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​Town of Bluffton
Soon after the creation of a 94-acre multi-county industrial park in 2008, the Great Recession hit, affecting the Town of Bluffton's plans.

The historic slump frustrated Bluffton's efforts to attract a master developer and other knowledge-based companies to the park, even though healthcare benefits manager eviCore had relocated its headquarters to the site in 2005. But with tenacity and regional partnerships, the industrial park came into being. Town, county, state and federal funding assisted with the project, along with private investment and tax credits.

But there's more to come for the mixed-use town center project. The town anticipates the completion of the publicly funded infrastructure, including the remaining roads, sewer, IT and a public park. Next, the developer will transfer the public park and the new permanent home of the Don Ryan Center for Innovation — the hub for regional economic development — to the Town of Bluffton, and eviCore will expand its corporate campus.

Contact Debbie Szpanka at dszpanka@townofbluffton.com or 843.706.4534.

City of Cayce
Before the City of Cayce's new public safety director arrived, the Cayce Department of Public Safety had little resident engagement and no social media presence, operated in a separate silo from the city and reacted to incidents instead of proactively building community relationships. But in the summer of 2016, the appointment of a new DPS director ushered in some welcome cultural changes — both internally with staff and externally with residents.

The director gathered community feedback from more than 20 community meetings with church groups, neighborhood associations and watch groups in his first three months. With the help of a U.S. Department of Justice grant and the department's general fund, the department then created a community response unit, hired three new community outreach officers, started social media accounts and held a contest for elementary school students to name the department's new K-9 officer.

Not surprisingly, morale within the department has improved and turnover has dropped. In fact, the city has had to turn away certified officer applicants.

Contact Rachelle Moody at rmoody@cityofcayce-sc.gov or 803.550.9506.

City of Chester
When school gets out for the summer, the 4,000 children in the city and county of Chester who rely on free or reduced lunch still need to eat. That's why since 2013, the City of Chester has sponsored the Summer Feeding Service Program. The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the S.C. Department of Education, reimburses sponsors $2.09 for each breakfast and $3.69 for each lunch or dinner served.

Chester's SFSP bridges nutritional gaps and offers free meals at approved sites during the summer in areas with high concentrations of low-income children. When the program launched in 2013, meals were provided at six sites. The number of sites increased more than tenfold in 2016, allowing the program to serve more than 2,100 youths per day. Chester took it further, generating support from local foundations, public and private partnerships, and area businesses. City officials are now planning to bridge the learning gap that occurs when school is out by providing educational and enrichment activities to prepare kids to start school again in the fall.

Contact Peggy Johnson at pjohnson@chester.sc.gov or 803.235.3063.

City of Columbia
Public outcry over blighted commercial buildings contributed to the City of Columbia's Vacant/Abandoned Building Incentive Loan Program, an initiative that encourages property owners and tenants to purchase, reuse or improve abandoned property.

The Columbia Empowerment Zone, a non-profit corporation that promotes job creation, offered funds to start the program. The loans range from $1,000 to $20,000 and cannot exceed more than 10 percent of the project cost. The forgivable loans issued on a reimbursable basis for expenses allow recipients to make improvements to permanent structures of their business, such as windows, doors and signage.

To date, small businesses now occupy 11 buildings that have been renovated and improved. The city and CEZ promoted last year's Economic Development Week May 8-12 and the launch of the Vacant/Abandoned Building Incentive Loan Program via brochures, flyers, print and digital media, and TV.

Contact Chris Segars at cmsegars@columbiasc.net or 803.545.4143.

City of Denmark
The City of Denmark had a problem intersection that was hard to maneuver. Freight trucks struggling to turn would damage trees, run into light poles or graze the corner of a building. Sections of sidewalk were uplifted by tree roots, and pedestrian crossings lacked clear markings. Something had to be done.

Town officials encouraged the public to participate in two public hearings in the initial design phase and attend meetings of the Denmark Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council.

With a Community Development Block Grant, the city converted the intersection into a wider, two-lane road with a greater turning radius, plantings, drainage with grates, stamped sidewalks with the city's dogwood tree logo, benches, trash receptacles, bike racks and sidewalks uniquely designed to accommodate large trees. The city installed an irrigation system to maintain the plants and hopes to extend the improvement project for an additional block. The improvements made it easier and safer to shop in downtown Denmark.

Contact Heyward Robinson at hrobi13901@aol.com or 803.793.3734.

City of Easley
While police departments nationwide struggled to maintain positive relationships with residents amid officer-involved shootings and use-of-force controversies, officials in the City of Easley decided to proactively build bridges with residents to avoid the strife seen so often in the news media. The department started by attending community events, bringing candy and popcorn machines to movie and concert series, and greeting attendees with a smile at the events.

