We Cannot Rest on our Laurels


by Russell Stall
reprinted from the Upstate Business Journal | April 2013

The Greenville we know today is an award-winning place that continues to hit the top ten lists almost weekly.  In just the last few weeks, Greenville was named one of Outside Magazine’s Best Towns and one of Forbes’ Ten Transformed Neighborhoods, and Falls Park showed up as one of Trip Advisor’s Top U.S. Parks.

It’s hard not to be proud of Greenville, not just because of our continued presence on Top Ten lists, but because we get to enjoy the amazing quality of life we offer, every day.

The reasons Greenville lands on so many lists – the great Downtown, municipalities, and villages; the private/public partnerships that spur business success; the burgeoning, welcoming neighborhoods; the vibrant economy; the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail – didn’t happen by accident.

Nope, Greenville’s success is not accidental. It did not just happen. In 2002, a visioning process initiated by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce created a list of goals for Greenville County that were thoughtfully planned and carefully developed. Over 1,000 volunteers participated in the process, using the expertise of experts and leaders, reliable demographic and historical data, and the valued input from general public to generate ideas about what our cities, county, and region could look like and function like in the generations to come.

Those ideas became the Vision 2025 and were launched almost ten years ago. Among the goals, are items that are more challenging to reach than others. The Vision needed a shepherd to take these bold and aggressive goals, and to hold the community accountable for making them happen. And that’s where Greenville Forward came in.

Greenville Forward, a nonprofit organization, is charged and challenged with tracking, measuring, and facilitating Vision 2025. As a community catalyst that creates connections, inspires conversations, and develops leaders, we have been able to see some of those big, challenging items on the list of goals for Greenville become a real. We have certainly come a long way and are checking off vision successes continually.

Some people said a pedestrian bridge over the Reedy River Falls was not necessary. Taking down the bridge would make commutes longer. Look at the Liberty Bridge and Falls Park now. Some people said that tearing up the abandoned rail lines between Greenville and Travelers Rest was a waste of money and would invite crime and blight. Look at the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail now. Some said that our governments would never talk with one another or collaborate. Look at them now. And, some said that Greenville County, located in the deep South, could never be progressive and attract businesses from all over the world. Look at us now.

Greenville is the envy of communities from all over the world, and in the words of one of the communities who have visited us, we have moved from “mill town” to “will town.”

But despite Greenville’s successes, we are not done yet. We cannot just sit back and celebrate our success. Everything must evolve, including Vision 2025. As part of our role of as the facilitator of the Vision, we are continually looking at the gaps and identifying the issues most important to Greenville and Greenvillians. For example, a survey conducted by Greenville Forward showed that half of the college students from the Upstate would like to leave the area. Students didn’t think Greenville was creative or progressive enough. Now that we know that, we’re working on the next steps to encourage our community to keep young talent from leaving.

As we work to make sure Greenville is learning, green, healthy, creative, connected, inclusive, and innovative, we understand the need for tools and resources to empower our residents. That’s why if you want to make difference in the future of Greenville, you can volunteer at one of the gardens in our Gardening for Good network, learn more about the needs of Greenville’s most vulnerable populations on the Greenville Indicators website, or join the conversation at our monthly Momentum events.

We should challenge ourselves to embrace Greenville’s next great projects that will continue to make us the envy of the rest of the world, and to find the inspired leadership to make it happen. We cannot do it alone, and Greenville never has. Get involved. Give us a call.