I am sure you are familiar with the old saying “time flies when you are having fun.” Well, I am not always sure about the having fun part, but when I think back on the last decade, there seems to be little question about whether time flies.
It certainly doesn’t seem like 10 years ago that my wife (Suzy) and I packed up our family (2 kids and 2 cats) to move to South Carolina.
At the time, our daughter Bethany was five and our son Nate was four and neither was taller than the holly bushes in the front of the house we moved into in Greer. The two cats (Rock and Princess) were kittens that a neighbor in Florida had rescued and had been part of our family for just a few months.
I need no more confirmation about time flying than to now look at all of them a decade later.
Bethany is a ninth grader at Riverside High School and is taller than her mother, though likely not to make it to 5-foot-3. She loves art, spending time with her friends and was even in a drama production at school earlier this year.
Now an eighth grader at the Charles Townes Center at Sterling School, Nate is not quite as tall as me, but I am sadly afraid that it won’t be much longer that I am the tallest person among our immediate family. He has spent quite a bit of time on a baseball field and basketball court and also enjoys playing the trumpet and euphonium.
Once cute little kittens, our two now large cats (both over 15 pounds) spend much of their time torturing the dog (Nonni) that joined our family five years ago and carrying yarn, socks and just about anything else they can find around the house.
But, of course, it is not just my family that has grown and changed over the last decade.
Growth of the Upstate
When we moved to the Upstate, the 10-county region had slightly more than 1,362,000 residents. Roughly a decade later, the population in the region is pushing 1,480,000 people.
Yet, much like the growth of my kids and kittens, the growth within the Upstate over the last decade also was generally expected as the region is ultimately projected to reach 1,750,000 residents by 2040.
That is why leaders from across the region began conversations more than 15 years ago about how to better work together to understand and impact the population growth in the Upstate so that we can shape that growth, rather than be shaped by the growth.
One of the outcomes of those initial discussions was the formation of Ten at the Top, which I have been blessed to serve in the capacity of Executive Director since the official creation of the organization a decade ago.
During my decade here in the Upstate, I have been given the great fortune to meet and work with many exceptional leaders and professionals who all truly care about the place they call home.
With virtually no exception, those who are in positions in the Upstate that are directly or indirectly engaged in how we are growing as a region are dedicated to ensuring that this very special place remains special and unique even as we grow.
We may not all always agree about what exactly that growth means and looks like, but it is generally understood that vibrant communities are growing communities. So, the goal is not to stop population growth in the Upstate, but instead to do what is possible to encourage that growth happen in a sensible way that enhances the quality of life and economic opportunity for all residents.
In our role as a convener and connector, Ten at the Top has been among the entities encouraging dialogue, collaboration, clear data and strategic planning around issues that impact growth in the Upstate.
When we started our efforts a decade ago, one of the goals was to enable a culture where collaboration and working across stakeholder and jurisdictional boundaries would become a critical part of the fabric of the Upstate. While there are always new silos to overcome, for the most part I think those who are engaged in community and economic development in the Upstate will all agree that we are better at thinking regionally and collaboratively today than we were a decade ago.
However, the ultimate goal is not to just think regionally or collaboratively, it is to act regionally and collaboratively when it is appropriate and will enhance our collective success.
Upstate Mobility Alliance
One exciting opportunity in that area is the new Upstate Mobility Alliance, which has been formed after two years of discussions, studies and planning by transportation providers, community organizations and local businesses across the region.
The role of the Mobility Alliance is to help continue to grow collaboration among the more than two dozen entities in the region that play a role in the movement of people and goods across the Upstate so that we are maximizing the limited resources within our region and leveraging the capabilities of all who are part of our mobility spectrum.
As a sign of what is possible when we work together and our corporate partners invest in our region, the Michelin Corporate Foundation has committed $825,000 to enhance mobility in the Upstate through a grant awarded to the Upstate Mobility Alliance (through Ten at the Top) and Greenlink to help support increased access to public transportation.
It is our hope and expectation that this will be just the first of many announcements in the near future of how we can leverage public-private partnerships to reduce mobility as a barrier to economic success for all individuals and businesses in the Upstate.
The last decade has seemingly flashed before us in a blink of an eye and we can expect the next decade to again speed by fast and furiously.
However, by continuing to work together across borders and boundaries, we will not be caught unprepared and will instead leverage and continue to grow the relationships and partnerships that have been forged over the last decade to ensure that the Upstate remains a special place for generations to come.