Regionalism is a term we hear batted around a great deal all over South Carolina. In a state as small as ours, it’s often the diverse assets of an entire region that attract businesses and residents, not just the resources a particular city or specific area has to offer.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the concept of regionalism was viewed with some level of skepticism. The idea that cities and counties could coordinate economic development efforts was often met with distrust among the parties involved. Turf battles sometimes meant losing an economic development project because of the perception there was only so much pie to go around.
In our region, however, that pie keeps growing. When one area wins, the whole region wins. Midlands leaders recognize workers may be employed at a facility in one city, live in another and shop in a third. A manufacturing plant may be in a rural area of the region, but its management may live in the nearby city. A regional headquarters in a downtown may draw workers from several nearby cities and counties.
While it may sound somewhat counterintuitive, regionalism is as much about each community identifying and playing to its unique assets as it is communities working together. A homogenous region of like communities with similar assets won’t do much to attract a diverse economic base or a diverse population…both of which are critical for success.
Part of the success we are seeing in the Midlands is the result of various areas of the region coming together to leverage their own distinctive sense of place and quality of life. This idea of “placemaking” means bringing people together around a shared vision of what a place can be…whether that’s a whole region, a city, a block or a neighborhood.
And as the Midlands is demonstrating, it is possible to create a shared vision by pooling the individual assets of areas in the region rather than competing over the same assets.
The Three Rivers Greenway is one of many Midlands examples that illustrates well this idea of regional placemaking. Leaders in Columbia, Cayce, West Columbia, and Richland and Lexington Counties had a vision for this shared river asset, and the whole region is reaping the benefits.
Visitors and residents alike can take in a performance in the amphitheater on the river, walk or ride bikes along the pathway or fish from the river bank. People don’t necessarily know if they are in Cayce, Columbia or West Columbia. What they care about is a seamless, clean and safe experience that’s well-planned and well-executed.
Another important, yet often unseen, example of regional cooperation is in the area of infrastructure. A robust and sustainable water and sewer infrastructure is critical to economic development and is often one of the first assets a company looks at when deciding where to locate.
An example of regional infrastructure collaboration is the City of Cayce Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. In 2012, the plant began operation replacing the existing plant built in the early 1970s. Owned jointly by the City of Cayce, Lexington County and the Lexington Joint Water and Sewer Commission, this facility has enough capacity to serve its customers for the next 30 years which is great news for any business looking to locate in the area.
These are just two of the many examples of how regionalism is thriving in Midlands. It’s not just about what’s good for Columbia, Lexington, Forest Acres, Springdale or any other local area anymore. It’s about the strength in the diversity of assets in the Midlands and how we continue to make the sum of the whole greater than all the parts.