But then officials thought of another way to combat fear of police: Education. They wanted the public to know about the day-to-day activities of an officer. As a result, the Easley Citizens Police Academy was born.

The eight-week academy led by officers has been so popular that Easley officials are discussing the creation of an explorer class for children, intended to foster trust between police and youths and to inspire young people to join the profession.

Contact Lindsay Cunningham at lcunningham@cityofeasley.com or 864.855.7900.

Town of Edisto Beach
The coastline in Edisto Beach is affected by waves, tides, storm surges and other forces that cause sand to accrete or erode. Changes are compounded by development activity to accommodate the desire of residents and visitors to be as close to the ocean as possible.

So in 2017, the town restored approximately 835,000 cubic yards of sand to the eroded beach and lengthened 26 groins. The technically complex, multi-million dollar project received funds from local tourism taxes and fees, including Colleton County's capital project sales tax, and grants from the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The town partnered with Edisto Beach State Park to renourish its beach at the same time as the town. This created cost savings to both. The town contributed 16 percent of the total project cost, thanks to town officials' success in convincing other partners of the project's merits.

Contact Iris Hill at ihill@townofedistobeach.com or 843.869.2505.
 
Town of Fort Mill and City of Tega Cay
The Town of Fort Mill and City of Tega Cay are separated by about half a mile, both situated near the North Carolina border and both experiencing rapid growth. In 2014, officials decided to cooperate on a shared challenge. Officials in both municipalities agreed to create a new joint training program, which allows their planning and zoning officials to fulfill their state-mandated training requirements.

Before, there were few options available to officials of Tega Cay and Fort Mill to get their training. Day-long and multi-day sessions offered by other organizations meant travelling expenses for 21 appointed officials from Fort Mill and 14 from Tega Cay, a costly endeavor. Now the new joint training program is growing. Starting this year, training sessions opened to appointed officials and staff from the City of Rock Hill and Lancaster and York counties.

Future plans may include offering an academy for interested residents and extending the reach of the training by broadcasting it on YouTube and local cable access channels.

Contact Joe Cronin at jcronin@fortmillsc.gov or 803.547.2034 ext. 257 or Susan Britt at sbritt@tegacaysc.gov or 803.548.3513.

City of Greenville
It's not easy to change the way 16,000 households have been recycling for 13 years. But the City of Greenville had a plan. Officials informed residents that a "Big Blue" 95-gallon roll cart would arrive on their curb, and that the process was changing from dual-stream to single-stream with new categories of plastics accepted. What's more, residents would no longer be able to recycle glass.

Greenville officials used a teaser billboard and advertised on garbage trucks and other equipment that had public exposure, updated their website with the news and produced a video skit featuring city councilmembers. The city captured video messages from city councilmembers and even one official accompanying a 100-year-old resident to the curb with his bin. The outreach was so successful that city officials may now expand the campaign to include an incentive program called "It Pays to Recycle in the City of Greenville," a spinoff of the original campaign, aimed at attracting non-recyclers.

Contact Allison Brockman at abrockman@greenvillesc.gov or 864.467.8300.

City of Greenwood
The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce started the city's Festival of Flowers in 1968. But in the mid-2000s, there was no centralized focus on Uptown Greenwood, and attendance was declining. In 2007, a pivotal trip to Epcot Center inspired festival volunteers and the horticulture coordinator at Piedmont Technical College to create 13 topiaries.

The Self Family Foundation provided the initial money for topiary frames. Staff of the city, chamber and technical college worked together on the topiaries with help from Lakelands Master Gardeners volunteers. The program was growing. In 2011, the city began managing the program, which now includes four city employees, a greenhouse, and 42 topiaries arranged on the square in Uptown Greenwood in June and July as part of the Festival of Flowers.

Consider the numbers — Greenwood's hospitality tax revenue in the Uptown Greenwood Special Tax District increased from 2008 to 2016 by 253 percent for the month of June and 337 percent for July. Business licenses have also grown for the Uptown Square by nearly 18 percent from 2008 to 2016.

Contact Charlie Barrineau at charlie.barrineau@gwdcity.com or 864.942.8410.

City of Greer
The Greer Police Department worked with a local TV station, WYFF, on a campaign to show law enforcement in a positive light in 2016. The campaign also offered safety tips to residents about the "100 deadly days of summer," a period when teen drivers have a higher rate of automobile-crash fatalities.

The series, which continued in 2017 as WYFF's "4 Your Safety," aired 36 segments, which were about a minute long. They covered topics such as the importance of yielding the right of way while driving, how to spray a fire extinguisher and how to clean out a lint trap in a dryer to prevent fires. While the Greer Police Department received positive feedback, WYFF's viewers began calling and emailing with segment ideas. WYFF also shared stories on Facebook Live, garnering thousands of views. The results? Labor Day passed with zero traffic deaths in the city.

