City of Spartanburg, SC
Spartanburg is the largest city in the county with thirty-eight thousand residents, and it is also the county seat of Spartanburg County, in South Carolina. The city has taken a proactive approach in transforming itself through business, education, health and wellness, neighborhood communities, culture and much more.
The city strives for a vibrant community that will attract businesses, families, students and a more diverse workforce, and the city’s tagline ‘Always Doing’ represents the city well. AS its website explains, “Spartanburg is a city that doesn’t just create goals, but achieves them. Doesn’t just house businesses, but advances them. We are doing more because we were raised to do nothing less. That’s why Spartanburg is always doing.”
Patty Bock acts as the economic development director for the city of Spartanburg, and her primary role is to spur new developments, bring businesses to the city, create employment opportunities and increase tax revenue. With that comes other roles such as helping developers and businesses navigate through the process of entering the city and pointing them to the resources that they need to develop a project or open a business successfully. The goal is for the city to ensure that all people and businesses have a positive experience when working with all the other city services, including permitting and inspections.
Textile manufacturing was the leading industry in Spartanburg in the late 1800s with close to fifty mills covering the county, and although textiles are no longer the primary industry, there is still significant work being done by those that remain. The welcoming of BMW in 1992 helped to transform the county into the more versatile yet highly skilled workforce that it is today. BMW opened its only automotive assembly plant in North America in Spartanburg, and it has been a huge boost to the economy. It employs over eight thousand people, and suppliers to the automotive industry and its offspring have also set up facilities close to the plant. The strength of BMW and its suppliers has broadened the talent of the workforce and helped to expand and diversify the economy into other areas of employment.
Spartanburg boasts an excellent healthcare system. Its largest hospital, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, is the top ranked hospital in the Upstate and also the largest employer within the city. It is near to the downtown area and employs about sixty-eight hundred people. The hospital system offers cutting edge technology and comprehensive treatment in all fields of healthcare. There is also a cancer research center and a recognized patient care treatment center.
Many popular businesses have headquarters in downtown Spartanburg including Denny’s, OTO Development, J.M. Smith Industries, QS1, Advance America, American Credit Acceptance and Pure Barre Fitness. These companies within the downtown have brought more than two thousand and three hundred new jobs to the area. “With several other corporate relocations and Class A office space proposals on the table, downtown Spartanburg is poised to experience further growth in its population of young professionals,” says Patty.
Patty explained why it is known as the ‘Hub City.’ “Spartanburg got the nickname ‘Hub City’ because, in the late 1800s, Spartanburg was a major transportation hub where seven major rail lines all came together and then spurred out like spokes on a wheel extending to other areas of the country. This was the stop made by tourists and for commerce.”
At one point, up to ninety trains passed through or stopped in the city, and it is still a significant transportation hub today and sometimes referred to as “the crossroads of the south.” Two of the busiest highways in the country, I-26 and I-85, meet here.
Spartanburg has a great quality of life, and for a city its size, it has some incredible cultural assets. Downtown is the Chapman Cultural Center that includes a professional ballet, symphony orchestra, and art, history and science museums. It is one of the only cities in the state that has a designated cultural arts district downtown that has over 1,800 events per year just in the downtown area.
The city has many notable musicians, and they are celebrated at the unique Hub City Music Trail, a 30 minute outdoor walking tour which highlights the musical heritage of Spartanburg. The third Thursday evening of every month is Spartanburg’s ArtWalk, during which galleries and businesses stay open for visitors to mingle around the downtown and view the latest artworks.
The city promotes quality of life initiatives through public art, enhanced greenways, upgraded streetscapes, easily accessible walking paths and over forty-six miles of paved bicycle lanes. The scenic trails through the woods are accessible from downtown, and there are many parks and preserves available to everyone.
Spartanburg is known as a college town and educational institutions in Spartanburg are exceptional, both public and private. Close to the downtown area of Spartanburg, there are five colleges attended by over forty five hundred students, and there are two other colleges outside of downtown for a combined enrollment at 17,000 students. These are the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, USC Upstate and USC Upstate’s George Dean Johnson Jr. College of Business and Economics, Spartanburg Community College, Sherman College of Chiropractic, Wofford College and Converse College. Wofford and Converse are nationally recognized private liberal arts institutions.
“All of these educational institutions are important to Spartanburg because the students coming here for an education and we want to engage them within our city,” says Patty. “We would like these students to stay upon graduation; we want to retain and have them hired with our local employers.” The consortium of seven different colleges is a major economic driver for the region and they partner with the business community, helping with research, economic development and workforce training. This is significant to grow and diversify the economy.
There are two airports that serve Spartanburg. The Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is approximately twenty five minutes from the city’s downtown area, and the Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport is located within a couple of miles of downtown. The downtown airport is the city’s largest economic asset.
