Creating a Sense of Place Helps Grow Economic & Community Vibrancy

    Creating a Sense of Place Helps Grow Economic & Community Vibrancy

    By Dean Hybl, Executive Director, Ten at the Top

    There was a time in America when regardless of the size of the community, the commercial heart of any town or city was its downtown or main street. These commerce centers were typically oozing with energy and vibrancy as they included stores, banks, restaurants, the post office, local government buildings and many other components of an active community.

    As communities began to spread out in the 1960s and 1970s, many main streets and downtowns went from being the epicenter of the community to a forgotten and often dangerous place where few good things happened and most dared not venture.

    Having only lived here in the Upstate since 2010, I have a hard time imagining a time when Downtown Greenville was not a vibrant showpiece. However, I have heard from many who did grow up in this area that for many years the main street was little more than a vehicle thoroughfare for people passing from one part of town to another.

    Of course, today Downtown Greenville is lauded as a national model for creating both community and economic vibrancy and is a one of the more attractive features for making the Upstate a tourist and business destination.

    Many main streets, downtowns and neighborhoods of all sizes across the Upstate have a rich history of being the local epicenter for their community. When Ten at the Top developed the Our Upstate Vision through the engagement of more than 10,000 Upstate residents in 2010 and 2011, one of the areas identified as being important for the Upstate was to maintain and grow the vibrancy of our individual communities, downtowns and neighborhoods.

    While not every downtown has prospered to the level of Downtown Greenville, there are many other places across the Upstate that have recognized that returning vibrancy and commerce to their downtown core and neighborhoods is a key strategy in growing their economic base as well as developing a “sense of place” for their local residents and visitors.

    In 2013, Ten at the Top and USC Upstate partnered to develop “Great Ideas for Community Vibrancy”, which highlighted 50 examples from across South Carolina and the United States of communities and neighborhoods of all sizes that had cultivated their local vibrancy through a project, event or initiative. We then brought representatives from 10 of those programs to the Upstate and held four community vibrancy workshops across the region.

    In conjunction with those workshops and to help with creating new vibrancy initiatives across the Upstate region, local developer Phil Hughes established the Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy grants. The original commitment was for $10,000 per year (two grants of $5,000 each) for five years.

    Since the first grants were awarded in 2013, Hughes has actually provided $57,000 in funds for vibrancy initiatives in 17 communities across the Upstate.

    Because vibrancy, sense of place and local needs are different in all communities, the projects funded through the program have also been very different, but all have helped reinvigorate main streets, neighborhoods or even organizations across the Upstate.

    Included amongst the projects was creation of the Greer International Festival, which though it was funded only once through Elevate Upstate has become an annual event in Greer with an estimated economic impact of more than $100,000 for the local community. The City of Laurens created their Finally Friday music series in 2015 through an Elevate Upstate Grant and the monthly event has become a key component of the Main Street program in Laurens.

    Though Ram Cat Alley has long been a staple of Downtown Seneca, it was through a grant to the Blue Ridge Arts Council that they were able to create a series of artistically painted cast iron cats that now dot the landscape of the community and have become a favorite scavenger hunt for children in the area as the cats are regularly moved from place to place in town.

    Those projects represent only a handful of the vibrancy initiatives that have popped up across the Upstate due to Phil Hughes and the Elevate Upstate program.

    For 2017 the grant process brought 22 applications that have now been narrowed to five finalists. Those potential projects are for new vibrancy initiatives in Landrum, Seneca, Abbeville, Laurens and Greenwood. Each finalist will make a final “pitch” during the Ten at the Top Celebrating Successes Brunch on November 16th and then the 2017 grant recipients will be announced that day.

    If you would like to learn more about the Elevate Upstate Grants, Ten at the Top’s Community Vibrancy initiatives or register to attend the November 16th Celebrating Successes Brunch, please visit the Ten at the Top web site (

    Connecting Our Future: Working Together on Transportation and Mobility in the Upstate

    Connecting Our Future: Working Together on Transportation and Mobility in the Upstate

    By: Dean Hybl, Executive Director, Ten at the Top

    Imagine living in an Upstate region where no matter which city, town or county you lived in or your level of income, you knew that you had access to dependable and affordable transportation that could take you to your job, appointments or shopping and then back home again in a timely and relatively easy manner every single day.