Contact Steve Owens at sowens@cityofgreer.org or 864.416.0121.

Town of Hollywood
After the devastating shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015, residents of Hollywood, which had connections to three of the victims, were stricken.

So town officials decided to create a place for healing and reflection where the community could gather to remember the victims. The resulting project: Serenity Garden, which overlooks the Stono River. It features a brick path leading to a bubbling water statue, a swing overlooking the river and nine glass hummingbirds, one for each of the shooting victims. Town leaders plan to hold a yearly activity at the garden; formalize a list of enhancements to the site, such as restrooms; and establish a stakeholder committee tasked with maintaining the memorial and surrounding gardens.

The garden was funded half by the town and half by donations. It came together with the help of 20 volunteers, 10 businesses and seven churches. More than 200 people attended the dedication in 2016.

Contact Jacquelyn Heyward at mayorheyward@aol.com or 843.889.3222.

Town of James Island
Some of James Island's neediest residents live in their homes and pay taxes but have no clear record of ownership, which makes it difficult for the residents to receive aid for home improvements.

Town officials decided to help. To assist with critical home repairs, the Town of James Island and Sea Island Habitat for Humanity teamed up to repair four homes each in 2015 and 2016. Repairs included handicap ramps, roofs, window replacements and other improvements.

Public involvement was key. Town officials advertised the program in local churches and spread the word through community events and neighborhood council leaders. The outreach helped attract volunteers and connected those in need — including residents who hoped to "age in place" in a structurally sound home — with available assistance. After this success, the town plans to expand its home-repair partners to include Operation Home and Homeworks.

Improving the housing stock protects against blight and also generates tax revenue that can be reinvested into the community.

Contact Ashley Kellahan at akellahan@jamesislandsc.us or 843.795.4141.

City of Manning
The City of Manning, like most rural cities and towns, struggled to attract retail businesses, which are important for a broad tax base and a source of jobs for residents. Determined to be proactive, Manning officials attended trade shows of the International Council of Shopping Centers and used a retail marketing consultant's custom demographic research, gap analysis and marketing guide to target specific retailers and retail concepts that have succeeded in similar markets.

Funding to pay for consulting fees and staff training and travel to trade shows came from the City of Manning and a Hometown Economic Development Grant from the Municipal Association. Since announcing the initiative, three new retailers have been announced. Manning officials are not stopping there.

They are receiving additional training and will update the city's marketing information and prospects list, while studying regional and national retail trends.

Contact Scott Tanner at stanner@cityofmanning.org or 803.825.9008.

City of Marion
In 2011, a fire in the City of Marion consumed several downtown buildings, damaged others and displaced businesses. But city leaders were determined not to give up on the area, leading them to ask residents and organizations what they should do with three empty lots on Main Street. The property owners sold two lots to the Historic Marion Revitalization Association. Proceeds from the sale of one donated building helped create a new downtown venue.

From the gaping space left by the fire, emerged the Main Street Commons, an outdoor gathering place with electricity and elevated stage for music entertainment, health fairs, farmers' markets and other events.

Reflecting the broad-based community involvement in the project, a host of different organizations supplied funding. They included the Marion County Healthcare Foundation, Historic Marion Revitalization Association, the city and others. Future plans for the site include acquiring an adjacent vacant lot and building public restrooms, an arbor and a dining space.

Contact Alan Ammons at aammons@marionsc.gov or 843.423.5961.

City of Mullins
When the City of Mullins lost its finance director, city officials recognized they had an opportunity to look for a new and potentially better way of doing things. Rather than hiring and training someone new and then risk losing the individual to another employer, city officials decided to outsource the majority of its accounting and financial services to a certified public accounting firm.

The city and the contractor were able to customize the firm's services so that jobs were only restructured, not eliminated. Cost savings from the four-year contract allowed the city to put money into its fund balance and use it for other operations. The change also brought greater effectiveness. City Council now receives more accurate and timely monthly information. Audit findings and adjustments have been reduced due to better internal controls and audit preparations. Plus, there is greater continuity of service, since the CPA firm has several employees who can fill in for one another.

Contact David Hudspeth at dhudspeth@mullinssc.us or 843.464.9583.

City of Newberry
With school art budget cuts and a lack of art classes offered, city officials wanted to create a well-rounded arts experience for residents. So the city invited local artists, art educators and local businesspeople to discuss how best to create visual arts programming and also contribute to economic development.

Undeterred by the prospect of starting a program from scratch with no budget, officials got to work, starting with youth art camps. They used money from the general fund and parks and recreation department, followed by donations from private businesses and foundations. The result? Revenue exceeded expenditures in the second full year, the program twice had to move to a bigger facility and the S.C. Clay Conference was established, drawing participants from four states.