“It’s an economic engine crucial to many doing business here and is a recruiting tool that will allow us to land more businesses in the area. Just a five-minute drive from downtown, the airport is the third-largest general aviation facility in the state and the hub for more than 69,000 annual operations.”
Currently, there is a thirty-five million dollar runway expansion taking place to enhance the ability for larger aircraft to land. The investments will allow the city to accommodate the expanding needs of existing businesses better and also promote available airport property for future economic development opportunities.
A strategic focus has been to place energies into revitalizing the downtown. Since 2013, the momentum built as new businesses opened within the downtown area, and it has not slowed down. Over one hundred new businesses have opened since then, and two hundred million dollars has been invested in the area. With nearly 20,000 jobs within 1.5 miles of the center of the city, this progress has also made downtown living a popular option; there has been a ninety eight percent occupancy rate for over five years and the amount of housing units in the downtown is preparing to double.
“During the economic downturn, I like to say what we were doing was setting the table – putting the necessary infrastructure in place and getting ready for what we knew was going to be a forward movement in business growth,” Patty says. “This is paying off and we are enjoying major activity in the sale and repurposing of buildings, new construction and added amenities that bring a quality of life where all can live, work, play and stay here.”
The city has an attractive, historical downtown with a charming atmosphere, but it also embraces the new, modern buildings that are being constructed. Two of the most important vacant buildings in the downtown area were sold this year and are undergoing significant historic renovations. One of them is the Montgomery building, which is a near hundred-year-old, ten story structure that will be transformed into apartments, office space and retail space. Its renovation is expected to cost twenty-nine million dollars. The other is the $11 million dollar transformation of the former Aug W. Smith department store into 45 luxury apartments with storefront level retail space. Both will be complete in 2018.
Visitors come to Spartanburg to experience the Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve, the local brewery RJ Rockers Brewing Company, Croft State Park, the Cottonwood Trail, Mary Black Rail Trail and the Walnut Grove Plantation. The city also hosts popular events like the Spartanburg International Festival, Spartanburg Spring Fling, and an annual event that is held downtown in May that is known as the “fastest night of the year.” This is the Spartanburg Regional Criterium, a professional bicycling race on a closed course.
Amateur and professional bicycle racers arrive in the city to race around the downtown streets, and it is always a crowded night. Spartanburg was the first city in South Carolina to be recognized as a bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists, and it was the first city in the Southeast to offer a bicycle-sharing program.
It is also the home of the internationally acclaimed Assault on Mount Mitchell and the cross country mountain bike race Stump Jump. Patty describes the Assault on Mount Mitchell as “a 102.7-mile ride from Spartanburg to Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. It is a total vertical ascent of 10,000 feet. This race has been going on for forty-two years with riders from around the world attempting to tackle the beast of a route.”
Spartanburg is home to the NFL Carolina Panthers training camp, and fans travel from all over the country to witness the professional football training for two weeks in the summer. In 2016, over 135,000 people came to Spartanburg to watch the training camp, which is housed at Wofford College, the liberal arts college less than a mile from downtown.
The city is a destination for many soccer, baseball, golf and tennis sporting events. Spartanburg is also home to the Shrine Bowl, the oldest continuous high school All-Star Shrine Bowl Football Game in the United States.
Spartanburg has a Sparkle City Mini Putt course that was constructed on an empty lot in the downtown by the city, anonymous donors and Hub-Bub, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on bringing special events to the city. The mini putt course is a nine-hole course featuring popular Spartanburg landmarks. It’s free and local businesses have the putters on hand for you to borrow and enjoy a game with friends and family.
“We’re at a significant moment that is moving us forward to be a world-class city. Leaders in our community are committed to strive for job growth, residential growth, more amenities that build on quality of life such as arts, culture, dining and activities for everyone. This is what will make Spartanburg continue to thrive and be a more vibrant community. The future is promising,” she says.
The city has seen more interest from developers, brokers and other investors. The level of development is at an all-time high. The building inspections and permitting departments are busier than ever, with no hint of slowing down. The city has been laying the foundation for this activity by building the necessary infrastructure. The community’s efforts to support entrepreneurs with a network of tools they need to develop sustainable businesses solidify the city’s ability to compete on a global level.
“The people in Spartanburg are great. This is a community where people are very successful in collaboration. We have a saying: ‘We’re not just trying to create goals; we are going to achieve them.’” The strength of partnerships has allowed the city to accomplish a great deal, according to Patty. “I have never been anywhere else where there have been so many issues addressed as a team, to accomplish what needs to or must be done for forward progress.”
Spartanburg truly is one of a kind, according to Patty. “People are impressed when they come to visit. They are amazed that we have so much going on all the time and that we accomplish things by working together as a community, committed to partnering. It’s what we do.” The progress downtown is drawing more people to live and work and play here, and it is becoming a destination of choice for visitors and as well as locals.