I think often about economic development for Old Town Rock Hill, SC. We need to apply a fundamentally different approach to this situation than we have applied to economic development issues in the past. Though, having said that, we need to learn from our successes and failures as well.
We don’t need a “strategy” per se, we need a vision and a tactical plan… that is our strategy. I can put forward the strategy in a page. Then, we should spell out specific tactical actions we should take – allowing these to evolve.
We must think like an entrepreneur technology company if we hope to recruit them. The strategies of these companies are fundamentally different than what they looked like (and still look like) for more traditional businesses. The five-year business plan concept is archaic to the technology company. Five years!?! So much changes in five years in technology. Now does that mean you jump in blind? No. Instead, you have a vision of where you are headed, and you focus on the tactical implementation activity that bears fruit immediately (or in the nearest spring). While doing this, you remain self-aware, market-aware, and you learn from what is working and what is not. Agility, diligence, innovation, and talent… these are key. The same principle applies to Old Town. We have a vision. Let’s start by plotting all the properties, projects, and potential. We know that we want: High-density, high-tech, mixed-use, walkable urbanism. That’s our strategy right there…
1. Identified Geography with delineated properties, projects, and potential.
2. Identified vision of the future we are creating: high-density, high-tech, mixed-use, walkable urbanism.
So, let’s then move into tactical implementation of that which will bare fruit.
Here are some specific examples…
We need affordable apartments downtown. By affordable, I mean something a 25 year old with a good starting technology job or contracting gig could afford. We need to make Woolworth happen now. And we need to stop raising the rents in Bass McFadden or we’re going to end up with retired couples in those apartments… they are getting way too high.
“Business Park” mentality
We need to learn from the success of the business parks. A business park is ONE THING – a singularity. You can go to it online and see all the properties and incentives and benefits for being located there. We need to create that feeling of singularity for Old Town. Though, we do not need to call it a park. It’s already called Old Town. Let’s don’t call it anything else. Let’s remember that we are trying to create a singularity, not a new layer of duality. No new names… just Old Town.
We must always remember that a brand is not an identity. An identity is earned through authenticity (through actually being something)… a brand is just a communications tool to try and help create that identity. We definitely do not need to change the brand “Old Town”. It is the new and creative use of old space. That’s what people will come here for. We don’t need “Innovation Way”… we need “Anderson Way” that has innovative businesses along it. We don’t need “NEXT center”… we need “The Bleachery” that has innovative businesses, creative restaurants, and interesting living spaces (exposed brick, high and exposed ceilings, etc.). Linking the old with the new is what’s cool. Authenticity is cool… always has been, always will be.
Old Town Lifestyle v. Economic Development
We have to move away from this notion that “Only in Old Town” is a lifestyle thing, and that we are working on an economic development thing. They are the same thing. High-tech companies and entrepreneurs will locate in Old Town because of the talent, and talent wants to be at the pizza place, mchales, cool apartments, concerts, etc. If we are able to show that there are software jobs available in a cool old building that has been retrofitted with cutting edge technology where you can walk to lunch and walk to your apartment and see live music in the evenings… that is the deal people want. So, we need jobs, space, property, lifestyle, events, restaurants, etc. to all be the same thing… that is Old Town.
A Thousand Voices
Yes, Old Town is one thing, but not controlled by one voice or one entity. We need a thousand voices, a thousand entities. That is Old Town. The place with a thousand voices. We don’t need to think that we need to reign things into one strategy, one umbrella, one control mechanism. That would be a huge flaw in thinking. We need to help connect those who want to work together, help connect people to resources, and help put a megaphone to the noise that arises from the clatter, but we do not need to try and organize all that is happening into a neat little plan, package, and voice. A thousand voices, not one voice.
Winthrop’s Digital Information Design (DIFD) program is top-notch and should be marketed heavily. It brings together Mass Com, Business, Programming, and Design folks into a single area of study that is about Internet Communications and Technologies. It is the senior class of this program that is Winthrop’s student contribution to the Hive. There is exceptional talent in this program already, and it is only a few years old.
The hive should be showcased nationally. It is an exemplary model in collaboration – public to public and public/private. Also, technology companies should know that they can recruit from there. It’s ok if people leave the hive and move to charlotte or new york or seattle or silicon valley… the fact that they came from the hive makes more students want to be a part of it, more companies want to utilize it, and more people want to locate near it. It makes Old Town the source of creative and technical Internet talent.
We need to invest in the businesses that are stepping to the plate to grow. Williams and Fudge is adding 100 employees… they need parking. Family Trust is building a 7 million dollar facility, what do they need? Bud Dark put all those employees in Old Town… what does he need? Insignia is growing, what do they need? We may not be able to give it to them, but we may be able to help connect them to success, or allow their needs to inform the priorities we set for tactical implantation of ideas. Or we may even just be able to provide a mechanism for them to market their needs to the private sector marketplace. Also, we need to advertise that we are supporting growth in Old Town and we welcome partners… that we are investing in those who invest in Old Town.
We need to have a place online where one can go and see the vision, the properties, the projects, the incentives, the private sector needs, and the potential of Old Town…. One website for that purpose… though it respects and links to and promotes (not controls and contains) the thousand voices that surround it.
We need to light up Old Town like a Christmas tree with Wifi. We need free and super powerful wifi from Winthrop to Saluda. So it’s not a cost; it’s just an open infrastructure component. Like roads. Yeah, they cost some where down the line, but a business doesn’t pay to be able to drive down the street.
These are just some ideas… just trowing this out there… surely it’s flawed… but if we don’t generate dialogue, then we just sit on our hands.