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Mayors strive for collaboration as growth takes off in Midlands

When Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin makes his pitch to potential investors, many of them talk of living on Lake Murray, playing on Cayce’s tennis courts or enrolling their children in Lexington schools.

And being able to lean on the strengths of those neighboring towns is essential to furthering the area’s development, he said Thursday during the Columbia Regional Business Report’s quarterly “Power Breakfast” networking event.

“Understand that we’re all in this together, and that we’re stronger together,” Benjamin said. “Anything we do, we have to do together. We’ll make this region more competitive.

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Cayce Mayor Elise Partin makes a point during today’s Power Breakfast.

“If you take this region together, I think we’re one of the most competitive economies in the entire world. We need to start acting like it and talking like it.”

Those collaborations are easy to identify. Cayce and Lexington’s 2012 partnership is among those, as the two sides came together to build awastewater treatment facilityneither was able to independently afford.

The partnership will help Lexington shut down its central Coventry Woods plant by September, Mayor Steve MacDougall said.

“Had we not had this collaboration on this facility, we would not be able to do that,” he noted. “And frankly, I don’t know what we would have done with that 30-year-old plant that just happens to be in the dead center of town. So it’s not only a public nuisance, but it is outdated and costs us almost $400,000 a year just to run.”

Using the facility to protect the rivers will be key to Cayce’s own growth, Mayor Elise Partin said.

“As we look to do more with our rivers, and look at tourism centered around being on those rivers, we’ve got to think about protecting them,” she said. “The collaboration … will make a big difference for this region, ultimately.”

Partin and Benjamin came together shortly after being elected to form a regional mayor’s alliance, Benjamin said. Similar relationships have developed statewide, whether it be through infrastructure or tourism partnerships, according to Reba Campbell, executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

“The regionalism theme is very, very strong right now,” she said. “I think a lot of local leaders began to see during the economic downturn that a small town and a large city have the same problems when the economy is bad. By working together, they’re able to build on each other’s strengths.”

Benjamin also touted strong relationships like the longstanding wastewater partnership with West Columbia, a recent agreement to provide water to Winnsboro, and the joint fire service with Richland County.

“These borders are incredibly porous and we serve the same constituents,” Benjamin said. “So it’s important that at every opportunity we have to work together, we do it.”

“We dialogue sometimes on issues of importance, sometimes we get together when there’s nothing really important to talk about,” he added. “But establishing those relationships when they’re not very necessary, and having a good dialogue, is so important.”

Lexington has had no pitfalls with Cayce on its wastewater collaboration, MacDougall said. And ensuring the two sides continue to be up front and honest with one another will help maintain that strong relationship, he noted, which will lead to added capacity for future growth in each area.

“I think our local leaders are really understanding that nobody can go it alone,” Campbell said. “With limited resources, as Mayor Benjamin was saying earlier, there’s no need to duplicate services and no need to try to have turfs and kingdoms when everybody can all work for the greater good together.”

Reprinted with permission from Columbia Regional Business Report

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