Upstate Virtual Listening Tour Summary

Upstate Virtual Listening Tour Summary

General Overview

While cities, counties, businesses and organizations across the Upstate continue to address public health and economic issues related to the global pandemic, Ten at the Top remains committed to serving as a regional convener and connector to help support local efforts and grow the Upstate’s collective capacity.

To help better understand the concerns and challenges being faced by communities across the Upstate, Ten at the Top recently completed a “Listening Tour” of the seven non-urban counties in the region (all counties except Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg). Each session included input from leaders from local governments, community organizations, businesses and other local stakeholders.

While each county had its own nuances and distinct approach to responding to the pandemic, there were a number of similarities across the region.

  • Most encouragingly, each county reported that overall the response to provide needed services to those facing immediate hardship has been successful in meeting the general needs of all residents, including children, seniors and college students. Another commonality has been a collaborative spirit as many local entities, including some that had not previously worked together, have collaborated to meet the needs of local residents.
  • Communication has been an important element and communities have used a variety of methods to ensure that residents are aware of programs as well as health services. Social media has played an important role in many communities, but with a significant portion of residents in rural counties not serviced by high speed internet, that approach has not reached all residents.
  • Accessible and affordable internet was a theme across the region. In some communities, school buses were deployed to help residents connect to internet, especially to assist students. However, with transportation also being an issue for some residents, reaching an internet hot spot was not always possible.
  • With many businesses shut down for an extended period of time due to the stay-at-home order issued by Governor McMaster, there is great concern about how quickly small businesses can recover. Many communities have worked with business service agencies to help ensure their business owners are able to connect to government support programs developed to reduce the impacts on local businesses. In addition, many local business organizations have been providing marketing and promotional support for local businesses.
  • One interesting commonality among the communities is that while COVID-19 has spotlighted issues including internet accessibility and fragility of small businesses in rural communities, there are also a number of issues that were of concern prior to COVID-19 that remain priorities across the Upstate.
  • Mobility and lack of transportation access has become a regional priority in recent years, especially for many residents of rural communities who are unable to improve their personal economic mobility due to lack of access to transportation. Skill training also remains an issue in many Upstate counties as the technical colleges, Workforce Boards and others continue to provide a critical service to help people gain skills needed for higher paying jobs.

During each session, members of the Ten at the Top team asked a specific set of questions around the topics of general collaboration, economic development & small businesses, infrastructure & mobility and social services, public health and education. Below are composite summaries of the general feedback heard across the region. You can also read each of the county specific summaries through this link.

Polling Questions

For all counties except for Cherokee, participants were provided with a series of poll questions and asked to rank on a scale of 1–10 (I being not at all met and 10 being totally met) their impression on the response for each category.

 

County AbbevilleCherokeeGreen-woodLaurensOconeePickensUnion
Number of Responses 7210158129
When it comes to social services and health care in your county, how do you feel your community’s personal well-being needs have been met?Avg.887887
Mean787786
Min563664
Max991010109
Within your county, how do you feel the needs of your manufacturers and other larger employers have been met?Avg.7788987
Mean7787886
Min7675675
Max8810101098
Within your county, how do you feel the needs of your restaurants and retail stores have been met?Avg.666766
Mean656665
Min533343
Max79101099
Within your county, how do you feel the needs of your local (non-chain or franchise) small businesses and entrepreneurs have been met?Avg.6666765
Mean5665665
Min4641443
Max7691010108
Within your county, how do you feel the needs of your schools, colleges, and universities have been met?Avg.677887
Mean677787
Min553364
Max78101099
Within your county, how do you feel the needs of your local and county governments have been met?Avg.767887
Mean757886
Min525664
Max910910108

 

Collaboration

Questions asked by Dean Hybl, Executive Director

What role has collaboration played in communities across the Upstate as they respond to COVID-19?

Whether it be previously developed collaborative partnerships or ones created specifically to collectively respond to COVID-19, collaboration has clearly been critical in all communities during the pandemic. Collaboration has been used by different communities to share information, identify resources and implement needed services. The result has been a general feeling in most Upstate counties that the response to COVID-19 has been a team effort with everyone playing their own specific role in the effort.

Are there any examples of communities being pro-active in their approaches?

Prior to COVID-19, Pickens County had passed a state of emergency ordinance that called for city agencies to automatically coordinate with each other during a state of emergency. As a result, when a number of agencies had limited day-to-day work due to COVID-19, those employees were repurposed to help the community in various ways, including distributing meals on wheels, collecting food and assisting the United Way.