    While many of us are fortunate enough to have daily access to our personal automobile, chances are it takes you noticeably longer to get from place to place today than it did even five years ago. In fact, within the Upstate region, 94% of all people who work travel to their job using an automobile, with 85% driving alone and 9% car-pooling. That works out to somewhere around 690,000 vehicles on the roads across the Upstate every day just to get people to and from work.

    A recent study by INRIX reported that the average motorist in Greenville spent 11.5 hours in 2016 stuck in congested traffic. They also estimate that traffic congestion costs the average motorist $1,200 per year in wasted gasoline and time.

    However, while the biggest issue related to transportation for many of us is congestion, there are others within both the urban and rural areas of our region who simply do not have reliable personal transportation. While there are many places across the country where public transportation helps alleviate access issues, that isn’t really the case here in the Upstate.
    Across the region, only 0.4% of all workers (roughly 3,000 of the more than 750,000 people working in the region) utilize some type of public transportation to get to their place of work. Those without dependable transportation often struggle to find or maintain employment because they can’t easily get to a job location.

    So to reach our imagined future of a region where transportation is available and timely for all, access and congestion become two prominent issues that must be understood and addressed.
    In partnership with more than 20 transportation and community partners, Ten at the Top is coordinating a year-long effort known as Connecting Our Future to develop a vision, strategic goals and impactful actions that can ultimately make it easier to move people and goods across the Upstate while reducing congestion and increasing mobility opportunities for all residents.
    Since 2010, the Upstate has added more than 60,000 new residents, which based on employment numbers means every day there are between 30,000 and 40,000 more cars on our local roads than there were seven years ago.

    Between now and 2040, the region is projected to add another 321,000 residents and 256,000 new jobs. That means unless we start doing something differently in terms of how people get to work every day, by 2040 we will have nearly a million cars on the road every day just to get people to work (not counting school buses, trucks or people traveling for appointments or shopping).
    When I moved to the Upstate nearly eight years ago I heard from many people that they were glad to be living in a region with a solid and growing economy, but that they didn’t want to see this region consumed by some of the same characteristics of sprawling growth, traffic congestion and endangered natural resources as our neighbors in Charlotte or Atlanta.

    The reality is that while we are not quite to the point of either of those areas, most of our current policies and investments put us on a collision course with that future. Models from the recent Shaping Our Future growth study showed that if we continue our current land use trends over the next 25 years, we will more than double the amount of land used for our built environment by 2040.

    Transportation and specifically how we move people and goods from place to place is an important component of that land use and an area where doing things differently can have a significant impact on how we grow moving forward.

    Communities that have successfully addressed transportation and mobility issues have typically done so through developing partnerships that include the business community, transportation stakeholders, local governments and other community partners. We hope through Connecting Our Future to develop a coalition of stakeholders who not only create a connected vision for mobility and transportation, but will work together to identify and implement strategies and solutions that will help make this a region where we no longer have to just imagine that every resident can get from where they are to where they need to go in a timely and affordable manner.

    If transportation and mobility are important to you, please join us for the kickoff of Connecting Our Future on October 18th from 9:30am—2:30pm at the TD Convention Center. Details are available at

    Ten at the Top Passes 400 Regional Engagements

    Upstate, SC [October 27, 2014] – Ten at the Top (TATT), an organization created to foster collaboration, partnerships and strategic planning across the Upstate, recently conducted the 400th regional engagement (presentations, forums, meetings, surveys) since the organization began its current phase in January 2010. The activities have included more than 22,500 participants from across the Upstate region.

