NOBLE: Promise Zone offers long-term hope

Charleston businessman Phil Noble offered the following observations in August 2015 in a column picked up by newspapers throughout South Carolina.  An excerpt:

PromiseZone_logoOne of the most shameful and enduring problems in South Carolina is the huge gap between the prosperous/urban and poor/rural areas of our state. Most of these poor/rural counties are along Interstate 95, dubbed The Corridor of Shame – and it is.

But some recent big news offers real, long-term hope for the southern part of the corridor. It’s called the Promise Zone.

To quote from the new website, “In January 2013, the Obama Administration announced a new federal Promise Zone designation program to help 20 high-poverty communities across the nation gain new tools and resources to tap into grant monies and other resources to create jobs, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities and reduce violent crime and generally improve the quality of life.”

In 2014, a group of 28 South Carolina nonprofit, government and business leaders, working with Andy Brack and the Center for a Better South, identified the potential that a Promise Zone designation could have for counties at the southern tip of the state that have severe poverty and huge economic challenges. After discussions with key leaders, Danny Black and the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance agreed to take the lead in developing an application to try to win a Promise Zone designation.

In April, the group was notified that it had received the official Promise Zone designation. Our Zone will be one of only two Promise Zones chosen in a rural area. (Full disclosure: I work with EnvisionSC, a new initiative to make South Carolina “world class and globally connected” and we are one of the partner organizations supporting the Promise Zone.)

The six S.C. Promise Zone counties are Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties – home to more than 90,000 South Carolinians. In these counties, 28 percent live in poverty and the median household income is $32,705, or 25 percent less than South Carolina’s income level and 45 percent less than the U.S. average. As one would expect, educational attainment and employment rates are also low among residents and quality affordable housing is very scarce.

The way the program works is the leadership of the Promise Zone will craft a long-term strategic plan to develop the area, and then organizations within the zone can apply for federal funding for special projects and receive preferential treatment for their grant application. In short, most any community group in the Zone that applies for federal grants to support their work goes to the head of the line. And, this special treatment lasts for 10 years, long enough to really begin to have a positive impact.

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