Economic Development & Small Business

Questions asked by Erin Ouzts, Entrepreneur Ecosystem Coordinator

In general, what was the state of small businesses & entrepreneurs in the Upstate prior to COVID-19 and how does that set things up for recovery? Generally growing, expanding and starting to thrive.  Many new businesses getting started.

What were some of the major impacts seen by small businesses during COVID-19Closings and shifting to curb-side delivery.  Scrambling to understand and get PPP and EIDL loans.  How to get funding for under-the-table workers and non-legally-registered organizations. Exposure of their lack of understanding of internet usage to get information and post updated information.  Challenges that came with not knowing where or how to look for and find information.  Lack of clean/updated financial documents led to extra work by banks and accountants.  Having fast enough internet at home, or even access at all, hampered attempts to do online activities.

Please share any unique programs or support efforts that were undertaken across the region.  $75k spent on advertising for “shop local”; technology audit; community-based loan funds popping up everywhere.  Sandwich board signs for downtown businesses.

What established resources were most helpful to small businesses & entrepreneurs during the crisis? SBDC, Chambers, county and city economic development organizations

What was the general experience and challenges around utilizing EIDL & PPP programs? Scrambling to understand PPP and EIDL loans.  Not having a big-bank relationship. How to get funding for under-the-table workers and non-legally-registered organizations. Challenges that came with not knowing where or how to look for and find information.  Lack of clean/updated financial documents led to extra work by banks and accountants.  Banks trying to process applications and answer questions while the rules were still being decided.

Is there a general lesson that COVID-19 has taught local communities and/or small business owners?  Have the business of our business in order (legal, financial, accounting); be nimble and able to shift resources to maximize opportunity for revenue quickly; know how to use the internet, social media, etc. to post AND find updated information.

In general, how have manufacturers and larger employers fared during COVID-19? Most have fared well. They are moving to smaller groups of employees at a time and are adjusting for social distancing.  Seems that other than getting through to unemployment office, getting the unemployment insurance was something most employees pursued.

Share examples of best practice efforts by counties to support manufacturers. SBDC weekly information sessions and webinars.  SBDC phone meetings and ability to set appointments online, plus loan programs, help with setting guidelines.

Please share any potential programs, collaborative efforts or other initiatives that could be implemented to support communities, businesses & entrepreneurs across the region. Community loan programs, technology training, advertising and promotion support, additional social media campaigns by city and chambers, webinars on how-to proceed through and implement the many changes.

Infrastructure & Mobility

Questions asked by Michael Hildebrand, Director, Upstate Mobility Alliance

Provide a general overview of rural mobility challenges in the Upstate. Generally speaking, the mobility challenges in our rural communities are focused in two areas: a lack of accessible public transportation options and minimal infrastructure such as sidewalks and bike lanes. These challenges limit access to work, medical, and other community resources.

What are some of the specific challenges related to mobility? Several communities currently do not have access to any public transportation system. In other communities that have a public transportation system, often these systems do not serve the entire county which leaves areas without any transit option. An additional challenge is the lack of transportation to educational opportunities. Finally, the lack of safe walking and biking paths limits access to employment opportunities.

As employees return to work, what have been some of the challenges to overcome? Communities are finding that financial and educational literacy is a challenge to returning to work. Additionally, since most information about job postings and work opportunities are online, the ability to communicate with potential workers has been an issue in communities that lack strong internet availability. Finally, finding transportation options to get to work has been a challenge.

What has been the experience around broad band across the Upstate? The lack of widely available broadband service is a major issue for most rural communities. Where broadband is available, the cost is a barrier for individual users.

Please share any potential regional efforts that could help support infrastructure and mobility challenges in rural areas across the Upstate. Efforts that provide education on the basics of computer and internet use would be helpful, especially as it relates to looking for job opportunities. Also help in identifying potential transportation solutions would be beneficial.

Social Services, Education, Health

Questions asked by Justine Allen, Events & Program Coordinator

Overall, what role did school districts play in supporting social service needs of students during COVID-19?

School districts provided meals, either by bus at schools and other drop off points, or by direct delivery to homes. School districts provided wi-fi hot spots for downloading of e-learning materials at schools and other central locations.

Schools made guidance counselors available, but not being able to spend time in person with students is expected to take a toll, as this is how concerns generally arise to be addressed.

Union Reads (Union High School program) is partnering with SCC on virtual parent literacy classes, including financial literacy.

What were some of the challenges faced by colleges/universities?

Some students were unable to travel to their home state or country when the schools closed, so they were accommodated with housing and meals, either on campus or with families.

