Monday, November 10, 2014

Strategies for Small Town Success

I was recently reading an article on “Strategies for Small Town Success.” It stated that leaders in struggling rural communities and small towns often pin their hopes for economic prosperity on the recruitment of a large manufacturing plant to “save” their town. Many small towns are sure that their big break is just around the corner, if only they can come up with the right financial incentives and industry recruitment strategy.

An unfortunate consequence of relying on strategies that focus exclusively on industrial recruitment is that many communities undervalue, or don’t understand, the importance of other determinants of a strong local economy. For example, existing business retention and expansion, entrepreneurial development of new small businesses, tourism, and retiree attraction often receive short shrift when compared to industrial recruitment efforts.

According to the article, it turns out that successful strategies for small town development typically include the following key elements: 1) Developing strong and diverse community leadership that is all inclusive, collaborative, and connected; 2) Identifying local assets and creating and carrying out a strategic plan based upon these assets; and 3) Joining with other nearby towns to maximize economic resources.

Thinking about the town of Summerton and the surrounding area, one of our major strengths lies in the abundance of opportunities for participating in outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, camping, golfing, birding, hiking, biking, kayaking, and eco-tourism. It quickly becomes apparent that for outdoor enthusiasts and vacationers, this area may be one of the best places to visit on the East coast.

In addition to the outdoor activities and abundant wildlife, Summerton and the surrounding area also has a rich history encompassing the settlement of the area by Native American tribes, such as the Catawba and Santee Indians, many hundreds of years before the first European settlers arrived. Couple this with the exploits of Gen. Francis Marion during the Revolutionary War, Gen. Potter's raid during the Civil War, key events related to school desegregation, and you can see why the area continues to attract many visitors to the area.

Clarendon County's economic development activities are heavily focused on bringing manufacturing and other new businesses to the area, which also benefits inhabitants of Summerton and the surrounding area in many ways. However, Summerton is already benefiting from a different 'informal' strategy by the local business community that has focused more heavily on catering to vacationers and retirees attracted by the rich history, outdoor activities, wildlife, and the traditional small town values of our town.

It would appear that developing a 'formal' long range strategy for growth and success of Summerton should involve getting the the entire community to think, work, and act together to help concentrate efforts on attracting visitors and retirees to the town and the surrounding area. In turn, tourism and retirement communities will bring all sorts of new 'service industry' businesses into the area to meet their needs.

Think about it. Does this make sense to you? Should the town of Summerton develop a 'formal' long range plan and strategy aimed specifically at bringing vacationers and retirees into the area? Share your thoughts with our readers.

* Also, make sure you visit the new Summerton S.C.: Nature & Outdoor Activities web site.

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