The Obama Administration announced in late April 2015 that six rural counties in the southern tip of South Carolina won a new federal Promise Zone designation in a program to give challenged places a better chance at getting federal grants and other help.
Included in the Promise Zone are all of Allendale, Bamberg and Hampton counties and a significant part of Barnwell, Colleton and Jasper counties, as highlighted by the map at right. In general, the Promise Zone is geographically located west of Interstate 95. Nevertheless, people who live in each of the six Promise Zone counties are expected to benefit from the opportunities generated by activity inside the zone.
The designation, which lasts for 10 years, brings two key tools to 90,000 people who live in the Promise Zone: a handful of trained federal workers to help counties, government agencies and other community partners apply for existing federal grants. Applications that come from groups working in or for the Promise Zone area also will get extra points for applications submitted in programs to improve education, grow jobs, boost safety and add affordable housing.
“The Promise Zone designation for our region creates exciting opportunities for our people,” said Danny Black, president and CEO of the SouthernCarolina Alliance. “As the lead regional organization in this effort, we look forward to working with our partners at the municipal, county, regional, state and federal levels, in both the public and private sectors, to identify, pursue and implement programs that will bring real economic development, community development and workforce training opportunities to our communities.”
Experts say having the Promise Zone designation should pay big dividends to the six counties because they often don’t have the human capital needed to be successful in tapping into federal grant dollars. In the only other rural Promise Zone area announced last year, the eastern area of Kentucky has been successful in winning more than $60 million of major federal grant funding plus another $120 million in investment from other sources.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “The Promise Zone designation will catalyze an effort across the South Carolina Lowcountry to meet identified goals essential to increasing the quality of life and accelerating efforts to create comprehensive community revitalization in the region.” Those efforts will be led by the SouthernCarolina Alliance, a Barnwell-based economic development nonprofit that covers the zone counties. Working with more than 28 other partner organizations, it will coordinate efforts to create jobs to improve educational outcomes, increase economic activity to leverage private capital, expand affordable housing and improve public safety.
“This is a shining example of when people with vision come together to look at what they can do to make their communities a better place,” said Dr. Ann Carmichael, dean of the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie in Walterboro and Allendale. “This is going to provide a tremendous opportunity to us to address some of the needs that we have to make rural South Carolina stronger.”