More than 50 people from Lafayette are in Greenville, South Carolina, this week, to see if there's anything they can learn from that city's growth that might apply here.
It marks the third time One Acadiana, the regional chamber of commerce, has hosted a trip to another state for folks who have an interest in the growth and economic development of Acadiana. Previously, they have led visits to Lexington, Kentucky, and Charleston, South Carolina.
Midway between Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, the region became a hub for the textile industry. Greenville officials began billing themselves as the Textile Capital of the South.
Yet when those textile companies began moving those jobs overseas, the economy became stagnant.
City councilman Russell Stall, speaking on the city's history on Sunday afternoon, admitted he moved away from the city and never thought he'd return. Since then, though, the city has diversified its economy and built a downtown that has become a hub of commercial and residential activity.
Greenville is home to many national and international corporations such as Michelin North America, General Electric, and BMW.
"Greenville wasn’t a place where people wanted to be," Stall said. "There was not a lot for people to do. The Greenville I moved to 20 years ago was nothing like the Greenville I left. And it’s nothing like the Greenville today."
For the past 30 years, the city has teamed with the private sector to create development partnerships, stimulating a major revitalization of the central business district.
Downtown Greenville has gone from abandoned warehouses and empty storefronts to having a thriving central business district, with up-scale restaurants and high-end residential units.
The small southern city of just under 60,000 residents is now a popular destination for shopping, dining and entertainment, and it's rebirth has been recognized nationally.
The turning point, restaurant owner Carl Sobocinski said, may have been the Reedy River Falls Park. It's the only natural waterfall in a downtown area in the country, Stall noted, and a pedestrian bridge helped change downtown from a place to visit to a place to live.
“That became a place where you can get out and be active,” he said. “Living downtown and having that green space park was real catalyst in having that residential park take off.”
“Thirty years ago, Greenville’s leaders rallied together behind a vision to develop one of the best downtowns in America," Carlee Alm-LaBar said at the outset of the trip. "I am excited to learn about the vision, planning, and execution behind Greenville’s success and how we can apply the lessons learned here in Acadiana.”
Alm-LaBar is director of traditional neighborhood developments for Southern Lifestyle Development
“The BMW plant in Spartanburg was a game-changing economic development win for the Upstate South Carolina region," said Katie Chaisson, director of business and economic development for CLECO. "One of the key takeaway lessons I’m looking forward to learning is how the region attracted a global powerhouse like BMW and how to further position Acadiana for big economic development wins in the future.”
In addition to information sessions, the Acadiana visitors were expected to a downtown Greenville and a BMW factory.