Creating a blueprint for future success in the Upstate

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By Dean Hybl, executive director, Ten at the Top

The end of the year is an opportunity to look back on the successes and challenges of the past 12 months as well as the promise of a new year.

For Ten at the Top, 2017 has been a building-block year as we grow a clearer understanding around key issues facing the Upstate.

As an organization created to encourage collaboration and regional partnerships on issues related to how we are growing as a region, better understanding current and future challenges and opportunities across the Upstate is critical.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.” In 2017, TATT and other partners took key steps to increase the amount of measurable information available for how the Upstate is growing.

The release of the Shaping Our Future Growth Analysis, coordinated through a partnership of Upstate Forever, TATT, and the Riley Institute at Furman University, provided valuable information and a wake-up call for the potential future cost of growth, both financial and in terms of land used for development, in the Upstate.

According to the trend model created for Shaping Our Future, the Upstate is projected to use more land for development (920 square miles) between 2015 and 2040 than was used from the beginning of time until 2015 (725 square miles). This is while adding only about 320,000 new residents for a total population of 1.75 million by 2040.

What is perhaps most concerning is that the study showed that the revenue to cover the expanded development footprint would cover only about half the projected cost-to-serve without additional taxes, fees, or other sources of income. So, if we do not change our current growth patterns in the Upstate, we are not only going to have sprawling growth that impacts our quality of life, natural resources, and potentially our economic vibrancy, but we are going to have to likely tax ourselves at a higher rate to pay for it.

For Ten at the Top, this study has helped clarify some of the areas in which we need to focus our involvement and efforts to coordinate collaboration and a strategic approach toward how the Upstate addresses current and future growth.

While Upstate Forever is leading the efforts around growing awareness of the land use challenges, the Upstate Planners Group coordinated by TATT is helping craft and share the message for what can be done by communities to change and grow in a more strategic manner. The first step is a series of workshops for elected officials starting in January 2018.

Moving people and goods across the Upstate is another important component of the overall regional growth strategy. In 2017, TATT started coordinating an effort called Connecting Our Future that includes many partner organizations and businesses in looking holistically at mobility, connectivity, and congestion reduction across the Upstate.

According to the Census Bureau, 94 percent of Upstate residents currently use their personal vehicle for transportation to get to work. That equates to about 700,000 vehicles on the road in the region every day simply transporting people to and from work. By 2040, that figure could be closer to 1 million cars.

There are currently many efforts, some federally mandated and others championed by nonprofit or community organizations, that are related to some element of transportation, connectivity, and mobility. Through Connecting Our Future, we are trying to ensure that all these efforts are working toward the same goals and, when appropriate, working collectively to build the Upstate capacity around moving people and goods.

Ultimately, once a shared transportation and mobility vision and actionable strategies are created, it will take a coalition of business and community leaders to push forward efforts that have measurable impacts on the role of transportation and mobility in the overall growth of the Upstate.

In 2018, Ten at the Top will continue to work with local businesses, governments, and community organizations in building partnerships that recognize the importance of collective investment in the future of the Upstate.

There are many additional hot-button issues including workforce, child well-being, senior needs, our entrepreneurial ecosystem, and others that Ten at the Top will be partnering with key Upstate stakeholders in 2018 to increase clarity on our current challenges and potential collective opportunities.

The current success the Upstate is enjoying both in economic and community growth is thanks to the time, energy, and commitment of many leaders who have come before us. It is now up to all of us who call this region home to work together to ensure that the Upstate remains a special place to live, learn, do business, and raise a family for generations to come.

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