Assessing Fundamental Needs: Community Leaders Gather for I-95 Corridor Initiative Forum at SC State

Friday, November 12, 2010

President Cooper I95Local, state and regional community leaders, along with University officials, gathered Wednesday on the campus of SC State to discuss disparities within the 1-95 Corridor, an issue that has been prevalent for more than four decades. 

“We are here today to find ways that we can leverage the things that you are doing to better those counties along the I-95 Corridor,” stated SC State University President, Dr. George Cooper. “We hope that through our facilitated discussions today, we will find ways to grow and sustain local economies through collaborations, a shared sense of purpose, and through building platforms for a unified voice among community leaders.”

The 1-95 Corridor is a diverse and expansive region of 17 counties and nearly a million people, stretching from North Carolina to Georgia.  Despite advantages, including proximity to the coast and major transportation routes, the Corridor has long been undeveloped.  With that underdevelopment has come problems ranging from struggling schools to cyclical poverty to lagging health and social well-being indicators. 

In April 2008, SC State University and Francis Marion University collaborated on the I-95 Corridor initiative, seeking to correct this underdevelopment.  The initiative is due to the efforts of two area state senators, John W. Matthews of Orangeburg and Hugh K. Leatherman of Florence, who made the case to extensively assess and improve human service needs along the I-95 Corridor.

“This is the result of a vision and a dream that I have had for a long time,” stated senator Matthews. We have been looking at the performance of the I-95 Corridor for more than 40 years and found that it’s clearly trending further in the wrong direction.  Currently, there is no collaboration or leadership within the state that focuses on the Corridor; therefore, we have to figure out a way to get a group together and have them to focus on how we can correct this issue and turn it around.”

Prior to breaking into group sessions, Dr. Robert Barrett, dean of the College of Business and Applied Professional Sciences, advised the attendees of key findings within a recent study conducted for SC State University and Francis Marion University.  Within the report, entitled: “Creating Greater Opportunity in South Carolina’s I-95 Corridor: A Human Needs Assessment,” six items were identified as fundamental needs within the region.  Those included: leadership and local capacity, regional economic development, education, infrastructure, tax and finance and healthcare and social service disparities.

“The focus of this meeting is for you to talk to each other to determine where we are and where we need to go based on this study,” advised Barrett.  Moderated by Harry Lightsey, SC State University’s legal consultant for the I-95 Corridor initiative, groups identified strategies for correcting the critical issues within the undeveloped region.  Recommendations included: ensuring all counties are represented during local approaches to address regional economic development; encouraging the General Assembly to assist with unfunded mandates; updating  the water and sewer infrastructure through local support initiatives; changing the image of the stereotyped "I-95 Corridor of Shame" to the "I-95 Corridor of Fame" or the "I-95 Corridor of Opportunity", which will in turn attract more businesses and industries to the area; developing a marketing strategy to identify the issues, while positioning the region in a more favorable light; and assessing specific goals for local education initiatives to include offering deficit programs for parents.

Similar comments were noted and shared amongst the groups, who then identified key priorities for future advancement. “Going forward we have outlined four steps that we are going to follow,” noted Cooper. “These include summarizing the discussions at today’s forum and distributing these to the participants, assessing the plans developed by Councils of Governments in the region, focusing on a set of priorities identified from the forum and the plans of the Councils of Governments, and developing the next steps for a regional construct.”