Looking Ahead

City of Anderson, South Carolina

Conveniently located along the I-85 corridor between Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA, this up-and-coming city boasts the geography and the economy to see its vision to fruition.

One of Anderson’s most high profile initiatives is the revitalization of its downtown. The city’s Master Plan for Downtown Development is creating infrastructure improvements that are, in turn, spurring economic development throughout the city’s core. From aesthetic streetscapes that enhance the downtown’s appearance to incentives designed to create business growth, the development plan has been a smashing success and continues to attract private investment.

The city’s Master Plan for Recreation has laid out a series of interconnected bike paths, walking trail, and sports fields that will increase the city’s livability. And, South Carolina’s delightfully mild climate lets residents hike, walk, bike, or play outdoor sports all year round. City parks are central to Anderson’s Master Plan, and the city has been called visionary for its focus on green spaces. “Our park and green space development is a great example of a project that enhances our community both economically and culturally,” says Mayor Terence Roberts. “We have planted seeds for a future that is now.”

Indeed, the city boasts 13 municipal parks including the popular, newly constructed Carolina Wren Park, which just opened in 2013. Located in the heart of downtown, this event venue goes beyond the typical city park to include an amphitheater, green space, and water feature. The park serves both as an everyday oasis and an outdoor gathering place for the community. For instance, the Thursday Evening Block Party, which features live music by local musicians, is held there from April through October.

“Carolina Wren Park has changed the face of our downtown,” City Manager John Moore states. “It is a destination that serves as a retreat and gathering place, lending itself to a wide variety of activities for people of all ages and interests. We could not be more excited about seeing it come to fruition through the leadership and vision of our City Council.” Carolina Wren Park is also a key example of how the city is using its resources wisely to revitalize the community; just a few years ago, the site was an eyesore that held nothing more than the remains of a demolished department store.

The city has also restored 100 year old Linley Park as part of a storm water project; upgrades include walking paths and improved landscaping. The historic park now serves as a dramatic gateway to the city.

Anderson is also committed to bringing art to the community. As part of an initiative to promote Anderson as a cultural tourism destination, the city features 14 different art installations throughout the downtown. This art bonanza has attracted significant recognition and earned Anderson the 2013 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for public art – the highest award for art in the state.

Anderson’s collection of bronze wren sculptures, which are scattered throughout the downtown, have given the city the reputation of “the real home of the Carolina Wren,” and even inspired a picture book. “Little Wren Lost and the Teakettle Call,” written by Beth Batson and illustrated by Scott Foster, tells the story of a lost wren, which is the state bird of South Carolina. After traveling throughout the state, the lost wren finally discovers the place he truly belongs – Anderson.

The city’s art efforts have also been honored with a “Ten at the Top” grant for community vibrancy. With the grant money, the city replicated the original artwork in “Little Wren Lost and the Teakettle Call” and installed it in places that would beautify the community. For example, unsightly electrical boxes have been wrapped in water color paintings to create unexpected works of art. Scenes from the book have also been painted across city crosswalks, turning something ordinary into something visually arresting.

Anderson’s thriving economy has helped make investments such as these possible. The community is part of the Upstate South Carolina market, which has the highest international investment per capita in the United States. In fact, the community is listed in Forbes top 100 Best Small Markets. And, as the county seat of Anderson County, the city serves a metropolitan area of more than 250,000 people.

There are more than 200 major manufacturers and 20 international companies in the area, including Bosch, Michelin and First Quality. There is a strong focus on the automotive industry, particularly the auto aftermarket, due to the presence of a major BMW plant located about 40 miles away in Greer, South Carolina. Other significant industries include metal products, industrial machinery, plastics, and textiles.

With so many industries finding success in the region, the area’s unemployment rate is only 4.7 percent, and the city is doing its part to encourage new business and keep the economy moving forward. e-Merge @ the Garage is one of Anderson’s newest initiatives; named for the parking garage facility in which it will be housed, the incubator / accelerator program will connect the public and private sectors and support entrepreneurial activity.

Created by Innovate Anderson and the City of Anderson, e-Merge @ the Garage will encourage innovation and provide a flexible workspace for startups in the health care, IT, culinary arts and education sectors. Participating entrepreneurs will go through a 12 week “startup boot camp” that will guide them in areas such as idea creation, business canvassing, funding and storytelling.

Funding for the initiative is provided through a South Carolina Department of Commerce grant program, in which e-Merge @ the Garage was one of only seven applicants (out of 33) chosen to receive the maximum grant award of $250,000. Local officials see the initiative – and the generous donations from the City of Anderson, the state, and private firms like AT&T – as evidence of the community’s commitment to business growth and entrepreneurialism. “This is an innovative initiative that has the potential to be transformative,” Mayor Terence Roberts shares. “It will benefit the individuals and companies involved, while adding another layer of vibrancy to our city. This is the future and I’m proud of our council and our partners for making it happen.”

The city’s opportunities go beyond the business sector, as well. There are plenty of educational, cultural and recreational opportunities – and with a cost of living that is 8 percent below the national average, residents can afford to take advantage of them all.

For instance, Anderson University has been named the number one “Up and Coming Regional College” in the entire nation by U.S. News & World Report and nearby Clemson University ranked 21st among America’s universities. Vocational educational needs can be met at Tri-County Technical College, which offers opportunities to enhance workforce skills. Anderson also boasts award winning public schools and magnet schools.

The area’s special events and activities include Block Party, the Father’s Day Car Show, Art on the Town, a two day event featuring visual and performance art, and FreshTaste, which brings together local chefs and local farms. The Anderson Arts Center, recognized as one of the state’s leading arts facilities, offers comprehensive art education and programming. The city also has a musical consortium and orchestra as well as three local stages hosting live theater. In addition, Anderson boasts a museum featuring 12,000 square feet of exhibits and an impressive $13.5 library facility offering state-of-the-art services and a wide array of free programing to the public.

Anderson also borders Hartwell Lake, one of the Southeast’s largest and most popular recreational lakes, and the community hosts the Bass Masters Fishing Tournament. College sports are popular, with NCAA Division I games at nearby Clemson University and Division III sports teams at Anderson University. In addition, the City of Anderson Recreation Center offers youth sports and a state-of-the-art workout facility. For those looking to go further afield, Anderson is within a reasonable driving distance to both mountains and beaches.

To be sure, Anderson is looking ahead. From a series of infrastructure investments to entrepreneurial support programs, the city is proactively paving the way for ongoing success. And, the effort is paying off; after a decade of focused revitalization and business growth, the community is thriving, making Anderson the place to be – both now and in the future.

December 14, 2017, 10:17 AM EST