Sparking creative ideas for downtown growth

The state’s economy is bouncing back, and cities are getting creative in how they are attracting and supporting local businesses. No longer can they rely on the old adage of "if we build it, they will come."

Anderson, Hartsville and Greenwood have taken imaginative approaches to reach the same goal of getting entrepreneurs interested in bringing unique businesses downtown. Leaders in all three of these cities agree that the city’s role in economic development is defining and creating a business friendly environment that will be a catalyst for economic growth both downtown and citywide.

Accelerate Anderson Downtown Business Challenge
The Accelerate Anderson Downtown Business Challenge awards winning
recipients $12,000 in incentive reimbursements that can be spent on
lease or rent payments, upfit, design and signage.

Both Hartsville and Anderson have launched programs that give local entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive incentive reimbursements to help them get a business up and running.

"We want to make it easy for businesses to want to locate in downtown," said Hartsville’s Main Street Executive Director Suzy Moyd.

Hartsville launched its StartUp Hartsville program that features a "Shark Tank-type" competition to help entrepreneurs open a downtown business. Last May, the program kicked off by awarding $12,000 in rental assistance to two businesses that were planning to open downtown. The program also provides legal, marketing and accounting support to the winning businesses.

Keesha Moore with Red Fox To Go Box, Hartsville, SC 
Keesha Moore with Red Fox To Go Box, a StartUp Hartsville finalist.
Picture courtesy of Heather Page of VIP Magazine.

The owners presented their business plans to a panel of business leaders and economic development professionals. The judges made their selections based on the business’ economic viability, business plan and the ability to open quickly. An entrepreneur opening a boutique featuring handmade accessories and another who was opening a furniture boutique and wine/bourbon bar were the first contest winners.

Leaders in Anderson took a similar approach, launching the Accelerate Anderson Downtown Business Challenge in 2015.

"The contest helps local entrepreneurs bring their business downtown," said Assistant City Manager David McCuen. The Challenge awards winning recipients $12,000 in incentive reimbursements that can be spent on lease or rent payments, upfit, design and signage.

Using creative signage in vacant storefront windows, the city promoted the contest with banners that said "Win This Space" and "Picture This … Winning $12,000 to help get your business going." In its first year, the Challenge awarded incentives to two businesses—a chocolate shop and a theater. The chocolate shop relocated downtown from another part of town, and the theater opened in the Anderson County Arts Center.

The success of Greenwood’s creative approach stems in large part from the 2003 Greenwood City Center Master Plan which focused on developing the Emerald Triangle. The Emerald Triangle is a 9-acre arts district that has established a "sense of place" for downtown, according to City Manager Charlie Barrineau.

Using the 2003 master plan as its guide, the city and its partners focused largely on building the "destination" and letting the businesses follow, according to Barrineau. The Uptown Greenwood Development Corporation began marketing efforts three years ago with targeted ads in regional quality-of-life magazines and through social media. The city has also widely used a number of videos for social media targeted to selling the Uptown as a destination where new businesses can grow.

Learn more about these creative approaches during a session at the Annual Meeting on Thursday, July 14.