After serving a distinguished 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, including the last two-plus years at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, Chris McKinney said he felt God still had a purpose for him locally and in the greater region.
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That premonition held true when about a month after his military retirement, he was selected in October as new executive director for Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments. COG is a quasi-governmental agency - established decades ago by the state Legislature - that serves the four-county region of Sumter, Clarendon, Lee and Kershaw and traditionally has worked with area municipal and county governments to improve quality of life in the region.
McKinney, 49, said achieving that mission is accomplished through various programs and services that COG offers, such as a workforce development department that administers and oversees SC Works
employment centers in the four counties. Other programs include a health and human services department that meets the needs of older adults in the area and an economic and community sustainability division that provides various planning, zoning and other services in the four counties, according to McKinney.
In his last position in the Air Force, McKinney served as command chief master sergeant for the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw. The position served as the wing's senior enlisted leader and was just below the wing commander and vice wing commander, he said. In the role, McKinney served as an executive adviser to the wing commander for the entire base - which includes about 8,500 officers and enlisted personnel and their families and also area retirees who utilize the base in some way.
That's a total of more than 31,000 people McKinney was responsible to for some type of professional development, training, morale or welfare. By themselves, base personnel are a part of about 20 different organizations at Shaw, McKinney said.
His military job required a lot of negotiating skills and working in a spirit of compromise for the common good of all, McKinney said.
Even though the COG executive director post is a different form of public service, McKinney said he sees many similarities in working with the counties' diverse elected leaders and other leaders.
"From the small towns to the bigger municipalities to the county level, perspective is often based on where you sit," McKinney said. "So, trying to get people to see beyond where they sit and working toward the common good is an important skill that I think will definitely help."
He said COG's mission to improve quality of life is something "he can put his heart into," similar to how he identified with the Air Force's mission to serve our country.
Given decreased federal and state funding in the last decade to operate programs and an ultra-competitive grant environment, McKinney wants to create new revenue streams for the COG and its 30-person staff.
That will be accomplished through providing additional services of value in the region that governments or private companies are willing to pay a fee for, he said.
"We must do things to become more resilient so we aren't tossed to and fro by state and federal budgets," McKinney said. "We're shifting from only waiting on grants to more of a 'if you don't hunt, you don't eat' mentality. Meaning: How can we add more value locally in our region for things that people need? Then, we can maintain the stability on our professional staff."
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