Local leaders learn about economic collaboration during trip to South Carolina

Local leaders toured the South Carolina Inland Port (Photo credit: Kevin O’Neill/WKCTC)

PADUCAH — Paducah and McCracken County leaders are back home after traveling to Greenville, South Carolina, to learn about economic growth. And they said the big takeaway is the importance of collaboration.

Mayor Brandi Harless, City Commissioner Sandra Wilson, McCracken County Judge Executive Craig Clymer, and County Commissioners Jeff Parker and Bill Bartleman were among more than 20 officials from throughout Paducah who went on a bus trip to Greenville last week. They arrived there Thursday night, then spent Friday touring the Center for Manufacturing Innovation at Greenville Technical College, as well as the South Carolina Inland Port.

West Kentucky Community and Technical College organized the trip.

According the the U.S. Census, Greenville was the fourth fastest-growing city in the country from July 2015 to July 2016, increasing its population by 5.8 percent to a total of 67,453 residents. Greenville is part of South Carolina’s Upstate region, which is comprised of 10 counties and is home to manufacturing facilities for BMW, Michelin, Fuji, GE Power and others.

Photo credit: Kevin O’Neill/WKCTC

“They have really focused on automotive manufacturing, advanced material manufacturing. But more than anything, I’d say, and they’ve told us this — their secret sauce was collaboration,” said Harless. “They have this organization called Upstate Alliance that helps to generate marketing and leads for their entire region, so there is no territorial issues. There is everyone saying that all ships rise with the tide.”

Bartleman wants to replicate that regional collaboration in west Kentucky, hoping the area would eventually form an umbrella agency that helps coordinate work being done across multiple counties to drive economic growth.

“We have to take down what I call the Berlin Walls that exist between one county and another county,” said Bartleman.

A look inside the training equipment at Greenville Techinical College (Photo credit: Kevin O’Neill/WKCTC)

Harless said she also learned during the trip that Paducah is heading in the right direction.

“I was really encouraged, because many of the things that they said they did 20 years ago to spur on the growth that they see now, are things that we’re doing here in Paducah,” said Harless. “When we asked the interim city manager what she gives credit for all the growth in their downtown, she said the TIF district. And that’s something that we’re finally getting finalized here in Paducah.”

Bartleman said Paducah and McCracken County have assets similar to the ones that have made Greenville successful. The key, he said, is to identify those assets and take advantage.

“We have three Class I railroads that come through the area. We have the river that comes through the area. We have two interstates: 69 and I-24. We got connections to about, I think, two-thirds of the country within a six or seven-hour drive of here,” said Bartleman. “So it was encouraging to see that their success was built on some of the same assets we have here.”

Photo credit: Kevin O’Neill/WKCTC

As for what’s next, Bartleman said it’s important to continue discussions about what they’ve learned in South Carolina and redouble local efforts to collaborate.

The Paducah Sun has also been following the trip to South Carolina. You can read their first story here. Part two of their coverage will be in Tuesday’s paper. It will focus on education and workforce training.

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