York County should invest significantly in developing the “Agriconomy” (as I call it) – agri-business, agri-tourism, agri-lifestyle, etc. – in the western part of the county (everything west of Highway 321, which runs vertically through the middle of the county). This could be achieved with a comprehensive, rural, economic development strategy.
York County, SC, is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. Growth is funneling into the county from the neighboring city of Charlotte, NC, flooding downward into the northeastern corner of the county. The eastern part of the county is now an over-crowded, suburbanized City of Fort Mill and a bustling, rapidly growing City of Rock Hill.
Currently, the western half of the county is mostly rural in character, but that very character is what’s at stake with the growth that is coming. We can’t stop growth. We just don’t have that option. But, we can be smart about designing it in ways that create a healthy, positive, quality environment and community. There’s a lot that goes into manifesting such a future (like agreeing on what that even looks like for one!). But one thing is for certain, if these rural areas don’t figure out a way to have a thriving economy that is because of their rural nature, then they will end up with a thriving economy that has consumed their rural nature.
With the county’s support, Western York County should invest in the agriconomy to create the jobs and commerce needed while fostering the area’s rural character and retaining open spaces not just as a luxury, but also as an economic resource. Western York County is already poised for this. The current amount of farms and agri-businesses is impressive. Investing in the development of an ecosystem of such businesses in the region is a great economic development diversification strategy for the county, with the eastern portion of the county focusing on corporate headquarters, advanced manufacturing, and tech, and the western part of the county focusing on the agriconomy. It’s a good plan.
The agriconomy is made up of different types of businesses – retail, tourism, commercial, and industrial – but they all revolve around agriculture, and they each find unique ways to utilize agriculture as a source of economy, of food, of entertainment, of tourism, and of culture and lifestyle as well.
Agri-business specifically is an entrepreneurial, small-business-based marketplace existing around food (production, selling, delivery, preparation, and consumption). It’s the farm-to-table movement. Think craft beer, microgreens, local produce served at local restaurants, and so on. For many in and around the western part of York County, this farm-to-table phenomenon is not a new way of doing things, but an old way of doing things. However you see it though, it’s a growing marketplace that has seen much success in small rural communities across North and South Carolina.
A robust agri-business ecosystem would also create a lively economic exchange between the western and eastern parts of the county, as retail business and consumers from the eastern part will be buying output of and paying to experience the offerings of businesses in the western part (circulating wealth throughout the county).
Often, businesses serve as both agri-business and the agri-tourism organizations. And, they usually promote healthy agri-lifestyle, as well (which is an eco-friendly, community-centric lifestyle). Just look at Windy Hill, Bush n Vine, and Black’s Peaches already out in the western part of the county. These businesses run farms, stores, restaurants, and event spaces. They have retail customers and commercial customers and even large industrial customers in some cases.
Another part of agriconomy is its integration with the local community. Think community gardens, agricultural-based events, and even master-planned residential communities that embrace nature, eco-friendly design, open-space, and Ag (be it horses or gardening).
This is why the county must put the New Ag Event Center in the western part of the county (West of Highway 321) as part of a larger comprehensive economic development strategy for the region. It would be a huge missed opportunity to put such a facility on the eastern half of the county. Yes, it would be successful there, but this should not be the question – whether or not the Ag Center is successful. It’s a question of, How does investing in an Ag Center help the county to begin with? Putting it on the western part of the county would have significant impact and be the catalyst project for a comprehensive economic development strategy for the western half of the county based on the success and growth of the agriconomy.