By Terence Roberts
Most of us don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know exactly what is just around the corner and we certainly cannot see into distant decades clearly. Even so, as individuals and institutions, we can strive to ensure that we are in the best possible position to exploit opportunities when they come along. This certainly applies to the area of economic development.
Across the Upstate, it has become apparent that sustained economic development does not always occur organically. It must be planned, cultivated and nurtured. In Anderson, we constantly ask ourselves:
- Do we have the right infrastructure in place?
- Do we have the right relationships and partnerships in place?
- Are we doing the right things to foster business and entrepreneurial growth?
Infrastructure is, of course, a broad concept which can include everything from small touches like attractive streetscapes to big things like wastewater and sewage capacity. A couple of decades ago, it was hard to imagine the difference it could make in Anderson’s downtown to make it greener. From the addition of well-landscaped spots along Main Street to the construction of two new downtown parks, the city got a fresh face. As the greenspaces developed, the city became more walkable, more livable and more attractive to business.
It was also hard to imagine just a few years ago that some cities across the country – and even some of our neighbors in this state – would run out of water/sewer capacity to the degree that it impedes their ability to host new businesses. In Anderson we believe that we are well-positioned in the next decade and beyond to meet the needs of a growth market. Our city planners and utilities division personnel manage the pieces of our infrastructure to guide overall better growth patterns now and with both eyes on the future.
“Successful partnerships are the key to long-term development” is an oft-repeated phrase in the land of municipalities – and it is accurate. One need only to look at the example set late last century as Greenville put those words into practice with nearly unparalleled success. In Anderson, we seek to keep good partners by being good partners. Our relationships across the Upstate with other municipalities, and with institutions close to home like Anderson University, AnMed hospital and local industries, are at the heart of our shared success.
We have benefited from investments from the private sector as we help set the stage to make Anderson an attractive, profitable place to do business. Private investments such as The Bleckley Inn – a boutique hotel – and The Bleckley Event Center have added elegant entertainment options for visitors and residents alike. We also celebrate the role of local nonprofits such as the Anderson Arts Center as we endeavor to attract the lucrative cultural tourism market.
Our economic development team has strong programs in place to not only attract, but also to inspire and nurture, new businesses and entrepreneurs. Anderson’s Business Assistance Program has supported six new or expanding businesses in the city over the past year. Our marquee programming in this area, called e-Merge @ the Garage, offers various entrepreneurial programs and resources that help ensure businesses get off to the best start possible. We offer the e-Spark Boot Camp, a 12-week program offering training elements in areas of customer relations, team building, business plan preparation/execution, and access to capital. We also partner with the Clemson Area Small Business Development Corp. to offer a lunch and learn series on various topics designed to encourage business retention and small business success among Anderson’s entrepreneurs and small business leaders.
A focus area for e-Merge programming is the inclusion of youth and students. Last year, in partnership with Westside High School, we presented a curriculum that gave students a condensed look at how to start and run a small business and encouraged entrepreneurial spirit through group projects. Cyber Saturdays, a collaborative partnership between e-Merge @ the Garage and IT-ology, is a program that allows students to learn more about IT allowing them to learn about career opportunities in the IT field and inspire students to continue to learn through critical thinking.
Yes, the metaphorical crystal ball is murky at best, but our vision is clear. By asking the right questions and constantly updating our answers and revising our tactics, we are strategically positioned to cultivate economic development in Anderson in the coming decades. Sure, we might benefit from our location in the booming Upstate on the I-85 corridor and we are ready to accommodate what may be low hanging fruit. We are also postured to add the perks to position Anderson competitively and reach for higher boughs.
Jack Welch famously said: “Control your own destiny or someone else will.”
Our destiny is not hidden. It’s not mere fate or fortune. It is economic development and it is ours to shape.
Terence Roberts is the mayor of Anderson.