Mayors are getting by with a little help from their friends

James Cash Penney who founded J.C. Penney department stores in 1902 once said, "Cooperation proves the quality of leadership."

Fast forward 100+ years later and Penney would be impressed by South Carolina mayors as they reach across their city limits to help their region succeed while advancing their own community.

Within the past year, the mayors of Mullins, Marion, Sellers and Nichols have formed the Marion County Mayors" Coalition. The first big project they are taking on is strategic planning.

Why are they taking a regional approach to strategic planning?

"Frankly, it just makes sense," said Mullins Mayor Bo McMillan.

"I don't care if the jobs are in Marion or in Florence-all of our residents will have access to them. I believe totally in strength in numbers and in brainpower," he added.

The strategic plan that the mayors" coalition is working on involves four main goals: workforce development, job creation, product development, and marketing and communications.

The Town of Sellers, which has a population of only 300 people, would never be able to afford a plan like this. "The smaller communities get left out," said Sellers Mayor Barbara Hopkins. She explained that this collaboration has helped her build a better community. "We are finally getting a new town hall, a library and a community center," said Mayor Hopkins. "The other mayors have really supported me."
According to Mayor Bobby Davis of the City of Marion, this collaboration has had only positive feedback from residents and industry alike. "Prospects are giving us a closer look," he said.

Marion County's 22 active industrial projects illustrate Mayor Davis" point.

In the Lowcountry, the Town of Mount Pleasant, the City of Charleston and the City of North Charleston, along with the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce, are taking a regional approach to streamline the business license process for businesses that work in multiple jurisdictions.

Mount Pleasant Town Administrator Eric DeMoura has seen many synergies by working together. "First of all, the business community is happy to see us all coming to the table," he said.

"We-re all trying to improve our services," he said. "We have so much in common that it was time to work together. Collaborating on this business licensing initiative has resulted in better relationships with the business community and stronger intergovernmental relationships within the county."

In Orangeburg, city and county councils met in December to discuss a host of mutual concerns, ranging from fire service and annexation to litter control and taxes. While no formal action was taken, both councils agreed to work on resolving the issues and to continue the conversation.

Lake City in the Pee Dee is taking a regional approach to business development, and Mayor Lovith Anderson is encouraged by their successes to date.

"It's hard for small towns to bring in major industry," he said. "We are learning that when we pool our resources we can create a more level playing field, then all of us benefit from an industry locating in the region." 

"We have a mobile workforce," he explained. "People are not necessarily working where they live. They are willing to commute."

Mayor Anderson pointed to Continental Tire's $500 million investment in Sumter County that is expected to create 1,600 jobs. "The plant is only 35 miles from Lake City, which is an easy commute," added Mayor Anderson.

It wasn't always easy. "Communication is always an issue. However, each community has similar problems and issues. We can all learn from each other," he said.

Mayor Anderson emphasized the need for regional partnerships. "What affects one small community, affects us all. In the old days, each little town competed against another. Now, we have to help each other."