Upstate South Carolina, home to Greenville and Spartanburg counties, is a bustling driver of South Carolina’s economy. Homegrown businesses such as Southeastern Paper and Carolina Pride Meats, as well as international corporations including BMW, Fluor and Michelin have formed thriving business clusters. According to Fast Company, South Carolina ranked fourth in the nation for small business vitality thanks in part to state programs like SC Launch, which has provided more than 251 high-tech companies with early stage funding and commercialization support. Outdoor activities such as downtown festivals, farmers markets, and a range of sporting activities make Greenville and Spartanburg attractive to businesses, visitors, and residents alike.
These cities weren’t always this vibrant. Twenty years ago, both counties lost their economic base when textile manufacturing moved overseas. Unemployment rose and downtowns fell into disrepair. However, business leaders faced these challenges head-on. Over time, the counties recovered through focused, long-term collaboration between the chambers of commerce, government, community members, and businesses to build vibrant communities that attract businesses and grow a healthy and well-educated population.
Spartanburg City communications manager William Rothschild explains, “Spartanburg is the biggest economic development success story in the state right now. That's a long way from where Spartanburg was 10 or 15 years ago.” He cites three entities – the city, the county and the chamber of commerce – that worked together on economic development strategies as one of the key reasons for this progress.
Economic and health data confirm the momentum. From 2010 to 2015, there was a notable improvement in both counties’ health measures, including particularly a 3% reduction in years of productive life lost. This improvement helped fuel key business indicators, such as the average total payroll per business, as tracked by the U.S. Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Jim Reynolds, CEO, Total Comfort Solutions and Founding Member of the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina, cites collaboration and long-term focus as key factors, saying, “South Carolina was fortunate in that business leaders working through the state chamber of commerce took a leadership role over the last 20 years on improving education and workforce development. The continuity of the business community over time was what made the difference. We are now applying this model to health and wellness. A healthy workforce is a sustainable workforce.”
One of the key groups bringing together health, wellness and businesses in the region is the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina. Senior leaders from across the public and private sectors formed the Alliance in 2010. The leaders were increasingly aware of the need to minimize duplication and maximize impact in specific health outcomes.
Alliance member, Dr. Richard Foster, explains the impetus behind bringing together a diverse group, “We noticed that agencies, businesses, and hospitals all had the same issues, but we weren’t working together. To take on building a culture of community and individual health, we had to bring together a diverse mix of stakeholders, and get them to agree on shared goals and methods, as well as to make changes in the overall environment and context. To do this, we needed both the front line staff and the senior decision makers in the room.”
Employer opinions on the economic opportunities of the upstate region reflect the positive outcome of the business sector engaging in building healthy communities. In 2014, the Greenville News profiled a new resident, Neville Lockwood. Mr. Lockwood is an engineer from Great Britain who works as the site director for BASF Corporation’s facilities in Mauldin and White Stone (two small towns in the region). He said that when he told his wife they were moving to Greenville she was hesitant to accept a move to a city often perceived as lacking in amenities larger metropolises provide. “I think it was the view of the South, a throwback of days gone by. Once she saw Greenville, how cosmopolitan it is, the beauty of downtown and the surrounding areas, she fell in love with the place. […] Now Mr. Lockwood and his wife call the area ‘Beautiful Upstate South Carolina’ when he recruits employees to the area.” These new residents aren’t the only one attracted to the area. According to the Greenville News, Greenville’s population was the fastest growing in the state in 2014, and South Carolina ranked ninth in the nation for population growth.
The experience of the upstate region of South Carolina demonstrates the value of intentional focus on community and individual health by a diverse mix of business and community leaders. Efforts like these yield enhanced economic development, stronger regional marketing, and easier recruitment of happy, healthy and skilled workers and their families.