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Appalachian Regional Commission builds prosperity in SC

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of commentaries from governors of states comprising the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency for the region.

As our states grow, new initiatives often overshadow successful ones commenced long ago. One of these is the Appalachian Regional Commission.

In South Carolina, the northwestern counties of Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Pickens, Oconee and Spartanburg are within the Appalachian Region, which 1.2 million South Carolinians call home.

This region features some of our state’s most iconic natural landmarks, drawing visitors from near and far to experience the tranquil beauty of Issaqueena Falls or the austere majesty of Table Rock. The abundance of natural resources also provides a wealth of recreational opportunities. All told, these experiences helped to create robust tourism generating $2.3 billion in annual spending.

Along with its natural beauty, Appalachian South Carolina is also known for its significant manufacturing footprint, including BMW, Michelin Tires, GE, Milliken & Co. and others. The region is ever-expanding. In 2021 alone, we have announced 3,278 new jobs and over $650 million in new capital investment in the six counties representing Appalachian South Carolina.

That region is a benefactor of our state’s partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission. Established by an act of Congress in 1965, the ARC is a regional economic development agency created to address economic distress in the Appalachian region.

Thoughtful, deliberate ARC investment, combined with innovative thinking and the hardworking people of our state, has helped transform Upstate South Carolina into a thriving region.

Gov. Robert McNair was a lead proponent of the commission’s creation. He appointed Jim Konduros, an attorney and a native of Anderson County, to be South Carolina’s first representative on the commission.

Its focus in the 1960s and 1970s was to provide critical infrastructure to the often hard-to-reach and impoverished communities of the Appalachian region. Mr. Konduros led the first significant ARC investment in the state when he brought together the SC Highway Commission and the ARC to construct the 72-mile Cherokee Trail (SC Hwy. 11) through the state’s foothills.

Over the last almost 50 years, the ARC has funded 1,578 projects in our state, totaling nearly $250 million. Including match funding, total investment in the region reaches just over $680 million.

One of those projects — the South Carolina Center of Aviation and Technology Automotive Durability Track — will provide an automotive testing track with a dual purpose of training students and workers pursuing advance degrees in automotive engineering and research opportunities in South Carolina’s robust automotive manufacturing industry.

Training our workforce in skills like computer coding and automotive engineering will define our future workforce.

Another result of ARC investment is the Greenville Childcare Career Development Pipeline, which works to recruit, train, and provide a network for female and minority entrepreneurs interested in the childcare field.

Funds have also provided needed infrastructure improvements for the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which has spurred the growth of entrepreneurial venues and continues to provide enjoyment and recreation to South Carolina residents and tourists alike.

The growth tied to ARC-funded projects in these counties has been transformative to our Upstate’s local economies. One need only take a stroll down the streets of downtown Greenville, Spartanburg, Gaffney or Anderson to appreciate the ARC’s impact on local businesses and tourism industries.

The vision reflected by the wise investments of the Appalachian Regional Commission illustrates the abundance of opportunities in this region. The best is yet to come.

Henry McMaster is governor of South Carolina.

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