Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the Jan. 7, 2019 issue of GSA Business Report.
The organization that has dedicated the last 10 years to keeping people in the Upstate talking about common causes has a list of key concerns.
Ten at the Top contends the Upstate is at a critical juncture in its growth, says Executive Director Dean Hybl, and has identified the key concerns as transportation, mobility and connectivity; a K-12 teacher shortage; sustainability and natural resources; the entrepreneurial ecosystem; senior needs; and community vibrancy.
The organization will conduct a series of county workshops in the coming year in an effort to connect stakeholders across the region in order to find solutions to those concerns before growth overwhelms the region.
Those six issues are part of the group’s 2019 “action areas” distributed in a document to members at the end of last year.
“So many things are intertwined,” Hybl said in an email to GSA Business Report. “Education (teacher shortage) and workforce go hand in hand, but mobility and access to transportation also play a role in meeting our workforce needs.”
Hybl said those are what he considers “hot button” topics that place the Upstate at a crucial time in its development, especially the fast-growing communities of the region. As the city and county lines become less obvious, inter-city and inter-community transportation challenges have been an ongoing topic of concern at Ten at the Top events. Often, worker transportation is cited as a challenge, but transportation problems affect everyone, Hybl said.
“Mobility and transportation also are connected to meeting the needs of our seniors and dealing with our challenges around land use and smart planning,” he said.
Ten at the Top’s action areas document says most residents do not want run-away growth, but the Upstate seems to be headed in that direction anyway.
“While most Upstate residents articulate a desire for a future where growth is handled differently than in our neighboring areas of Charlotte and Atlanta, our current policies and investments do not promote a different growth outcome,” the document says. “Issues such as traffic congestion, access to transportation, pollution and maintaining our natural resources are critical to our current and future growth. The Upstate is also at a key place in relation to maintaining and growing our workforce.”
According to the action plan document, some specific focus areas include:
Transportation, mobility and connectivity: The Upstate Mobility Vision was developed in 2018. This year a Connecting Our Future effort will focus on positioning an Upstate Mobility Coalition for success in analyzing and supporting implementation of efforts that make it easier to move people and goods across the Upstate.
Addressing the K-12 teacher shortage: The Upstate Education Spectrum Initiative includes representatives from the 23 K-12 school districts in the Upstate, colleges and universities as well as business and economic development. Coordinated by Ten and the Top and Public Education Partners, this group is working on collaborative opportunities to impact the growing K-12 teacher shortage.
Sustainability and natural resources: By coordinating the Upstate Air Quality Advisory Committee and the Upstate Professional Planners Group, Ten at the Top is convening key people and organizations with an objective of ensuring the Upstate is continuing to address issues related to how we are growing and impacting our natural resources.
Entrepreneurial and small business support network: Ten at the Top will continue to convene a network of incubators and other organizations that provide support for entrepreneurs and small businesses as they work to grow the collective entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.
Senior needs: The organization’s Senior Needs Committee plans to organize four senior issue workshops to educate and raise awareness of the most pressing issues facing seniors in the region, including transportation, food access and home needs.
Community vibrancy: Since 2013, the Elevate Upstate Grants Initiative has provided more than $75,000 to develop more than 25 vibrancy initiatives across the region. In 2019, Ten at the Top will continue its #UpstateVibe365 campaign to showcase the Upstate as a vibrant place.
In 2018, Ten at the Top conducted 102 regional meetings and events with 4,833 participants. According to their website, 384 unique businesses and organizations from across the Upstate provided funding support or had a representative serve on a Ten at the Top committee or task force.
Hybl said Ten at the Top goes into its 10th year dedicated to fostering relationships and collaboration among the people and organizations of the 10 counties to “create long-term measurable impacts for economic vitality and quality of life.”
He said one victory for Ten at the Top in its first decade has been improved air quality, which threatened investment opportunities in the Upstate even though Atlanta is frequently blamed for the air quality issues here.
“The air monitor numbers in the Upstate are at the lowest levels they have ever been and we are not currently at risk of moving into non-attainment,” Hybl said. “However, with the EPA in flux and federal regulations for many natural resources being relaxed, natural resources and the impact on public health could become a big issue again. Our region has been a leader in voluntary measures to reduce air emissions and stay within attainment, so I am optimistic that folks here will continue to stay the course in making our air cleaner, but because air moves, if other regions no longer are mandated, it could be a challenge.”