Following Ten at the Top’s “listening tour” of the Upstate’s seven non-urban counties and a corresponding poll, all counties reported that high speed internet accessibility and mobility are key to rural economic recovery.
Each county-specific listening tour stop was undertaken to open dialogue between county business and government leadership on challenges — and possible solutions — brought by the COVID-19 pandemic in Abbeville, Cherokee, Greenwood, Laurens, Oconee, Pickens and Union counties.
“Communities are finding that financial and educational literacy is a challenge to returning to work,” the summary report said. “Additionally, since most information about job postings and work opportunities are online, the ability to communicate with potential workers has been an issue in communities that lack strong internet availability. Finally, finding transportation options to get to work has been a challenge.”
The lack of accessible public transit options and infrastructure such as sidewalks, bike lanes and affordable broadband were reported as some of the most significant limits in helping rural residents access work, medical care and community resources both before and during the pandemic, according to the summary report. Regional efforts broached by county representatives included computer and internet-use education, especially for job development and identifying potential transport solutions to mobility challenges.
Small businesses leaders seeking to access resources on COVID-19 recovery and financial aid were also hindered by lack of internet usage as well an absence of relationships with major banks or updated financial documents needed for federal funding like Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection Program.
Celebrated efforts by the counties to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic included Pickens County’s state of emergency ordinance that allowed city agencies to coordinate more closely with one another and aid the community through distributing meals to shut-in community members, collecting food and volunteering with the United Way. Small Business Development Center webinars and client interaction, “shop local” advertising campaigns, community-based loan funds and an audit on Upstate technology usage were spotlighted as positive initiatives spearheaded by counties and other partners.
Other future challenges for the rural Upstate included access to childcare, communication protocols between counties during a disaster and education for seniors learning how to use technology.
“Whether it be previously developed collaborative partnerships or ones created specifically to collectively respond to COVID-19, collaboration has clearly been critical in all communities during the pandemic,” said the report. “Collaboration has been used by different communities to share information, identify resources and implement needed services. The result has been a general feeling in most Upstate counties that the response to COVID-19 has been a team effort with everyone playing their own specific role in the effort.”s