Counties are anything but just alike, and the guest speakers at Thursday evening’s Ten at the Top County Workshop, the 10th, came from Greenville, Spartanburg and Greenwood to tell the leaders here they can be what they want to be.
The trick is to determine, coherently and cohesively, just what that is.
Education, industry and politics came together at The Ridge. Ten at the Top refers to the 10 counties at the top of the state. The main address – by Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce – bore the title “Creating ‘One Spartanburg’ and a Culture of Community Investment.”
A goal of togetherness in Laurens County is older than the Raiders (circa 1972), as old as the Red Devils (1920), and over the decades met with varying levels of success. A crowd of about 100 pledged to be true to Laurens County’s identify if only it can be ascertained.
Don’t feel so all alone, the visitors said.
“Entrepreneurship is a focus in Spartanburg,” Smith said, “but a fractured focus.”
According to Smith, Spartanburg County has the eighth fastest growing population of millennials – present age 23-38 – in the United States, yet it is often perceived as outshone by Greenville. Laurens is surrounded by six counties, three of which (Greenville, Spartanburg and Greenwood) are larger in population. Greenville (514,213) ranks first in the state, Spartanburg fifth (313,888) and Greenwood 19th (70,741), just ahead of Laurens (66,994). The growth of the county is generally spreading from the direction of the larger counties.
The county’s leaders, a healthy percentage of whom were present, were particularly interested in Smith’s observations because Spartanburg managed to pass a countywide, penny sales tax by an overwhelming, 63-37 margin, which Greenville couldn’t do and Laurens has on the ballot this fall.
In spite of having nothing in common with Australia, Spartanburg County has amassed a growing accumulation of what Smith called “boomerangs,” which, in this instance, are natives who left and returned home in much the way as the curved pieces of wood that aborigines use for hunting.
In an audience composed of Laurens Countians with varying goals and priorities, the widest territory of agreement was providing a quality of life that would keep the county’s native-born either here or bound to return.
That penny on a dollar that most in the room seemed to feel the county needs would be less a burden than a property-tax hike because, Smith said, 38 percent would be paid by those who visit, pass by or through.
“You have a chance to decide what is going to be the best version of Laurens County,” Smith said. “What do you want to be? What do you not want to be?”
Said Dean Hybl, Executive Director of Ten at the Top, “If you want to improve your county, you’re going to have to invest in your county.”
Greenville County community activist Lisa Stevens said, “Get everyone assigned to what they’re good at. Be at every festival, every barbecue … do whatever it takes to get the message out in the community.”
The evening concluded interactively as attendees answered questions that together set parameters for what they wanted Laurens County to be.