By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
Officials from municipal and county governments and the local board of education convened their quarterly City / County Supper March 30 at the Darlington Country Club, and though various issues were discussed, the overall theme centered around one idea: how Darlington County might retain young citizens and encourage growth.
“How do we get young folks to stay in Darlington County?” asked Connell Delaine of the Darlington County School Board. “Over the course of the last twelve years or so, we have lost 3,000 kids out of our school district. So you see where we’re headed.”
Delaine encouraged teamwork and idea exchanges between all local governments and agencies to figure out how to stop this youth drain and get Darlington County growing again.
As a first step, he suggested investing in the appearance of Society Hill, which sees around 4,000 travelers pass through each day and is the first impression people get when entering the county via a major north/south highway. Visitors need a reason to stop in Society Hill “other than a blue light,” said Delaine, joking about the town’s reputation as a speed trap.
Darlington County administrator Terence Arrington broadened the discussion, asking local leaders to meet with him and trade ideas for brightening the county’s big picture outlook.
“What do we want Darlington County to look like? How can we become the next leader? How can we become the next place where residents want to live and grow and raise a family?” asked Arrington, characterizing the overall goal as recruiting the next generation of taxpayers for our area.
He urged those present to reach out to him with lists of needs and projects, and promised to help them exploit every funding resource available – from federal government grants to tourism revenue – to improve quality of life and cultivate an environment appealing to young professionals.
“You have to have the things young professionals are looking for if you want them to stay in your area,” Arrington said, listing things like free Wi-Fi as draws for downtown business and major pluses for appealing to young potential residents.
Darlington County Economic Development Partnership director Frank Willis added some positive news, saying that while there hasn’t been one big “sexy” announcement of new industry bringing 1,000 jobs in one fell swoop, many smaller businesses are expanding. He said that about 15 local firms have hired from 10 to 50 new employees apiece in the past year, and some have plans for further growth this year.
“If you add all the numbers together… we are up around 900 to 1,000 new jobs,” said Willis. “If our small businesses are growing, we’re growing.”
Watkins addressed the future retail growth expected when Walmart builds a Supercenter in Darlington (expected to open in about ten months) and expressed hope that the store would divert some local money from being spent in Florence. He cautioned against thinking of that neighboring city as a rival, citing that thousands of Darlington County citizens work in medical, industrial, and retail jobs in Florence.