Upstate Reality Check aims to bring political and community leaders together to plan for the large amount of growth due to hit the regional in the next 22 years.
Hal Johnson, president of economic development agency Upstate Alliance, the group behind the initiative, gave a presentation on the effort to County Council members last week.
An estimated 234,000 new residents will move into the area by 2031, and an estimated 203,000 new jobs will be added to the region by that year as well, he said.
That growth will bring with it $15 billion in transportation infrastructure needs, $128 million in water infrastructure needs, $239 million in wastewater construction and $180 million in storm water infrastructure, according to Clemson University figures.
In April, representatives from 10 counties will meet to “have a conversation about growth, the realities of growth that are going to happen whether we want them to or not,” Johnson said.
“Do we grow by choice or do we grow by chance?” Johnson asked. “It’s not doom and gloom, but the reality is … we have to have ask ourselves, “How do we make that growth happen without taking away from the quality of life that we’re all used to?”
The Upstate doesn’t want to find itself in situations like that of Atlanta, whose infrastructure has not been able to keep up with its growth, he said.
“We’ve got to plan for this type of stuff,” Johnson said. “It’s going to happen.”
Meeting with regional leaders is essential to plan for that growth, he said.
On April 8, leaders will meet at the Carolina First Center in Greenville for an all-day planning session.
During the meeting, leaders will participate in exercises designed to foment planning strategies, Johnson said.
“We’ve got 250,000 people to the area, we’ve got 203,000 new jobs that are going to be created,” he said. “How are we going to support it? How are we going to fund it?
“There’s going to be a lot of disagreements, a lot of roadblocks, a lot of consensus building,” Johnson said. “The best thing that comes out of this is, is people actually learn how to come together and compromise for what’s best for the region.”
The meetings, and any agreements and alliances between counties that result from it, are not intended to be zoning ordinances or land planning ordinances, Johnson said.
“This is not something that’s going to tell you how to do your business,” he said. “It’s a conversation with other people in the area about growth.”
Industry leaders interested in locating their companies in the Upstate don’t care about county lines, Johnson said.
“What they care about is a site that has the greatest return on investment,” he said. “We have to understand that the boundaries we’re so used to defining in our everyday life, they’re overreached by infrastructure.”
Pickens County is invited to send 40 people to the meeting, Johnson said.
“If you don’t participate, and all other nine counties in the region do, surely your fate is dictated by the other nine counties,” he said. “We need you to participate.”
County Council Chairman G. Neil Smith asked council members to bring lists of possible invitees from around the county to the next County Council meeting.
“It needs to be good leadership,” Johnson said. “It needs to be folks that, if they were challenged to make things happen, they could pull folks together.”
Upstate Alliance hopes to raise $300,000 to allow it to move forward with ideas created at the regional meeting, Johnson said.
Participating counties will be asked to help with fundraising, but monetary amounts haven’t been determined yet.
For more information, visit upstaterealitycheck.com.