Top dogs from agencies, companies, educational institutions, government and military in Sumter County revealed this weekend what they started a year ago with the hope of creating a three-year plan to better the community.
Awareness, marketing and …
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Awareness, marketing and communicating needs across Sumter's stakeholder groups was a main takeaway from the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce's annual retreat, which was held Feb. 2-4 in Greenville.
"A group like this can transform a community," Sumter Mayor Joseph T. McElveen said Sunday morning during a tag-team review of the city and county government goings-on with Sumter County Council Chairman James T. McCain Jr.
The main talking point that came out of the weekend was a deeper dive into the three-year strategic plan that the Chamber began discussing at the 2017 retreat. This year, breakout sessions were used on Saturday to determine specific, actionable goals in education, small business and government and military affairs.
While each breakout session represented one of the seven areas of the strategic plan, they all seemed to overlap. Education and existing industry leaders came together to find ways to fill skilled worker jobs. Government officials talked with small business owners to brainstorm how to welcome more businesses, which inevitably makes the area more inviting to military families. Companies and other community groups asked what they can do to help public schools get access to resources - and what those resources are.
"A common theme last year was communication," said Chris Hardy, president and CEO of the Chamber, "and it continues to be the case."
The breakout session with the highest attendance and the most exchange of ideas, concerns and goals was in education, which spanned public schools, post-secondary and workforce development and melded into existing industry - a separate strategic initiative - goals.
Educational institution leaders and a majority of the weekend's attendees representing industries discussed how to bridge the gap between schooling and jobs.
"We need young people, and we need them tomorrow," said one executive.
With there being plenty of jobs available to a skilled workforce, who typically earn higher salaries than unskilled but who need some form of training or schooling, the goal on Saturday was to figure out how to both get young people to want those jobs and give them the resources to land them and to communicate those needs between the schooling institutions and industries.
Eliza Buxton, manager of operations at the Sumter Development Board, said on Sunday Sumter's per-capita income in 2006 was about $25,000. Now, she said, it is between $35,000 and $40,000.
Part of the discussion on Saturday was how to get young people in the workforce in the first place.
Participants also talked about the possibility of holding events to spread awareness of those needs and of jobs available in Sumter right out of high school, after what levels of further education and of soft-skills training - a major need in skilled jobs.
It's one thing to educate Sumterites and set them up for any job, but it's better to educate them for a job in Sumter, of which there are many great ones, many said throughout the weekend.
"It's great to have things grow as a state, but it's also great to have things grow as a community," said Brian Rauschenbach, project manager for economic development.
Other education initiatives in the strategic plan the Chamber wants to complete in the next three years include increasing business community engagement in schools through Golden Apple awards and career leadership forums, partnering with young leadership programs, expanding the Partners In Education program, sustaining the Educator of the Year program, ensuring a public technical high school becomes a reality and promoting local opportunities to students in higher education.
Another breakout session discussed the strategic initiative of small business development, where participants went over goals to create a small business hotline, a "how to start a business" guide and a consultation program to assist startups, how to use higher education partners to create new support opportunities, how to market and promote Simply Sumter - a shop local program - and create a monthly small business spotlight and hold an annual event that celebrates local companies during Small Business Week.
Conversations discussed how do they market individual businesses and the small business scene in Sumter as a whole? How do they set up businesses for success?
GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY AFFAIRS
These two strategic initiatives were discussed in one breakout session that largely revolved around creating awareness to military families of what there is to do in Sumter and why they should live locally instead of in Columbia or Florence.
Sumter County Council Chairman McCain Jr. brought up the revolving issue local governments and economic development leaders face anywhere that, often, people don't want to move somewhere if they think there is nothing to do, but, often, businesses and improving an area takes people moving there.
Goals in the plan include creating a legislative priorities agenda and communicating issues with Chamber members.
Sumter is known for its support of Shaw Air Force Base and its families, but there is still a culture that the base and the rest of the county are two separate entities. How do we get military families to come downtown or move here, he asked.
On Sunday, Maj. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist, commander, Ninth Air Force, Air Combat Command, Shaw Air Force Base, asked attendees to reach out to new neighbors and make connections. He said the "uncommon patriotism" Sumter is known for remains steadfast but that more can always be done.
"You recruit the airman," he said, "but you retain the family."
Also in the Chamber's strategic plan to be tackled in the next three years but not expressly given a breakout session - though it was reiterated throughout the weekend that none of the goals will work without them all coming into play - include:
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