Rural communities need to seize opportunities

Commentary by Andy Brack from Statehouse Report

People in rural counties across South Carolina know the challenges they face.

Barnwell County residents talk during a July 9 town hall meeting.

Barnwell County residents talk during a July 9 town hall meeting.

They know about their high poverty, higher than normal unemployment, challenged schools and need for better health care facilities. They understand how their tax rates are higher than urban areas because of the lack of a broad industrial tax base to help fund local services.

But they also know these problems can be solved. They just need more resources, better infrastructure and more collaboration to get things done.

That crystal clear message came through in three town hall meetings — one each in Bamberg, Allendale and Barnwell counties — put together by the SouthernCarolina Alliance to listen to ideas for change as the organization works to roll out opportunities through a new federal Promise Zone designation.

“If you don’t change, you die,” one woman succinctly said. Almost 300 people turned out at the three sessions — a phenomenal number of leaders, black and white, from a dynamic cross-section of the communities. Their dreams and enthusiasm for the future were contagious. Long ignored by the powers that be, they are starting to see the great possibilities offered by collaborating with new partners and being able to tap into federal grant programs in special ways because of the Promise Zone designation.

Real changes in the six counties of the Promise Zone are possible. But leaders in these counties, just like those in other rural counties across the state, must work together and seize the ripe opportunities that are there for the taking.

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