National leaders provide critical input on Promise Zone

FEB. 2, 2016 | A dozen leading thinkers and analysts from across the South met over the weekend to learn about the S.C. Lowcountry Promise Zone and make suggestions to broaden the impact of its collaborative efforts to reduce poverty.

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Leo Fishman, 1938-2016

We’re saddened by the death this week of founding director and board secretary Leo Fishman, who died Jan. 12 at age 77 in Charleston, S.C.

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Center to facilitate Promise Zone town hall meetings

The Center for a Better South will coordinate and conduct a series of six town hall meetings in July in the recently-announced Promise Zone that encompasses six challenged counties at the southern tip of South Carolina. Click to find out where a meeting is near you.

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Better South part of winning Zone team

[UPDATED, May 1, 2015] | The Center for a Better South is an integral part of the team that put together the successful application for rural counties in the southern part of South Carolina to win a federal Promise Zone designation this week. “Without the visionary leadership and guidance of the Center for a Better South, the counties in the SouthernCarolina Alliance never would have applied for a federal Promise Zone designation, much less been able to put together the winning application that will change the lives of tens of thousands of people in the southern part of South Carolina,” said Danny Black, president and CEO of the Alliance, an economic development agency that will lead work in the Zone counties.  “We look forward to continuing to work with the Center to grow jobs, reduce poverty and make our communities better.” Better South President Andy Brack, who worked with the Alliance as part of a leadership team to bring together more than 20 organizations to partner on an application for the federal designation, said the Zone designation would make a big difference. “This is going to change people’s lives,” he said.  By being part of a new Promise Zone designations, just over 90,000 people in Allendale, Barnwell, Bamberg, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties will have new tools to be able to tap into existing federal grant dollars and other opportunities. “It’s a big deal,” Brack said.  “South Carolina is only the nation’s second rural Promise Zone and the only one announced today.  If the same kinds of things happen here that have happened in the other rural Zone in eastern Kentucky, we should be looking at an infusion of millions of dollars over time to grow jobs, improve the economy, have better schools, get more affordable housing and reduce crime.” For more information on the news about the Promise Zone designation and its impact, see this news story in Statehouse...

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Center is integral in Promise Zone application

For the last few months, the Center for a Better South has been working behind the scenes with folks at the Southern Carolina Alliance and other organizations to push our South Carolina Work Group‘s goal of ensuring an application for a Promise Zone designation from the federal government on behalf of people living in the lower part of the state. Today, we can announce that the application has been filed and, while we don’t know whether the Southern Carolina region will be named a Promise Zone, we’re tickled pink at the hard work of all involved. To get an idea of what we worked on, let us encourage you to read this commentary posted earlier today by Better South President Andy Brack as part of his Statehouse Report weekly publication: A promising opportunity for a poor part of the state By Andy Brack, editor and publisher NOV. 21, 2014 — Imagine if there were some kind of program — a little something extra — that could give pervasively poor places a better chance so they could be more like most of America. Imagine how such a program could create better job opportunities to stabilize family finances, reduce crime to make communities safer and improve education so children could expand economic mobility. In January 2013, President Obama announced a pragmatic effort to help overlooked places in America. In his State of the Union address, Obama said he would designate 20 “Promise Zones” — special urban, rural and tribal communities where the federal government would partner with communities to make life better. What’s smart about this effort is how it doesn’t drop a big pot of money on poor communities. Instead they have to come up with real plans on how to fix things. Then they can apply for federal help through existing grant programs. But the bonus: communities that get the designation will get human capital — trained federal workers who will help make applications for existing grant money to grow jobs, reduce crime or improve education. For these regions with low tax bases, that’s practical help. Next, the Promise Zone communities get a few extra points when an application is scored — a little bump because they’re persistently poor areas with a lot of...

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Donate today to our fall campaign

We encourage you to donate today to our fall 2014 campaign to keep the Center vibrant and allow it to continue to do its good work. Click here to make an online donation. Recent success The Center is drawing attention to the Southern Crescent, an impoverished crescent-shaped area stretching from Tidewater Virginia through the Mississippi Delta.  Learn more by clicking on the tab in the navigation bar above. This year, the Center has formed a broad, nonpartisan Work Group in South Carolina to discuss ways to reduce poverty and improve opportunities in the Crescent parts of the state, which is also known as the “Corridor of Shame.” More. Most recently, the Center has worked with the University of South Carolina at Salkahatchie and the Southern Carolina Alliance on a six-county project that could bring millions of dollars of aid to poor counties in the southern part of the state that would grow jobs, improve economic development, reduce crime and make education better. Contact us today to learn more about this exciting project. Your donations make a big difference to the center because it gives us the fuel to keep projects like the Work Group active.  Thank you for your...

