At the invitation of Tony Brown, the executive director of Envision Williamston, I spent a couple of hours earlier this week in a town I had never visited before and didn’t know much about—Williamston, which used to be called Mineral Springs.
On the eastern edge of Anderson County, between Belton and Pelzer, sits the town of 4100 people with a familiar history—one of textile manufacturing that was once the lifeblood of the town, but now it’s more of a bedroom community for Greenville or Anderson.
It’s a town that has a lot going for it, though.
While a lot of towns talk about how to incorporate green space in their downtown areas, Williamston’s downtown is built around Mineral Spring Park. With picnic shelters, a playground, a stage, and plenty of open space, the park is used for recreation and events, and a paved path around and through the park is perfect for strollers, bicycles, wheelchairs, or walking shoes.
Joining up with the park’s path is a paved trail that follows Big Creek to an old water treatment plant, making a mile of walking trail. A colorful mural depicting people enjoying the trail covers the side of the treatment plant building.
The mineral spring for which the park (and originally the town) is named was discovered by the town’s founder, West Allen Williams, and is said to have healing powers. As word of the medicinal waters spread, a hotel was built to accommodate the people who came to the “Saratoga of the South” to seek relief for a variety of ailments. The hotel was the largest building in the state at the time, but it was destroyed by fire in 1861.
The site of that hotel is now the town’s municipal building, which previously housed several different of the town’s schools—it certainly has the feel of an old school.
But before the present building was erected in the late 1930s, another building stood on the property: The Williamston Female College, founded by Dr. Samuel Lander. That institution eventually moved to Greenwood and was renamed Lander University, and the building once more became a hotel.
Brown envisions a lot for the town, talking enthusiastically about possibilities for a couple of abandoned buildings across from the park and how youth sports could make the difference when families are looking for a place to settle down. His vision is to draw people who are driving from Greenville to Clemson or coming to Williamson’s events not just to stop for a visit, but to see Williamston as a place to live or even to open a business.
I was recently asked what I thought would be the economic and community focus for the Upstate region in 2020 and the new decade. As I formulated my answer, I recognized that one important component of predicting the future is understanding and analyzing the recent past.
With WSPA’s Amy Wood and Ben Hoover talking about growth in the region
Given that the current unemployment rate in South Carolina is under three percent, it is a bit hard to remember that when we started the previous decade the rate of unemployment in South Carolina and the nation was over 10 percent.
As you would imagine, because of the high unemployment rate at the time, the emphasis in the Upstate was to bring jobs to the region. Thanks to the great work of local, regional and state economic development organizations and many key partners, the Upstate saw more than $17 billion of new manufacturing investment over the past decade, resulting in many jobs that have helped cut the unemployment rate to record lows.
Now, as we move into 2020 and the new decade, the challenge is finding workers to fill the available jobs across the Upstate. The result is a shift in the primary
Photo courtesy of Itron, a technology and services company in West Union, SC
focus from attracting jobs (though our region is always happy to welcome a new company and investment) to developing, attracting and retaining talent while also reducing the barriers to employment for people living in the Upstate who are unemployed or under-employed.
Fortunately, the Upstate is well positioned for this shift in focus as our region has many programs and initiatives either in place or being developed to help address some of the key barriers that are keeping every Upstate resident from reaching their greatest potential.
There are many barriers impacting the ability for some residents to succeed, but below are three of the primary ones:
Cost of housing outpacing wage increases (especially in the urban & suburban core)
The Upstate SC Alliance’s Move Up campaign is focused on talent attraction to the Upstate. Click the image to visit their site.