    Ranging from issue-based task force meetings to presentations for community organizations or gatherings of hundreds of elected officials, community & business leaders and Upstate residents discussing key issues around the economic vitality or quality of life in the Upstate, each session has helped grow the spirit of collaboration and partnerships across the Upstate region.

    The issues on which TATT has convened regional meetings and encouraged collaboration focus around the five driver areas of the Our Upstate Vision (which TATT developed through feedback from more than 10,000 Upstate residents). The specific topics on which TATT has convened meetings and forums include the value of education, supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, senior issues, air quality attainment, water planning, transportation & infrastructure, workforce & skill development and local community vibrancy.

    In September, Ten at the Top hosted its largest event, the Upstate Regional Forum, which brought together more than 800 leaders and interested residents from across the Upstate to look at where we have been as a region, where we are now and where we are going.

    “Ten at the Top has strived to elevate the conversation about how working collaboratively across the Upstate region isn’t just a ‘good idea’, but is crucial if our local communities are all going to reach their full potential,” said current TATT Chairperson Carol Burdette. “Reaching 400 meetings and activities is significant because it illustrates that TATT is actively engaging stakeholders from across the Upstate to build regional trust and grow the capacity of the region to strategically address key issues that impact our economic vitality and quality of life.”

    Ten at the Top was originally formed under the name Upstate Together in 2005 as an ad hoc regional committee with the goal of encouraging regional discussions on cross-jurisdictional issues. In 2009, the group hosted the Upstate Reality Check event that brought together more than 400 leaders from across the region. It was at that point that the name of the organization was changed to Ten at the Top and it was incorporated as a non-profit.

    In 2009, Upstate leaders identified a lack of regional collaboration as a barrier toward future growth and success for the region. Of respondents to a survey conducted in advance of the September 2014 Regional Summit, 94% said that they believe regional collaboration is stronger today than it was in 2009, though 60% said it is still a potential barrier if we do not continue working to build regional capacity and partnerships.

    The current work plan of community activities, meetings, forums and presentations began in 2010 following the hiring of Dean Hybl as executive director. Irv Welling served as the chair of Ten at the Top through 2011, followed by Neal Workman for 2012-2013 and Burdette for the current two year term. The board of directors includes more than 50 leaders from across the ten counties of the Upstate region.

    Outreach Highlights:

    • TATT has hosted three Regional Summits and nine Regional Forums on topics including: regional communications, senior issues, workforce & skill development, transportation & infrastructure and natural resources. The most recent summit, in September 2014, included more than 800 participants from across the Upstate.

    • In partnership with other regional organizations, TATT has convened eleven Upstate Elected Officials Meetings that bring together city, county and state elected officials as well as business and community leaders to discuss key regional issues. Among the topics that have been addressed are: economic development, transportation, city/county/state/federal communications and water resources.

    • Within the five driver areas of the our Upstate Vision (Human Potential, Economic & Entrepreneurial Vitality, Sustainable Growth, Natural Beauty & Resources and Community Vibrancy), TATT has convened meetings of stakeholders from across the Upstate on many topics including: identifying barriers to educational success, supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, senior issues, air quality attainment, water planning, workforce & skill development, tourism and preventive health care.

    • TATT helped facilitate the development of the first long-term regional transportation partnership in the Upstate between GPATS (Greenville-Pickens Area Transportation Study) and SPATS (Spartanburg Area Transportation Study).

    • TATT convened the seven United Ways in the region in an effort that has led to a region-wide messaging campaign around early childhood education. This marks the first-ever region-wide partnership by all the United Ways in the Upstate.

    • In partnership with the Barbara Stone Foundation, TATT convened the first meeting of organizations that work with individuals with disabilities and special needs. The result has been a year-long effort to enhance communications amongst organizations and to increase programs available for individuals with disabilities and special needs.

    • In 2010 TATT held a community workshop in every county in the region. In 2013 it held four Community Vibrancy Workshops across the region. Presentations have been made to organizations in every county in the region.