The program now includes a separate art and pottery studio in an iconic downtown location and offers a multidisciplinary visual arts experience to anyone in the community, regardless of age or ability to pay. City officials have their sights set on increasing the size of the clay classes for teens and expanding the traditional art classes for adults and children.

Contact Marquerite Palmer at mpalmer@cityofnewberry.com or 803.321.1015.

City of Rock Hill
While sports tourism has shaped the City of Rock Hill's identity since 1985, in recent years, officials sought to diversify city offerings to attract new events and tourists. So in the past five years, Rock Hill developed mountain bike trails and two Olympic standard cycling facilities, earning the reputation of a cycling hub. The Giordana Velodrome for track cycling, opened in 2012, and the Novant Health BMX Supercross track, opened in 2014. They have drawn local, state, regional, national and international events.

Funding for the velodrome involved New Market Tax Credits, giving the city a 25 percent reduction on the total loan.

From its 1985 Cherry Park, offering baseball and softball tournaments, to its Rock Hill Tennis Center and Manchester Meadows soccer amenities, Rock Hill has consistently found ways to provide both recreation space and programming for residents and venues for local and international sporting events.

Contact John Taylor at john.taylor@cityofrockhill.com or 803.329.5620.

City of Seneca
While Oconee County is known for its scenic foothills and lakes, the City of Seneca added a new attraction to the landscape by establishing the Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum in 2016. It is the only institution in the county dedicated to preserving and sharing the complete history and culture of local African Americans. The admission-free museum preserves and celebrates local African American history, while educating the public, inspiring future generations and honoring the past.

Since last year, the museum has had three exhibits and four major events, drawing 2,000 visitors. The city fully funded the museum with hospitality tax funds and the general city budget.

There's more to come: The museum plans to build its collections, improve its website and social media presence, and offer new dynamic programming, events and exhibits.

Contact Shelby Henderson at shenderson@seneca.sc.us or 864.710.9994.

Town of Summerville
Now the seventh largest municipality in the state, the Town of Summerville sought to balance its growing size with a commitment to its small-town character. As part of its 2014 Vision Plan of what Summerville will look like in 2040, the town reimagined Hutchinson Square, the town's gateway, to preserve "the heart of Summerville," create a gathering place, and attract businesses and residents to the town.

Federal and private grants funded the master plan development and Phase I construction expenses. A kickoff meeting with stakeholders occurred in January of 2015 and was followed by two more public input sessions and a final public meeting. Officials carefully adhered to project goals of increasing safety, visibility and accessibility; integrating public art; providing event space; and protecting grand live oaks. To that end, the town proposed a replica of a historic archway; removed some trees and roots from walkways; installed sidewalks, streetlights and landscape lights; thinned the tree canopy; and proposed a depot-inspired pavilion.

Contact Doyle Best at dbest@summervillesc.gov or 843.851.5211.

City of Sumter
City of Sumter officials decided to look at what they already had — tennis courts — and enhance that unique amenity. In the early 2000s, officials made sports tourism a priority. In 2004, the Palmetto Tennis Center opened with 14 courts and a pro shop. Accommodations
tax revenues funded the $1 million construction project. In the last 10 years, the Palmetto Tennis Center has undergone two expansions.

Today, the Center has 24 lighted, DecoTurf hard courts, a full-service pro shop and locker rooms. It has garnered lots of recognition, including a top 10 facility designation by the 2016 Sports Planning Guide. The Center's multi-million-dollar impact from visitor spending reflects a 50 percent jump from 2009. Every year 29,000 visitors and residents use the Center for clinics, lessons, school matches, tournaments and league play. The Center is also the home of the USC-Sumter Fire Ants Tennis Team.

Sumter isn't stopping there. Future plans include eight additional courts and space for single-practice, youth play and pickle ball, along with a new 3,500-square-foot operations center.

Contact Shelley Kile at skile@sumter-sc.com or 803.795.2463.

Town of Williamston
Before the Town of Williamston hired a planning consultant to help promote the town's unique assets in 2015, issues were addressed in a piecemeal fashion with no master plan. To remedy this, an effort called Envision Williamston came into being. The town used community surveys, focus groups and public presentations to gather ideas on how to ensure Williamston's vibrancy, growth and sustainability.

The town also received a grant from the S.C. National Heritage Corridor and a Main Street Challenge grant from Innovate Anderson. The town funded way-finding signs, banners, an electronic message board and streetscapes. Events, such as a scarecrow contest, were funded by the town, nonprofits and corporate/private sponsors.

Williamston has more in store. Short-term steps include an electronic message board to promote its Adopt-a-Rest Stop project, a façade improvement grant program to enhance the aesthetics of town businesses, a Main Street Challenge Program to recruit new businesses, a cleanup day and a pocket park feasibility study.

Contact Debbie Chapman at dchapman@williamstonsc.us or 864.847.7473.