A 10-county North Eastern Strategic Alliance, to be known as NESA, has been formed to promote the joint development of the historic Pee Dee and Waccamaw regions of South Carolina.
The alliance will bring about public and private partnerships in coordinating, planning and sharing resources from Chesterfield, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Marion, Marlboro and Williamsburg counties.
Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University, and Ronald R. Ingle, president of Coastal Carolina University, have agreed to spearhead initial alliance efforts. Rep. Mark Kelley of Myrtle Beach and Sen. Yancey McGill of Kingstree, along with Billy Alford of the Council of Myrtle Beach Area Organizations and Florence Mayor Frank Willis, also were instrumental in the formation of NESA.
Twenty-six of the 30-member South Carolina legislative delegation from the 10 counties met recently to discuss the NESA concept and pledged to work together to address regional issues in the General Assembly.
The NESA leaders hope to bring together the many cultural, historical, political, financial, industrial, agricultural, transportation and tourism interests of the 10-county region.
Alford said that traditionally the state’s three large metropolitan areas---Greenville-Spartanburg, Columbia and Charleston---have been promoted as the economic engines of South Carolina. He said that through cooperative efforts of government, business and education leaders in this region “we can make things happen in the northeastern part of South Carolina.”
Citing demographic and economic data that shows the 10-county region stacking up well with the state’s three major metropolitan areas, Rep. Kelley said that the largely rural Pee Dee and Waccamaw area has been “scrubbing floors far too long, and it’s time for Cinderella to go to the ball.”
Kelley said the alliance is an effort to stand as a single force for the economic and political interests of the region. “This region of the state has been on the short end of the stick for too long,” he said.
McGill said that there had been talk for years about creating such an alliance, but “now that the leadership of the two state universities located in the northeast region is willing to spearhead the efforts, we can accomplish it.” He added that it is “not whether we’re going to do it, but when and how.”
Carter and Ingle said that the universities and technical colleges, through the expertise of their faculties, can provide collective data on the region that will help legislators better represent their constituents.
Carter said that such data could not only be useful in solving problems with votes in the General Assembly, but would result in good public policy for the region.
Statistics reflect the emerging strength of the region. For instance, the NESA region has more people (665,973) than Greenville-Spartanburg (617,701), Charleston-Berkeley-Dorchester (561,095) and Richland-Lexington (523,995).
The data also indicates that the northeast region has more businesses and is second in gross sales, retail sales and average annual labor force. Categories where the NESA region doesn’t fare as well are average annual unemployment rate and median household income.
“This is more than just building an economic and political alliance,” said FMU’s Carter. “This is about improving the quality of life for the citizens of northeastern South Carolina.”
The NESA leaders said that education, job creation and training, mass transportation, affordable housing, child care and other socioeconomic factors need to be addressed by public and private stakeholders. They say a regional approach to addressing these issues will provide government and business numerous ways to work smarter for the benefit of this region and the entire state.
The leaders also indicated that it was imperative that local government entities in each county, along with economic development councils, join in the effort to work together for the collective best interests of the 10-county region.
Kelley said one of the first tasks is to contact all the members of the legislative delegations from the 10 counties and ask them to pass resolutions of support. Other levels of government from the region will also be asked to support the alliance.