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Andy Griffith is stopping progress

First Posted: 1:49 am - June 9th, 2015

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OK, the headline got your attention, so now hopefully you will read the whole column — and no, it’s not technically true. Andy Griffith died in in 2012 and he was from North Carolina, not South Carolina.

But today, too many South Carolina politicians are holding back progress because they have the Mayberry mindset — they believe we should go back to Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show of the 1950s — and they pursue shortsighted, narrow policies that they think will somehow take us back to these “good old days.”

However, in two regions of our state, they are moving beyond the Mayberry mindset to a new and different way of thinking about and tackling the tough problems of our state — it’s called regionalism.

More on regionalism later, but first, a little more about Andy and the Mayberry mindset.

For many of our state’s politicians (mostly Republicans, if only because most of our politicians are Republicans), Mayberry is the world that they want to somehow go back to. They long for a quiet, peaceful place where people live in relative isolation, everyone is white, no one is poor, they pay insignificant taxes and the role of government is miniscule or non-existent. In this world:

• Social services is Aunt Bea handing a plate of leftovers out the back door to “the deserving poor.”

• The recreation department is Andy sitting on a bench in the town square playing his guitar for the townspeople on Friday night.

• The town budget is tiny because beyond Andy and Barney’s salary, the only other expense is to pay Helen Crump, the schoolteacher (and Andy’s girlfriend) who is a single woman so she could be paid a low salary.

• The public safety expenses are a little gas money for Andy’s patrol car and a new can of Brasso so Barney can shine his badge.

In their world of Mayberry, the creek where Andy and Opie go fishing is not polluted by the runoff from the paper mill upstream and the air doesn’t have toxic coal ash blown in from the power plant across the county line.

As much as we would all like to live in the placid world of Mayberry, it will never happen (if it ever did), and we need to look beyond this mindset to new ideas and new strategies to solve our state’s pressing problems of today.

In two very different parts of our state, a new strategy — regionalism — is being developed and tried.

The big idea behind regionalism is very simple — our state’s problems and solutions don’t respect city or county lines — and we need to take a regional approach in dealing with these issues. Two very different regions of our state have begun to do this using two very different models.

The first is the Upstate project called 1o at the Top, which began in 2009 and takes a broad regional approach to the 10-county area of the Upstate. Every region of the state has some sort of regional economic organization. TatT uses the same regional approach, but focuses on everything else besides recruiting businesses. Their regional priorities are: human potential, economic and entrepreneurial vitality, sustainable growth, natural beauty and resources and community vibrancy.

The mission of 10 at the Top is to foster trust and collaboration through partnerships and cooperation that affects the quality of life across the Upstate — and they have been hugely successful. They key to their success is that they get everyone involved, not just the usual suspects.

They have conducted 97 regional meetings, forums, presentations and workshops on a wide variety of topics across the Upstate with a total of 3,300 participants. Between 2010 and 2013, 10 at the Top conducted a total of 322 regional activities with more than 19,000 participants from across the Upstate.

The list of their specific achievements and successes is too long to list here (see TenattheTop.org) but suffice to say their broad focus and regional approach has proven effective in delivering real, concrete benefits for the people of the region.

The second example of this regionalism is the new Promise Zone that is bringing together the counties of Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper to develop and implement a comprehensive regional development strategy.

Modeled after a successful project in eight Appalachian counties of southeastern Kentucky that have a poverty rate of 30 percent, this Promise Zone is a new federal program and its mission is to catalyze a regional effort across these poor counties. Its five goals are: creating jobs, improving educational outcomes, increasing economic activity by leveraging private capital, expanding affordable housing stock and improving public safety.

What makes these two regional initiatives so interesting is that they are happening in two very different regions that represent the two ends of the economic and social spectrum of our state.

Ten at the Top was begun as a community initiative and its region is large and prosperous. There are 1.3 million people in this fast-growing region; the average household income is more than $55,000 a year and unemployment is generally at or lower than the state average.

Promise Zone is a federal government program and the region is largely rural and poor. There are only 90,004 people in the region, growth is stagnant, the poverty rate is 28 percent and the unemployment rate is 15 percent.

For those who care about our state and its future, these two regional models are important. If Promise Zone can become as successful as 10 at the Top, then these regional approaches have enormous potential for our whole state. Then, the success of these two models can be replicated in all the other regions of South Carolina — urban and rural, wealthy and poor.

These models won’t magically make our state’s blighted areas into Mayberry, but they can provide a new strategy for building a better state to face the challenges of the globally connected world of the 21st century.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. Email him at phil@scnewdemocrats.org.

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