In many ways, I believe the level of collective success enjoyed across the Upstate over the next decade will be predicated on how our communities and region address and impact these three key challenges. Each one has many components, some of which are being actively addressed and others that are part of the roadmap for the future. Below are a few of the opportunities to help in developing, attracting and retaining talent while also focusing on reducing barriers to employment:
Regional transit connectivity—increased investment in transportation (roads, public transit, others)
Continued investment/emphasis by local communities in quality of life and creating a sense of place
Expanding job opportunities for people with disabilities and nonviolent criminal records
Continued emphasis by K–12 schools, technical colleges & 4-year colleges/universities on preparing students for current and future professions
Addressing the K–12 teacher shortage by elevating the teaching profession (financially, status of profession, opportunities for career changers)
Focus on cultivating entrepreneurs and small business ownership in region
Creating greater awareness and understanding of the potential impacts of the “Silver Tsunami” in which 25% of Upstate residents will be over the age of 65 by 2030
Greenlink is a key partner in the newly formed Upstate Mobility Alliance
As a convener and connector focused on growing our collective regional capacity, Ten at the Top is engaged with a wide range of Upstate partners as we look at addressing our barriers, challenges and opportunities. If you are interested in becoming involved with TATT or other organizations working to impact barriers and challenges across the Upstate, please feel free to contact me (email@example.com) or our Collective Capacity Coordinator Kaylee Harrison (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, officially designating the holiday as a day of service—or, as the slogan says, “a day on, not a day off.”
Across the Upstate, communities are offering opportunities for service, along with other events that honor the legacy of Martin Luther King.
Spartanburg has a lot going on, with the City of Spartanburg sponsoring a Unity Week Celebration and the United Way of the Piedmont is serving as a repository for local organizations needing volunteers for MLK Day projects—once you click the link, you’ll see more than 30 service projects that you can sign up for.
United Way of Anderson has shifted their day of celebration and service to Saturday the 18th for their Dream Day—come with a group, and you’ll be paired with a partner organization that needs volunteers. Plus all participants will get a t-shirt!
During the final Ten at the Top (TATT) board of directors meeting of 2019, the board unanimously selected Terence Roberts to serve as the Chair of the Ten at the Top board of directors for 2020–2021. Roberts is a founding board member of Ten at the Top, is the Mayor of the City of Anderson, and also owns a State Farm Agency in the Upstate. Roberts replaces Sue Schneider, CEO of Spartanburg Water, who will move into the role of Immediate Past Chair.
David Feild, Market President for Colliers International, was selected to serve as Vice Chair. Feild has been on the board since 2016. Todd Horne, Vice President of Business Development for Clayton Construction Company, has been on the TATT board since 2014 and will serve as Secretary/Treasurer. D.J. Doherty, who joined the board in 2017, will serve as Chair of the Development Committee. Doherty is a partner in Mavin Construction.
For a complete list of Ten at the Top’s board of directors, click here.
It’s a new year, and here’s a resolution suggestion for you: why not explore the Upstate and find something fun to do in a county you don’t get to very often?
Upstate Public Art, Studios, Galleries, Gardens & Historic Sites Map
The UpstateVibe365 calendar is a great resource for events across the Upstate, but in case you haven’t scrolled down to the bottom of the newsletter in a while, we also have resource maps for arts & culture sites as well as outdoor activity and recreation (and other things too, like resources for seniors and children; schools, colleges, and universities; local government offices; and the upstate business ecosystem).
Want to see what there is to do in Abbeville or Laurens County? Zoom in on the county to see what’s there. Want to find a museum or gallery you haven’t visited before? Just uncheck the categories you don’t want to see, and the categories you do want will be left on the map, making it easy to find what you want.
Upstate Performance Venues and Festivals
There are so many categories of arts and culture sites in the Upstate that we had to split them up into two maps! The first one contains historic sites, public art, green spaces/arboretums/gardens, gallery & exhibit spaces, museums, studios/workshops, and public landscape/fountains. The second contains indoor and outdoor performance venues, events and festivals, creative industry & cultural organizations, and farmers markets.
Some of those categories may not be what you immediately think of when you think of the arts—but taken together, they make Upstate communities more vibrant—drawing visitors, but also creating a place where people want to live. And if you think most of these places are concentrated in Greenville and Spartanburg, you may be surprised when you take a look at the maps!
Upstate Natural Beauty and Resources Map
If getting into the great outdoors beyond a city park is more your style, the Upstate Natural Beauty and Resources Map has got you covered—with public parks, trails, historical landmarks, farms, camping sites, birding locations, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and other recreational areas. Whatever your outdoor interest, the Upstate delivers plenty of opportunities to explore.
So choose an event from the calendar, find a point of interest you never knew was there, or visit one of the many downtowns in our ten counties. You’ll find that there truly is something happening 365 days a year in the Upstate—and don’t forget to document your Upstate adventures on Instagram, using #UpstateVibe365!