together. McLeer is active in a variety of groups that cross geopolitical boundaries to benefit the region, including serving as executive director of the nonprofit Upstate Mobility Alliance, which works to “advance transportation policy, investment and solutions across the 10-county Upstate.”
McLeer described what he sees going on in the Upstate as a “community renaissance.”
“People are seeking places to call home that are community-centered,” he said, “places where they feel connected to their neighbors, to their local businesses, to their schools. And I think that the Greenville area offers that in ways that are unique across the country, which is why we are seeing the amount of attention and attraction to this area. I think people will continue to seek that out, that as this whole Southeast region grows, Greenville offers a unique environment for people to find their sense of place.”
For people visiting the area, it might all start with Greenville’s downtown, but McLeer said that will only be the beginning as the region continues to grow.
“Of course, Greenville has a gorgeous downtown and is thriving, but I also think that the Greenville area offers other places where people are finding connections to home, places like Fountain Inn and our other cities,” he said. “That’s what people who have always lived here love about it, and what those who are coming here are discovering.”
The challenge, as McLeer sees it, is “to maintain that kind of connectivity. I think it’s on the shoulders of our leaders to make sure that stays a priority.”
On a related front, McLeer said it’s important for current leaders to manage future land use.
“I think the broad attention on zoning and land-use policies is of the utmost importance,” he said. “I think it’s imperative that our communities take the time and effort to look at that, because that’s what’s going to lay the roadmap for the physical way that this area grows.
“Design and land use are integral in how people connect to their communities, whether there are sidewalks required in neighborhoods, for instance, or whether commercial corridors aren’t squeezed onto one road in every place, and how we can make sure people are able to connect to their neighbors,”