There are concerns about students being part of the local workforce and consumer economy. Many students are unable to work due to closures and unable to access stimulus funds because they are still dependents.

Lander University’s Foundation started a crisis fund. Students apply for a max of $300 in vouchers for rent, utilities, transportation, gas. They will continue to raise money for the fund.

Financial Aid offices working with students who are struggling.

Were there any best practice examples of communities coming together to support community needs?

  • Covid for All in Cherokee started by several organizations working together in Cherokee.
  • United Way partnered with YMCA in Greenwood to expand food program.
  • Lakelands YMCA working with Laurens District 55 on a summer reading program and other initiatives tbd.
  • SC Empowerment distributes food boxes in Laurens neighborhoods.
  • Salvation Army in Pickens County assisting with funding, childcare, working with United Way.
  • Meals to You (Baylor program) extended outreach to SC during school year.

What are some of the ongoing challenges, especially related to keeping people in their homes amid increased unemployment?

Initially food shortages were an issue. Now more assistance is being requested with mortgages, rent, and utility payments. Will funds be available moving forward?

Did communities provide specific programs to support seniors?

Through United Way and other organizations, counties provided some sort of meal assistance through access points and home delivery. Computer literacy is an issue so resources available have not always been accessed. Many food vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables have not been requested so the assumption is that people do not know about them or are afraid to go out to pick them up. Some agencies put vouchers online for safely, but this posed a challenge because some seniors do not use or know how to use technology to find or access the vouchers.

How to reach seniors without using smartphones and internet?

Have any groups fallen through the cracks?

The only group identified was students of higher education.

What are some of the challenges, potential collaborative opportunities moving forward?

ChallengePotential Collaborative Opportunity
Dissemination of informationCounties get together to develop best practices for information distribution, including in times of disaster (no power)

 

Lack of internet access and affordabilityCounties get together to develop plan, lobby state/fed, and implement universal installation and affordability of broadband
Childcare
Seniors and technologyScale up training for seniors—e.g.,coordinate getting appropriate people in the counties together and train their people so their people can train seniors.

Just Call Bill mentioned as a resource

Andrea Smith at Senior Action also mentioned her staff doing lots of over the phone assistance.

Transportation – getting to jobs, getting to schools to get meals and wi-fi, seniors getting to food access pointsMobility Alliance

 

Next Steps & Future Opportunities

In general, the listening tour input reinforced that a number of the areas in which Ten at the Top has been focusing collaborative efforts including mobility & transportation, entrepreneur support and senior needs remain relevant during the current crisis.

Access to internet & broadband technology was also a major focus and while Ten at the Top will certainly support the continued expansion of availability across the region, that issue seems to have been identified as a state-wide issue that the state legislature will be focusing to address.

Below are some of the specific follow-up actions that TATT will be taking in the coming weeks to support some of the issues identified during the listening tour:

  • Rural Mobility Listening Session: The Upstate Mobility Alliance’s Moving People Task Force will be holding a special virtual listening session on July 13th with representatives from rural communities to better learn about specific mobility & transportation challenges in the non-urban areas within the Upstate. Following this session, the committee will develop a strategy for how to move forward in supporting greater access to transportation in the rural areas within the Upstate.
  • Entrepreneur & Small Business Webinar Series: To help address some of the specific challenges identified by entrepreneurs & small businesses, TATT’s Upstate Entrepreneur Ecosystem group will be holding a series of webinars with subject experts that will be available for viewing by small business owners & entrepreneurs. In addition, the group will continue to focus on “connecting the disconnected” with resources to help start and grow businesses in the Upstate.
  • Senior Needs Workshops: Due to COVID-19, TATT has been unable to hold in-person Senior Needs Workshops through the first half of 2020. Beginning in August, we intend to hold virtual workshops to continue to connect senior service providers and to especially understand how to support their needs during the current pandemic.

In addition to these three specific efforts, TATT will continue to look for opportunities to support communities across the Upstate in other areas that are impacted by the pandemic and corresponding economic crisis.

Ten at the Top to Hold Workshop Focused on Household Needs for Seniors

Ten at the Top to Hold Workshop Focused on Household Needs for Seniors

November 19th, 2019 [Greenville, SC]—As part of an ongoing series addressing issues facing seniors in the Upstate, Ten at the Top will be hosting a workshop focused on non-medical home care needs on Tuesday, December 3rd from 9:30-11:00 a.m. The session, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the Park 37 Community Building located at 250 Executive Center Drive in Greenville. Coffee and light refreshments will be served.

