Pickens County is not Greenville. Period.
So when it comes to how economic issues such as downtown revitalization are addressed, whether it is Pickens, Easley or Liberty, the Greenville model and plan is not, nor will it ever be, a fit. The tax base of property, sales and industry within the county does not allow for the same flexibility and spending Greenville is capable of bringing to bear.
S.C. 123, leading from Easley and Pickens County to Greenville, is both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, this four-lane corridor has brought opportunities for employment and shopping with big box businesses.
As a curse, this corridor has brought unrealistic expectations due to its proximity to Greenville proper, creating a slippery slope that has resulted in a loss of identity and history, becoming no more than a bedroom community.
The problem itself isn’t unique to our county, the Upstate or even South Carolina. Downtowns across the nation are failing, falling into disrepair, and becoming a thing of the past. But the good news is there are plenty of small cities and towns across the United States that have overcome this hurdle by using vision and foresight to develop vibrant and thriving downtown communities.
The solution here is to identify the character, heritage and people that make this a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Once this determination is made, there has to be a concerted effort to create an atmosphere that reflects the character of the community and its identity to the world, making it a mecca to one or more niche groups and appealing to one particular cross section of possible visitors and investors at any given time.
Located in the foothills, within hours of the coast, there is no reason Pickens County as a whole cannot become a destination for both tourism and economic investment. But to create the image, there has to be a vision and for this community, Greenville’s vision doesn’t apply.
If there is to be a real revitalization, the community’s political and economic leaders should steer clear of that little four lane corridor and look west, maybe only as far as Hendersonville, N.C., to see what the result of a unique vision can lead to.
Only through the work of zealous, dedicated and gifted community-minded leadership capable of seeing the end product is it possible to save what is the heart of every small town in America — downtown.