5 Key Takeaways from Acadiana's Second Day in Greenville, S.C.

On the second day of One Acadiana's leadership exchange in Greenville, South Carolina, discussions revolved around regionalism, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

A group of about 70 business, government and tourism leaders from Acadiana are visiting Greenville for three days to ask questions and glean lessons that could be applied back home. Here are some takeaways from day two.

1. Try to get the buy-in.

During his more than two decades as mayor, Knox White learned the importance of visuals when trying to get support for a project. 

"People are visual," he said. "It was most helpful when we finally had a picture of (Falls Park) to show people."

Still, he said that project — removing a traffic bridge and replacing it with a pedestrian suspension bridge and a large park — never had majority support. It took seeing it firsthand to get people to come around.

"The political controversy didn't go away until the day we opened Falls Park," White said. 

2. There's strength in numbers.

While it's tempting to try to do it all on your own, as a city or organization, you are more likely to succeed working as a region.

John Longshore, vice president of innovation for Global Location Strategies in Greenville, emphasized this point to the group with a black-and-white map of the southeast portion of the United States projected on a screen.

With one click of a button Lafayette Parish filled in as a small blue spot. Another click and all of Acadiana was blue. 

"Regionalism is my ability to see you and recognize you," said the site selection consultant from South Carolina. He works to find sites for companies across the country, so Acadiana could be on his radar.

Many in South Carolina take this approach. The delegation from Southwest Louisiana heard from officials with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, Upstate SC Alliance and Greenville Area Development Corporation.

3. Grow your own.

"There are people who are in your community now and they are worth your investment," Longshore said.

The chamber has several programs to help grow local businesses. Accelerate is Greenville’s private sector-fueled economic development initiative, according to its website.

One of the four strategies it focuses on is increasing the number and performance of minority-owned businesses, so the effort has expanded to include a Minority Business Accelerator. 

"We want to expand our own entrepreneurial ecosystem," Chamber President and CEO Carlos Phillips said.

It also has NEXT, a program that currently supports more than 150 knowledge-based companies in Upstate South Carolina. 

Jon-Michial Carter's company ChartSpan is a product of NEXT. He told the group from Louisiana that having an "umbrella or parent organization to act as air traffic controller" was a big help as he and his co-founded created their venture.

4. It takes time.

Bob Hughes, chairman of Hughes Development Corporation, said progress is "slower than you think," but that you have to start now.

Many of the speakers preached patience and spoke of planting seeds for future generations.

"Economic development, especially for these larger projects, takes a long time and a lot of investment," Longshore said.

He said people look at all the success and development Greenville has accomplished and say, "This is great."

His response: "Yeah, it took somebody to believe in it when it wasn't."

5. Nothing's perfect.

Greenville officials have talked about challenges, too.

The mayor and Councilman-at-large Russell Stall spoke of the lack of affordable housing and good public transportation, which the chamber president echoed.

There are people working downtown who can't afford to live there, and also face barriers like access to transportation to get to work and access to affordable child care, Philips said.

The city also needs to fill more than 500,000 square feet of vacant office space downtown, so it is working on an office market and recruitment strategy, said Nancy Whitworth, director of economic development for the city of Greenville.

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