With the number of Upstate residents over the age of 65 projected to rise from roughly 12% of the total population in 2010 to more than 25% by 2030, the Ten at the Top Senior Issues Committee is focusing on educating and raising awareness amongst community stakeholders around important issues facing our seniors today and into the future.

Surveys repeatedly show a majority of seniors prefer to live at home, even if that means living alone. In fact, the portion of homeowners across the country over the age of 65 has been increasing in recent years. Seniors who choose to age in their homes can face unforeseen challenges with home maintenance, isolation from the community, and vulnerability to fraudulent scams. The workshop panelists will cover a range of topics relating to these issues.

The panel will be moderated by James Bennett, Owner and Manager of Upstate Homecare Solutions. Panelists are Dorinne Dubois, Homecare Manager, Appalachian Council of Governments; Vee Daniel, President & CEO, Better Business Bureau of the Upstate; Annette Cook, Director of Senior Adult Ministries, Christ Church Episcopal; and Dayle Stewart, Assistant Director, Rebuild Upstate.

James Bennett, Owner of Upstate Homecare Solutions, hopes to encourage participation in this event and stresses the importance of this issue, saying, “Data has already proven that people are living longer than ever before. Aging in place is not only the most desired option for seniors but it’s also the most effective way for seniors to age in place with dignity and grace. Now is the time to think about and plan for long-term care as it pertains to your senior relatives. Join us as we take a deep dive and discuss the current issues surrounding home care for seniors and hopefully provide you with a game plan to help your senior family members live out the best of their golden years!”

This is the fourth and final senior issues workshop to be hosted by Ten at the Top in 2019. The workshop series is sponsored by Upstate Homecare Solutions and the Better Business Bureau of the Upstate.

Though there is no cost to attend the workshop, advanced registration is requested. You can click here to learn more about the workshop and register.

Summer of You: Learn a Language!

Summer of You: Learn a Language!

If you’ve ever wanted to learn a new language, why not make this the summer you start on that goal? Upstate International offers more than 30 classes in 13 languages, from beginner to advanced, so you’re sure to find something that fits your interest and skill level.

Whether you are planning a trip to Italy, want to converse with your son’s Japanese girlfriend, work for a German company, or just want to challenge yourself with a new skill, these classes will help you meet that goal. Learning a language is great for brain development, but it’s also a great way to connect with people who speak another language. “There’s nothing more valuable or precious than speaking to someone in their language,” says Program Manager Christine Hofbauer.

Regular classes ($65 for 8 weeks) meet once a week for an hour, and intensive classes ($265) meet twice a week for 90-minute lessons. The classes are only open to members (which requires a $50 fee), but, says Hofbauer, the membership fees help keep the costs down.

All classes are taught by native speakers of the language who volunteer because they want to share their language and culture with others. In the first class session, the teachers find out what the learning goals of the students are and tailor the curriculum around those goals. With class sizes capped at 15 students, that kind of individual attention is possible. “The classes are very informal,” Hofbauer says. “There’s no homework, no testing—but it’s a really high-quality learning experience.”

The language class offerings started 20 years ago with English conversation clubs for immigrants who wanted to immerse themselves in the language and culture of their new home. From there, the offerings have expanded to include not only the popular languages like French, Spanish, and German, but also Thai, Greek, Hebrew, and American Sign Language (taught by a couple made up of a deaf husband and a hearing wife). There is even a Spanish for kids, taught at the YMCA.

If this is something you’ve been wanting to do, check out their summer course offerings and sign up for a class that will expand your world!

Senior Issues Group Hosts First Workshop About Lifelong Learning in the Upstate

Senior Issues Group Hosts First Workshop About Lifelong Learning in the Upstate

On February 7th, Ten at the Top’s Upstate Senior Issues group reconvened for their first session of the new 2019 Senior Issues Workshop Series.

In September of 2018, the Ten at the Top Senior Issues group convened to discuss goals for 2019. It was determined that moving forward, that this group must be more intentional with their approach to address senior needs collectively. After much conversation, the group decided to move forward with topic-focused meetings that address the top senior needs in our region.

The Appalachian Council of Governments proposed that the group utilize data from their 2018 Senior Needs Assessment, which was conducted in early fall. It was agreed that these topic-focused workshops seek to address the most pressing senior needs that were identified in this assessment. The workshop series will address topics such as food access, transportation, and senior household needs.

The first session was surrounding lifelong learning opportunities in the Upstate. Lifelong learning is an important topic of discussion because studies show that those who are well connected to family, friends, and community are happier and physically healthier, and they live longer than those who are less connected.