    Upstate, SC [February 10, 2014] – South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) recently honored the Upstate Air Quality Advisory Committee with the “Spare the Air” Award in the Outstanding Community Improvement Campaign category for  the Clean Air Upstate (CAU) initiative.  The purpose of the Spare the Air Award is to recognize environmental leaders that have made a voluntary commitment to promote and practice air quality improvement in South Carolina.

    Clean Air Upstate is an initiative of the Upstate Air Quality Advisory Committee, a group of diverse stakeholders from the public and private sectors. Ten at the Top, a nonprofit that fosters regional collaboration across Upstate South Carolina, coordinates this initiative and engages local governments, businesses, and community organizations from the region in efforts to promote physical health and economic vitality through improved air quality.

    The cornerstone of CAU is the Regional Air Quality Pledge. The pledge allows local governments, businesses, community organizations, media outlets, and even individuals to illustrate their commitment to improving air quality. To date, 23 governments, businesses, and community organizations have signed the pledge, each committing one representative to work with UAQAC and the SCDHEC on their strategies.

    Another significant piece of CAU is the promotion of SCDHEC’s Breathe Better (B2) program, which helps to protect the health and safety of children by reducing harmful vehicle emissions around school campuses. CAU secured funding from Duke Energy and the Hollingsworth Funds to provide grants to schools that participate in the program. The program makes schools a no-idling zone for both school buses and personal vehicles, thus significantly reducing emissions and resulting in a decrease of gasoline usage. The program also includes a student education component that teaches the importance of clean air and how individual actions can make a difference.  Participation in the program has increased by 129% from 14 to 32 schools.

    The school-specific B2 program works in tandem with CAU’s broader anti-idling campaign, which encourages no-idling zones in shopping centers and other parking areas. A variety of stakeholders – including the Upstate location of GE Energy – have placed CAU’s no-idling signs around their parking facilities. Rounding out CAU’s clean air toolkit are a series of practical, easy-to-implement clean air tips developed by the UAQAC.

    These tips are disseminated on promotional materials and through electronic and social media channels. Seven public service announcements, representing an in-kind donation from WSPA, bring the tips to life and were shown for ten weeks on three regional television channels.  The PSAs were also featured for six weeks in the pre-screening reel at over 100 movie theaters across the Upstate.  For more information about the Clean Air Upstate initiative or how to get involved with the Clean Air Advisory Committee, visit

    Shared Upstate Growth Vision Survey Eclipses 6,000 Responses-Results To Be Revealed at Summit in the Fall

    Upstate, SC [June 25, 2010] – The Shared Upstate Growth Vision Survey distributed by Ten at the Top (TATT), a regional organization created to foster regional collaboration and planning in the 10-county Upstate region, generated feedback from more than 6,000 Upstate residents during a recently concluded four-week distribution period. Through the survey, residents from across the Upstate were asked to share “what matters most to you” as we look toward future growth in the region.

    The Upstate is projected to add more than 235,000 residents and 200,000 new jobs over the next 20 years. In preparation for this growth, it is vital that leaders and decision makers within the region have an understanding of what people value about the region today and what they see as priorities for the future as we look to maintain and enhance the quality of life that makes the Upstate a wonderful place to live. Survey participants were asked to prioritize issues such as education, workforce development, green space, air and water quality, public safety and transportation. The survey also elicited responses pertaining to how residents envision future growth in both the urban and rural areas of the region.

    “We are very pleased with the great interest and feedback we have received from residents across the Upstate,” said Dean Hybl, executive director of TATT. “It is clear that residents care about the future of our region and have specific elements for which they have great passion as we look toward the future.”

    The results from the survey, along with other regional studies and information, will be used by the Ten at the Top Vision and Values Committee to create an initial vision statement and vision principles. Residents will then have an additional opportunity to help shape the vision through participation in a number of community forums to be conducted in the fall.

    “Having more than 6,000 people participate in our initial survey provides a great start,” Hybl added. “However, we know there are many more residents across the Upstate who care about the future, but have not yet been engaged. Community involvement is the backbone of creating a Shared Vision for the region. We hope every resident that is interested will participate in our future outreach because every voice is important.”

