Each January for the past six years, I have requested this space to communicate with our community. It has given me a chance to express appreciation for the progress we have shared and to send a message for the year ahead.
While I serve as the mayor of the city of Spartanburg, my continuing and growing sense is that the welfare of our city has become increasingly essential to the greater health of the broad community of Spartanburg County. My thesis, regardless of where you live, is that what happens in our center city represents an important asset for everyone.
Last year, a group of your elected and appointed officials met with an advance team from a large major corporation looking at placing a significant investment of dollars and jobs in Spartanburg County. There was never the possibility of those jobs landing in the city of Spartanburg; however, I was happy to be part of our team attempting to encourage them to choose this community over alternative locations being considered by them. At the end of our discussion, they mentioned that they had several hours before departing from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. I offered to take the group (there were approximately 10 of them) downtown and give them a tour.
Their response startled me. They said they already had planned to break up into several teams "to go into our downtown and walk around," thereby gaining "a sense of our community, pride, focus and energy." The lesson was clear - that many of the decisions that are made by key job creators are importantly centered around the quality of life of our cities and the energy the city displays. As we try to encourage more and better-paying jobs for our citizens, the essential role of our city cannot be minimized or misunderstood.
No, this is not a commentary about the annexation policy in South Carolina. It is a recognition that our cities contain many (most) of our key institutions and most of the service providers for people whether they live within that city footprint or somewhere else. Our cities most often contain our largest churches, medical services and service providers ranging from Mobile Meals to the United Way.
Therefore, when I tout the energy and enthusiasm for our city centric mission, I hope there are many people in our unincorporated areas who will understand its importance to their quality of life.
I have come to believe our community is comparable to a painting. You and I can choose what we want to paint on that canvas. What we do and how we do it sends a message not only to those of us who live here but to those who may be considering coming to join us. We need more and better-paying job opportunities for our citizens. We create the message to those who make the decisions about those jobs.
2007 was an excellent year for our community. Our successes range from the creative energy and functionality of the Chapman Cultural Center to the important addition of a long-awaited retail center on South Church Street.
We celebrated a terrific Dickens of a Christmas about the same time that we hosted the Shrine Bowl in Gibbs Stadium at Wofford as well as the ESPN nationally televised finals of the Professional Bowlers Association Tour (happily brought to us by Denny's).
We note the expansion of Hub-Bub. We invested in more landscaping and hosted many important groups at our Marriott hotel. More buildings are dotting our landscape - from banks to office buildings to condominiums and apartments. The energy is palpable, and the potential is terrific. We must retain and build on this momentum.
I am particularly excited about the announcement of the University of South Carolina Upstate joining with the city and private investors to bring its newly named George Dean Johnson Jr. College of Business and Economics to St. John Street.
Consider for a moment 850 students, all majoring in business and economics, and a distinguished faculty beginning to create internships with our local companies or nurturing a positive environment for entrepreneurs. How about the boost that this enterprise will offer retail investment throughout our downtown business district?
As we admit each year, we have many challenges, and each of us can point to those things we could do better or to problems or deficits we share. However, thanks to many in both the public and private sector, it appears - at least to me - that the momentum of our shared community continues to build.
I want to be sure the many who have contributed to our growth in 2007 are thanked. This includes partners ranging from our church leaders to our business CEO to so many thoughtful and generous citizens who give of their time and resources to fuel so many great projects as common gifts to all of us. To each one of you, we express our collective thanks.
I also want to thank the members of our City Council who share a common vision for growth and higher per-capita income for all of our citizens. And please know that without Mark Scott, Ed Memmott, Tony Fisher, Mitch Kennedy and each and every member of the city team, none of this would have been possible.
If you want to make your Spartanburg (be it the city or the broader urban footprint) flourish, you and I can do it. Every one of us can play a role, whether it is mentoring a child, offering assistance to a middle school principal, adopting a park or improving your home or business landscaping.
The keys to all of this have to do with vision, encouragement and energy. If you want a better place to offer our children, stay positive! Too often, I am amazed at the naysayers who find ways to discourage or dismantle progress. We must reject that mind-set in favor of building community.
I believe the city of Spartanburg is approaching a key "tipping point" - that is, a point in its evolution where, by virtue of the actions and energies of the many, we arrive at that point where we no longer need to push so very hard, but rather we can watch as additional investment builds more naturally based on what is already in place. Our job then will be to judge, with patience, quality products that will serve the next generation well.
Once again, Happy New Year to all. From my family to your family, our best wishes for a healthy, prosperous and happy 2008.
Bill Barnet is the mayor of Spartanburg.