Nancy Kennedy from OLLI at Furman led a panel discussion, which included panelists:

  • Jack Hansen, Author, Speaker, OLLI member
  • Andrea Smith, Executive Director & CEO, Senior Action
  • Morgan Jordan, Director, Lifelong Learning at Wofford College

The group engaged in a thoughtful dialogue about lifelong learning and other social engagement opportunities available in the Upstate. They also talked about the challenges of reaching parts of the senior population with these opportunities.

Some of the many opportunities available in these ten counties of the Upstate are:

  • OLLI@Clemson
  • OLLI@Furman
  • Senior Action
  • Lifelong Learning at Wofford
  • Lifelong Learning Institute at Anderson University
  • Lakelands Lifelong Learning Network in Greenwood
  • Community Centers/Senior Centers in many communities
  • Those 60 and older can audit courses at no charge at state colleges, universities, and technical schools.

The goal of these discussions is to raise more awareness than ever before of our seniors in the Upstate and the issues they face on a daily basis. The workshop series is sponsored by Upstate Home Care Solutions and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

To get involved or attend a workshop please contact Adelyn Nottingham at: anottingham@tenatthetop.org

Addressing the Teacher Shortage: Supply, Demand, and Perception

Addressing the Teacher Shortage: Supply, Demand, and Perception

by Sharon Purvis

One of Ten at the Top’s focus areas for 2019 will be convening various stakeholders to address what is becoming a serious problem in South Carolina: a shortage of teachers to meet the growing demand.

Working with Ten at the Top to spearhead this initiative is Ansel Sanders, president and CEO of Public Education Partners, whose mission is “to lead our community in acting collectively to support, strengthen and advance public education and student achievement in Greenville County Schools.” That mission positions Sanders ideally to gather interested parties to address the shortage.

Ten at the Top has for some time been convening district superintendents and business leaders in the Upstate, but it has been with a workforce development focus in the past. The group evolved to include leaders in higher education in an effort to bridge the gap between K-12 and higher education institutions.

After several meetings with representatives from those three sectors, it became clear that the state’s teacher shortage—which is only projected to worsen if steps are not taken to address it—is an issue that needs focused attention.

The problem is two-pronged: the over-all student population in South Carolina public schools has grown by an average of 7,400 students per year over the last 5 years, and higher turn-over and fewer teacher graduates means a diminishing supply of teachers to meet the demand. (For an in-depth analysis of the issue, click here.)

In an effort to get their arms around what is needed to tackle this issue, the group began by forming three committees to address the following:

  1. Understanding the challenge—why is there a shortage? What are teachers actually saying?
  2. Thinking about elevating the profession. How do we better tell the story of teachers? This a marketing strategy, both to potential teachers and the public.
  3. Thinking specifically about teacher retention and recruitment strategies.

The first is important because, Sanders says, the shortage is really a symptom of an underlying problem, and without an understanding of what’s causing it, any measures taken to address it will be ineffective—or at least not as effective as they could be. Teacher pay gets a lot of press, but it is far from the only issue. Public perception of teachers and education is also a factor, as is a lack of stature for the profession, and the 2nd and 3rd  committees seek to address those issues.

The key, says Sanders, is “how to elevate, modernize, and professionalize teaching.” What makes a profession a profession? Compensation is a piece of the puzzle, certainly, but it’s also training and the autonomy to do one’s job, as well as the respect that is afforded to other professions, Sanders says. He continues: “We respect them, but do we respect and honor them the way we do, say, our military, or other highly honored professions? Are we telling our own children that they should aspire to be teachers, or are we not?”

Alternate routes to certification are another piece of the puzzle—not to replace the traditional route through colleges of education, but to supplement it as a source of teachers. An added benefit of that is that the pool of teachers entering the profession will have added diversity, with older teachers who have had other professional experience to draw on.

The three committees are just underway and will meet in January and early February and will report to the larger group, called the Education Spectrum Forum, in April. Each has 10-12 members, comprised of K-12, higher education, and business sectors. Although Sanders hopes to engage policymakers, the outcome of the committees is not policy recommendations, but the hope is that policy will emerge from the process.

This group’s efforts are running parallel to legislative efforts, in fact, with education being at the forefront of policy initiatives in Columbia. South Carolina Public Radio reports that Gov. McMaster’s budget recommendation calls for a 5% pay raise for teachers among other things as part of his promise to fix education in the state. The money to pay for the proposed reforms comes from a budget surplus as well as increased tax revenues from a growing economy. And McMaster promised in his State of the State address to sign into law reform bills that have been proposed in the state assembly.

Ten at the Top and Public Education Partners will continue to focus on this issue throughout 2019 and will continue to use this space to update constituents on the progress.