by Dean Hybl

I was recently asked what I thought would be the economic and community focus for the Upstate region in 2020 and the new decade. As I formulated my answer, I recognized that one important component of predicting the future is understanding and analyzing the recent past.

With WSPA’s Amy Wood and Ben Hoover talking about growth in the region

Given that the current unemployment rate in South Carolina is under three percent, it is a bit hard to remember that when we started the previous decade the rate of unemployment in South Carolina and the nation was over 10 percent.

As you would imagine, because of the high unemployment rate at the time, the emphasis in the Upstate was to bring jobs to the region. Thanks to the great work of local, regional and state economic development organizations and many key partners, the Upstate saw more than $17 billion of new manufacturing investment over the past decade, resulting in many jobs that have helped cut the unemployment rate to record lows.

Now, as we move into 2020 and the new decade, the challenge is finding workers to fill the available jobs across the Upstate. The result is a shift in the primary

Photo courtesy of Itron, a technology and services company in West Union, SC

focus from attracting jobs (though our region is always happy to welcome a new company and investment) to developing, attracting and retaining talent while also reducing the barriers to employment for people living in the Upstate who are unemployed or under-employed.

Fortunately, the Upstate is well positioned for this shift in focus as our region has many programs and initiatives either in place or being developed to help address some of the key barriers that are keeping every Upstate resident from reaching their greatest potential.

There are many barriers impacting the ability for some residents to succeed, but below are three of the primary ones:

  • Transportation/mobility
  • Education/skill training
  • Cost of housing outpacing wage increases (especially in the urban & suburban core)

The Upstate SC Alliance’s Move Up campaign is focused on talent attraction to the Upstate. Click the image to visit their site.

In many ways, I believe the level of collective success enjoyed across the Upstate over the next decade will be predicated on how our communities and region address and impact these three key challenges. Each one has many components, some of which are being actively addressed and others that are part of the roadmap for the future. Below are a few of the opportunities to help in developing, attracting and retaining talent while also focusing on reducing barriers to employment:

  • Regional transit connectivity—increased investment in transportation (roads, public transit, others)
  • Continued investment/emphasis by local communities in quality of life and creating a sense of place
  • Expanding job opportunities for people with disabilities and nonviolent criminal records
  • Continued emphasis by K–12 schools, technical colleges & 4-year colleges/universities on preparing students for current and future professions
  • Addressing the K–12 teacher shortage by elevating the teaching profession (financially, status of profession, opportunities for career changers)
  • Focus on cultivating entrepreneurs and small business ownership in region
  • Creating greater awareness and understanding of the potential impacts of the “Silver Tsunami” in which 25% of Upstate residents will be over the age of 65 by 2030

Greenlink is a key partner in the newly formed Upstate Mobility Alliance

As a convener and connector focused on growing our collective regional capacity, Ten at the Top is engaged with a wide range of Upstate partners as we look at addressing our barriers, challenges and opportunities. If you are interested in becoming involved with TATT or other organizations working to impact barriers and challenges across the Upstate, please feel free to contact me (dhybl@tenatthetop.org) or our Collective Capacity Coordinator Kaylee Harrison (kharrison@tenatthettop.org).

1.21.2020