Friday, October 17, 2014

Spotlight on cities' economic development successes

There are lots of great things going on in economic development all over the state. The October issue of Uptown focuses on several exciting success stories in cities of all sizes.

Boutique hotels are becoming an important anchor in many cities. Local entrepreneurs in Florence, Anderson and Beaufort are bringing locals and tourists alike to these downtowns.

We so often hear that economic development is a team sport. In Hartsville, the team consists of public and private partners such as Coker College, Darlington County, the local chamber of commerce, the Main Street program, the Duke Energy Center for Innovation and the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics.

The state’s largest cities are increasingly becoming anchors for the economic success of surrounding cities and towns. Greenville, Columbia and Charleston are all sparking new investment and economic activity in surrounding communities such as Travelers Rest, Cayce and Mt. Pleasant.

Economic development experts always encourage communities to find their niche and exploit it. Pickens, Fountain Inn and Fort Mill are great examples of doing just this.

Read about these cities’ economic development success stories plus learn more about the Department of Commerce’s “Just Right” campaign that is promoting the whole state as a great place for business and industry.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wrap up of Regional Advocacy Meetings

The snack basket from the road trips is almost empty which means the series of ten Regional Advocacy Meetings must have wrapped up.

More elected officials and city staff than ever before attended this year’s meetings, and our legislative staff was able to gather some important insight and input as we work through the process of identifying which legislative initiatives to pursue for 2015.

Some of the top issues that came out in every meeting involved public safety, blight, roads and infrastructure, open meetings, annexation and funding of services.

Local officials brought up lots of specific issues that our legislative staff will synthesize and research to present to the Association’s legislative committee on November 3. The committee will then make recommendations to the board which will approve the initiatives to pursue for 2015. Stay tuned for specifics in late November.

For the first time, we invited local legislators to join us at the regional meetings this year. That was a great success! Their resounding theme was they want to hear from local officials about how legislation affects their city or town. All seemed very appreciative of the invitation and the time with local officials.

Just for kicks, here are a few numbers from the Regional Advocacy Meetings:

· 350+ elected officials and staff 

· 25+ legislators 
· 10 great city venues with excellent food from local restaurants
· 200+ cities and towns represented
· 20+ hours of discussion and fellowship 
· 50+ pages of flip chart notes filled with issues and concerns
· 1450+ miles driven

For a weekly recap of the Regional Advocacy Meetings, read the blog posts from the past three Fridays. Also, visit the Association’s website for links to the meeting handouts.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Week 3 - Regional Advocacy Meetings

By Scott Slatton, Municipal Association's Legislative and Public Policy Advocate

This week’s Regional Advocacy Meetings took our staff to Port Royal, Orangeburg and Sumter with continued great turn-out by local officials and legislators. To date, 303 local officials have participated!  
In Sumter, we heard from Senators Thomas McElveen (left) and Kevin Johnson plus Representative David Weeks. All were supportive of finding a permanent solution to the Local Government Fund formula issue. 

In Port Royal, Representative Shannon Erickson reminded local officials of their essential role to keep their delegation informed of what’s important in their communities. 

At our stop in Orangeburg, Representatives Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Russell Ott and Lonnie Hosey fielded a number of questions regarding economic development. Rep. Cobb-Hunter reminded officials that economic development has to be a team effort, and Rep. Ott noted sustainable jobs should be the priority. Rep. Hosey serves on the House Transportation Study Committee, and he listened to many suggestions from local officials about streamlining DOT, fixing potholes and maintaining local roads.

Clearing blight has emerged as a priority we should continue to work on next year. In response, Association staff anticipates building on the progress we made in 2014 and pushing again for passage of the  Dilapidated Buildings Act. Also, Miriam Hair announced at the Orangeburg meeting this week that there will be a training session on code enforcement and blight mitigation issues at Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 4.

The DBA allows a circuit court judge to appoint a receiver to rehabilitate or redevelop blighted property after a town has exhausted existing code enforcement remedies to fix the problem property.

The DBA passed the state Senate in 2014 by a wide margin, but time ran out before it could pass the House. Though the bill didn’t pass, our efforts helped us build consensus among legislators so we can hit the ground running when the new legislative session begins in January.

We’ve already met with key sponsors and many of the legislators who suggested changes to the DBA, and they are satisfied with the bill that passed the Senate. In fact, several who have attended our Regional Advocacy Meetings have pledged their support for the DBA in 2015.

Clearing blight is clearly a priority for cities and towns across the state. Along with existing ordinances and rigorous enforcement of them, the DBA could be the additional tool that makes a difference in your community.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Word from around the state...fix our roads

As our staff hit the highways again this week, the whole road funding issue really hit home as we bobbed and weaved down I-95 and over Highway 17 to Port Royal avoiding potholes. Yep, our roads are definitely a problem.

The almost-200 local officials who have attended our six Regional Advocacy Meetings to date have brought up transportation issues from a number of perspectives. Today several cities talked about problems with DOT and its process for managing local projects…a problem we’ve heard around the state.

Another transportation issue that comes up frequently is the idea of the state transferring ownership of roads to cities and counties. Many cities and towns are already taking on the responsibility of mowing rights-of-way and repairing state roads. 

So if cities are forced to continue mowing rights-of-way and paving roads to keep their communities safe and liveable, they must also be given the authority to raise revenue to pay for these services. The question really boils down to what level of government assesses the fees or taxes for road maintenance and repair. 

These transportation conversations are taking place all over the state right now. The state chamber of commerce reports similar transportation conversations at its series of grassroots meetings. Association staff has been attending meetings of a transportation study committee appointed by Interim Speaker Jay Lucas looking at transportation needs.

Also, legislative staff from the Association last week participated in the annual meeting of SC Fix Our Roads, a statewide group advocating for increased transportation funding. Our staff reported that the sentiments at that meeting echoed everything that we are hearing at the Regional Advocacy Meetings from local officials and legislators alike… this issue must be addressed in 2015.

So what's the sustainable funding strategy that will fill this gap? Is it an increase in the gas user fee? An increase in the $300 sales tax limit on new cars? Tolls? More local flexibility to raise revenue for maintenance and repairs? Stay tuned.