By Dean Hybl, executive director, Ten at the Top
Whether hosted by Ten at the Top or another Upstate organization, over the last eight years I have participated in many events and meetings to discuss various issues that are impacting current and future growth in our region. Most of the time, I leave feeling like it was a good use of my time and quality discussion, but knowing that the primary outcome will be more meetings and more discussions as part of a long process to enact change in the Upstate.
I had a very different feeling throughout the Oct. 18 Connecting Our Future kickoff event. Instead of being another event where the general mindset is that we have 20 to 30 years to strategically address our issues, there was a very different tone and sense of urgency cast by speakers and participants.
Whether related to an increase in traffic congestion on many of our roads, growth in previously undeveloped areas, potentially disruptive technologies that have the ability to radically change how we think about transportation, that we have jobs going unfilled because we have potential workers who don’t have access to dependable transportation, or perhaps all of the above, as well as several other factors, the message throughout the event was very clear: We have to move from discussion to action and do it now.
So, the key question is what do we do, and how do we do it?
According to keynote speaker Carla Bailo, who has been active in efforts to advance transportation and mobility in Columbus, Ohio, one key component is to have a business community that is willing to not only talk about how to move forward but also invest in making it happen.
Columbus recently received a $40 million Smart Cities grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Through public-private investment, they have parlayed that grant into nearly a half a billion dollars in funding and in-kind support that eventually should turn Columbus into a model for using smart technology to move people and goods across a region.
In the Upstate, groups like Ten at the Top, the Upstate SC Alliance, Upstate Forever, the Riley Institute at Furman, the Upstate Chamber Coalition, and many others have spent the last decade working to cultivate a spirit of collaboration and regionalism as we look at how to tackle major growth issues.
In addition, our region is fortunate to have Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) actively engaged in understanding and developing the future technologies that will forever change mobility. We also have companies including BMW, Michelin, and many others who are major players in shaping the transportation future for our country and world.
With so many positive assets, it is imperative that we leverage them in a way that positions the Upstate for success around mobility and moving people and goods.
For many years, a common mantra in the Upstate has been “we don’t want to be Charlotte, and we don’t want to be Atlanta” when talking about sprawling growth, traffic congestion, and increased pollution. However, most of our current policies and investments around those issues are actually pushing us in the Charlotte or Atlanta direction instead of toward something else.
If we truly want to be a region where all residents can easily and affordably get from place to place, and we do not have the negative impacts of sprawling growth and congestion, then we have to decide collectively what we want and how we are going to work together and invest our resources to create a different future.
We have many of the ingredients needed, but do we have the willingness amongst our residents, elected officials, and business leaders to actually start making different choices and investments toward the future of our region?
The Connecting Our Future initiative is designed to help create a vision for what we want as a region and then develop strategies for how to get there.
Not every effort needs to be done collectively. In fact, future success will require local initiatives and investments. However, if we are all working from the same playbook and moving toward the same goals, then collective success is surely obtainable.
What will be critical for the outcomes of Connecting Our Future to truly be effective in changing the trajectory for future growth in the Upstate is that every stakeholder group must be at the table and willing to play a role in making a difference. It is not someone else’s problem or something someone else will fix for us.
The time to impact our collective future is now, and it is up to all of us who call the Upstate home to play a role in ensuring that our region is a great place to live, learn, do business, and raise a family for generations to come.
If you are interested in being involved with Connecting Our Future, please contact us through connectingourfutureupstatesc.org.