    The survey results and initial vision statement will be shared at a Regional Summit on September 28th at the Carolina First Center. The event is open to the public and attendees will have the opportunity to offer input and help prioritize the elements of the vision. TATT will also host community forums across all 10 counties of the region during the months of October and November where residents will again have the opportunity to provide feedback on the initial vision statement and principles.

    In addition to the community outreach, this fall two graduate studio classes at Clemson University will be working with TATT to create the land use model and a regional tool kit that will help communities implement elements of the regional vision that fit for their local community. A second Summit will be held in the spring where the final Shared Upstate Growth Vision and Implementation Guide will be unveiled.

    Specific details about how to register for the Regional Summit and Community Forums will be announced in late July.

    Ten at the Top Launches Survey to Ask Upstate Residents “What Matters Most” As Region Grows

    Upstate, SC – As the Upstate region prepares to add more than 235,000 residents and 200,000 new jobs over the next 20 years, the regional collaboration and planning organization, Ten at the Top (TATT), is launching a public input survey on May 10, 2010 to get input from residents on how they would like to see the region grow.

    The “Regional Vision Survey” is available for residents to complete between May 10 and May 31 and asks a series of questions dealing with the issues of growth, land use, economic vitality, natural and cultural resources, education and quality of life. It is available online at and in printed form at a variety of locations including municipal buildings, hospitals, libraries and community buildings throughout the Upstate counties – Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Greenwood, Laurens, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg and Union.

    “Input from Upstate residents is vital to creating a regional growth vision that illustrates what people in the region value and what community leaders and elected officials need to consider as we grow,” said Irv Welling, Chair Emeritus of Elliott Davis and the Chair of TATT. “It’s more than just the question of where should we build new subdivisions and businesses, but how we need to look at transportation and road systems, where are new schools needed, how important is historic preservation, and what about farmland and open green spaces.”

    TATT worked with the Appalachian Council of Governments and the Metropolitan Studies Institute at USC-Upstate to develop the questions for the survey. The Metropolitan Studies Institute will monitor the results to ensure statistical validity and sufficient representation across the entire region.

    “Because it is important to ensure that all residents of the region are represented appropriately, we are distributing the survey as widely as possible through area businesses, municipalities, chambers of commerce, religious organizations, non- profit organizations, the media, and will even reach out to some residents over the phone,” said Dr. Kathleen Brady, director of the Metropolitan Center at USC-Upstate.

    Following the survey period, TATT’s Vision and Values Committee will review the survey and develop the elements of a Shared Upstate Growth Vision. Chaired by Dr. John Stockwell, Chancellor of USC-Upstate, the Vision and Values Committee includes representatives from a wide array of stakeholder groups across the entire region.

    “The Shared Upstate Growth Vision will help identify the issues of regional scale and significance that go beyond city or county levels to give regional organizations and elected officials an understanding of what elements of our future growth matter to residents,” said Dean Hybl, executive director of TATT.

    The Shared Upstate Growth Vision will be unveiled during a Regional Summit on September 28, 2010. During October and November, TATT will hold Community Forums in each of the ten counties of the region during which they will ask residents for additional input on how to implement the vision. An implementation strategy for the Shared Upstate Vision will be finalized during the first quarter of 2011, and it is the goal of TATT to then present the vision and implementation strategy to all city and county governments, as well as businesses and community organizations, across the Upstate.

    “Our purpose in Creating a Shared Upstate Growth Vision and implementation strategy is not to tell cities and counties how they should grow,” Hybl said. “It is instead to use the input of residents from across the region to help community leaders understand how their residents envision the future and to identify what elements of a shared vision are appropriate to implement locally and regionally.

    “The Upstate is already a great place to live, learn, work and play and we hope that by identifying opportunities to work together to enhance and grow our quality of life that it will continue to be a special place for our children and grandchildren.”
    Printed copies of the survey can also be obtained through Ten at the Top by calling 864.283.2315.