Leaders are ready to act on a five-year plan for Spartanburg. What does the report say about the past, present and future of the county?
After nearly 15 months of work, $135,000 of investment and input from thousands of residents, a singular vision for Spartanburg County is ready to move forward.
And the plan is called, appropriately enough, One Spartanburg.
On Tuesday, local leaders celebrated the launch of the new strategic plan during a ceremony at the Chapman Cultural Center downtown.
The plan was created with the help of Market Street Services, an Atlanta-based strategic planning firm that has created similar visions for cities like Nashville; Tulsa, Okla.; and Austin, Texas.
Leaders said the plan would provide the framework for efforts that seek to boost the cultural and economic prosperity of the community, and elevate the lives of its citizens for decades to come. One of the targets is to create a Downtown Partnership, an organization that will focus on making the city’s urban center more vibrant and prosperous.
The plan will be carried forward for the next five years with a $5.15 million implementation budget, for which champions of the plan have already raised about $2.5 million.
“One thing that is so remarkable to me is the community’s willingness to uncover some of the not-so-good things,” said Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “[The community] has been very upfront about addressing our issues.”
The process for developing the plan officially began in September 2015, when the Spartanburg Chamber’s board approved the hiring of Market Street. Smith and Todd Horne, the Spartanburg Chamber’s chairman, were major proponents of the partnership.
To fund the study, Smith and Horne said they had to raise $135,000. They raised $173,000.
“Over 30 days, we had 30 asks and zero nos,” Horne said. “It showed us that the community was ready for something like this. And has been for a long time.”
In January 2016, Market Street began the first phase of the six-phase project — stakeholder input. A steering committee consisting of 52 leaders was formed, although Market Street recommended that the committee consist of only 35 members. Elected officials were not invited to serve on the steering committee.
The firm gathered input via one-on-one interviews and focus groups. It put out an online survey that received 3,180 responses from the community, which was the third highest return the firm has ever received, according to Smith.
During the second phase — community assessment — Market Street conducted a detailed analysis of the county’s competitiveness as a place to live, work, play and do business.
The assessment resulted in eight “stories” for Spartanburg that centered on education, economic development, poverty, talent development, recruitment, quality of life enhancements, creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem and community pride.
Findings showed that although the county has recently become a national powerhouse for economic development, particularly in the automotive manufacturing sector, there are still deficiencies.
For example, the county ranked second to last among the most populated cities in South Carolina for individuals ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
As of 2015, white-collar jobs only accounted for 6.4 percent of the Spartanburg’s total employment, according to the plan.
The plan also identified a $10,000 per capita income gap between county residents and the rest of the nation.
“Per capita income is a great measuring tool,” said Bill Barnet, former Spartanburg mayor and chairman of the Northside Development Group, who served on the steering committee. “It means that all of our citizens can earn more money, live a better lifestyle and enjoy the opportunities that education and self-improvement offer.”
The creation of the Downtown Partnership could help the community with its efforts to generate, attract and retain talent; create better paying jobs; and attract new small businesses, according to Smith and Horne.
“I’ve always been a huge believer in the importance of the central business district,” Barnet said. “People want to see and be seen. They want places to go where there is excitement and art — the kind of energy that occurs in a dynamic place. With that comes jobs and excitement. … Whether you live in downtown Spartanburg, Boiling Springs, Landrum or Woodruff, it’s a central ingredient in attracting jobs and investment. You see it in Greenville, Charlotte and Asheville. We need to see it in Spartanburg if we’re going to move forward.”
The third and fourth phases of the study, which kicked off in May 2016, included a target business and a marketing review.
In the plan’s final draft, Market Street recommended automotive manufacturing, machinery and equipment, advanced materials, distribution and trade and the white-collar jobs supported by those industries, as five areas where the county could grow during the next five years.
The marketing review examined the county’s existing economic development marketing efforts. It identified the Economic Future’s Group as one particular area that needs improvement.
On Jan. 18, the Spartanburg Chamber rolled out a new multilingual website for EFG.
Market Street began creating a final draft for the plan on Aug. 31, 2016. The plan’s final draft and implementation strategy was completed in October.
Now, it is up to community leaders and organizations to implement the recommended changes.
“It’s a great feeling [to complete the plan],” said Horne. “This has been five years in the making, going back to my predecessor, Sue Schneider. The drive to see this through has been amazing. … We’re not done yet.”
The Spartanburg Chamber will coordinate the plan’s implementation, but Smith and Horne said it is not a “chamber strategy,” and no single organization will be solely responsible for activating all of the recommended strategic actions.
Instead, a broad network of volunteers and professionals from the public, private and nonprofit sectors will carry out the plan’s strategy.
“This is the first time anything like this has ever been done in Spartanburg,” Smith said. “It’s not just for the business community. This is a comprehensive vision for community and economic development that will have a generational impact.”
For the Spartanburg Chamber’s role, it has formed the new department One Spartanburg to coordinate the implementation of the plan.
Meagan Rethmeier, who currently serves as director of small business and entrepreneurial development for the Spartanburg Chamber, has been chosen to serve as executive vice president of One Spartanburg.
Rethmeier said she will assume the new role on Feb. 1. The chamber will hire her replacement soon.
“I am really excited,” Rethmeier said. “For me, this is really personal. I grew up here. One of the reasons we moved back is because of the momentum we saw in the community. We wanted to be a part of it.”
EFG, which falls under the chamber’s umbrella, will lead economic development efforts, including business retention and expansion, and small business and entrepreneurial development through the chamber’s recently re-launched Spartanburg Entrepreneurial Resources Network.
Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM), a countywide partnership formed in 2014 to expand academic achievement, will help coordinate and advance educational and talent development efforts.
The plan’s implementation budget allows for Rethmeier’s hire and six other positions, including a white-collar recruiter, a downtown program coordinator, marketing strategist and a new position with SAM.
The plan calls for the formation of an implementation committee to address six tactical recommendations: talent development, economic development, entrepreneurship, downtown Spartanburg, quality of place, and image and marketing.
Smith said certain members of the steering committee could continue to serve on the implementation committee. Elected officials may also serve on the implementation committee.
Once the implementation committee is formalized, its members will chair action teams that will be responsible for moving the tactical recommendations forward with the help from implementation partners.
Potential implementation partners outlined in the plan include a range of entities from several sectors, such as education, business, government, municipality, nonprofit, private and workforce development.
The plan includes first-year action timelines and five-year implementation matrixes for each of the tactical recommendations in the plan.
Action teams and implementation partners can refer to those charts in order to help guide their efforts. Smith said those groups will have the freedom to prioritize certain ones or identify other areas that need to be addressed.
As an example, the action team and implementation partners recommended for downtown development could choose during the first year to create the Downtown Partnership and related Business Improvement District to create a more vibrant and prosperous downtown.
Within five years, those groups could have new staff positions and office space as well as administrative and other support services.
Smith and Horne during the plan’s unveiling called for community members to get involved by serving the action teams.
“I think this community has a great understanding of the need to improve, the importance of identifying resources and to cooperate to create that improvement,” Barnet said. “It’s not easy and it’s not without pain, but it’s terribly important if we’re going to attract the next generation. The current generation is anxious to have well-paying jobs, but they also want to live in a community that has energy and culture, and allows them to reach their creative potential. I think this process is terribly important to build the Spartanburg of the future.”