In January 2013, the Obama Administration announced a new federal Promise Zone designation program in January 2013 to help 20 high-poverty communities across the nation gain new tools and resources to tap into grant monies and other resources to create jobs, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities and reduce violent crime.
In 2014, a group of state nonprofit leaders working with the Center for a Better South, identified the potential that a Promise Zone designation could have for counties at the southern tip of the state that had several poverty and economic challenges. After contact with key leaders at the University of South Carolina, the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance, a six-county economic development group, agreed to take the lead in developing an application to try to win a Promise Zone designation.
The Alliance put together a leadership team that included its staff and officials with the Center, the University, Chernoff Newman and the South Carolina Association of Community Economic Development. In a collaborative effort, they identified a region of 90,004 people who live in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties as facing numerous and significant community challenges stemming from high rates of poverty and unemployment, as well as comparatively few opportunities compared to the rest of the State.
By the fall, the leadership team then developed a strategic vision for the six-county area and worked to secure partnerships and supporters from more than 30 public, private, and nonprofit groups, including, but not limited to, the county governments of each of the region’s counties. Supporting groups and partners included Allendale County Alive, Center for a Better South, Coastal Conservation League, Denmark Technical College, Electrical Cooperatives of S.C., Envision S.C., GrowFoods Carolina, several local law enforcement agencies, Lowcountry Council of Governments, Lower Savannah Council of Governments, Palmetto Agribusiness Council, Palmetto Project, SCANA, several private banks, S.C. Association of Community Economic Development, S.C. Council on Competitiveness, S.C. Department of Agriculture, S.C. Department of Commerce, S.C. Housing Authority, S.C. Power Team, S.C. Sustainability Institute, S.C. Technical College System, S.C. Victim Assistance Network, State of S.C. second and fourteenth Judicial District Circuits, Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance, Technical College of the Lowcountry, Transform S.C., USC Office of Economic Engagement, USC Salkehatchie and USC Salkehatchie Leadership Institute.
In November 2014, the leadership team, in association with partners and supporters, drafted and submitted a compelling application for a federal Promise Zone designation. In April 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance that it won the only rural federal Promise Zone designation in the second round of winners.
The designation, which will last for 10 years, will allow the counties in the zones to secure special help in crafting applications for existing federal grants and other resources, as well as preferences for certain competitive federal grant programs and technical assistance from participating federal agencies.
In May 2015, the South Carolina Senate passed a resolution honoring the team that won the designation. Read it here.