Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Locals Engaged

I had never seen anything quite like what I witnessed in Sumter, SC. I’ve seen other towns that have been able to get a few of their citizens to convene for retreats, but never like this. The Chamber has an annual weekend retreat, away from the town. This year’s location was Hilton Head, SC about a 3 hours south of the town. And, 300+ people drove there to discuss such issues as increasing the local sales tax, Shaw AFB expansion, economic development, etc. Talk about engaged!

One of Sumter’s jewels is Swan Lake which draws 400,000 people per year to visit. This 120 acre park features numerous small islands, all eight species of swans (including the Black Australian shown here) and incredible flower gardens.

Deron McCormick, City Manager of Sumter, told me, “That area of town was just a swamp that ran through our city. Hamilton Bland, our local Ford car dealer was also an avid horticulturist. He tried to grow Japanese iris but couldn’t get them to grow so he dug them up and pitched them into that swamp where they thrived. The Heath family, the local Coca Cola bottler, owned the other side of the swamp. Both of those families donated their land to the city for Swan Lake. Another family, the McDuffy family, gave us the big crosswalk over the road.”

Towns either develop or don’t depending upon the involvement of local citizens. Sumter was blessed when the Bland, Heath and McDuffy families did that years ago. Today, those 300+ on the annual Chamber retreat seemed just as engaged. Sumter will be better for it.

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