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Podcast focuses on Southern Crescent

Mike Switzer of SCETV Radio’s S.C. Business Review interviews the Center’s Andy Brack on how the Southeastern United States could become a much more powerful economic engine if it could figure out a way to keep its best and brightest people from continuing to abandon its poverty-stricken rural communities.

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HuffPost: S.C. finally remembers a hero

From The Huffington Post, April 8, by the Center’s Andy Brack: It has taken more than 60 years for people in the city where the Civil War started to figure out it was home to an authentic civil rights hero. On Friday, April 11, Charleston city fathers will unveil a statue commemorating the bold prescience of J. Waties (pronounced “wait-eez”) Waring, a federal district judge who was the first in the South to write that government-mandated racial segregation was unconstitutional. The reward for his courage? The eighth-generation Charlestonian became a pariah, run out of town after he retired following his strong dissent that directly influenced the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board school desegregation decision. A Charleston blueblood born in 1880, Waring had a solid but comparatively undistinguished legal career, first as an assistant U.S. attorney in South Carolina, followed by private practice that included a stint as city attorney. He was close to leading politicians. When confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the bench at age 61 in 1942, few dreamed he would rock the boat that separated black from white. … Read full...

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Op-ed: More to energy efficiency than lower power bills

An op-ed in The (Columbia, S.C.) State: By D. Lowell Atkinson and Andy Brack FEB. 19, 2014 — Improving the energy efficiency of your home saves you money on your utility bill. But there are broader benefits that accrue as consumers and businesses weatherize and retrofit their homes and buildings. For example, using less energy in the home reduces the need for government fuel subsidies, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal program that helps pay for home heating and cooling for the most vulnerable and low-income residents. This program served more than 72,000 S.C. households in 2012, up from 18,218 households in 2009. In spite of more households receiving benefits, the state’s allocation has dropped a dramatic 44 percent over the same period. That means benefits are lower for people on the program. Because residential weatherization and retrofits can reduce air leakage while maximizing and upgrading heating and cooling systems, investments in energy efficiency can lower energy consumption for residents. And that produces safer, healthier and more energy-efficient homes, reducing the need for the subsidies. Another value of energy efficiency is its impact on disposable incomes. The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina reported in 2013 that the average participant in its energy-efficiency pilot program saved $288 a year and $8,500 over the 15-year life of the improvements — after considering the typical retrofit cost of $7,684. That means retrofitting the homes of all 72,016 S.C. recipients of the federal subsidy program would yield $59 million in savings for the government, homeowners and taxpayers. Retrofitting 225,000 homes by 2020 — a goal of the state’s electric cooperatives — would save homeowners $184 million. Most of these households would use the savings to satisfy other financial priorities and to pump money into local economies through the purchase of goods and services. Per capita spending on electricity in South Carolina was $3,634 in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and our state now boasts the highest average retail electricity prices in the Southeast, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. So imagine how much money South Carolinians would save if they embraced energy-efficiency strategies that are common in other states. Improving the energy efficiency of homes is low-hanging fruit that...

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Florence paper spotlights Center

The Florence (S.C.) Morning News profiled the Center’s work in a story about a Dec. 5 speech by president Andy Brack to the Florence West Rotary Club about the Southern Crescent project. “Brack believes that by pooling smart people together, his group can do three important things to improve the problems of the South: work to tell people about the problems that exist, work with nonprofits and foundations to fund research and studies and work with the White House to get a special study commission appointed to recommend federal and state policies to raise the standard of living.” The story also reported that improving the quality of life was something that should be important to everyone who lived in it, including folks in the Pee Dee region around Florence. “Number one, as Southerners, we don’t take the easy way out. Number two, I think there are some economic justice issues here that a lot of you have a good quality of life, but we have to remember that there are 20 to 30 percent of people in rural counties that don’t have a good quality of life. “There is also a moral component to this in that we are a wealthy country and we need to do a little more to leave this place better than we found it. Quite frankly, if we start taking care of all of these areas that drag us down, the South will improve its image.” Read the full...

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Brack: Crescent South needs attention

Published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution By Andy Brack There’s a vitality that runs throughout metropolitan Atlanta. Expensive cars are ubiquitous around Lenox Square. Neighborhoods in bedroom communities in Gwinnett and Cobb counties have good schools, libraries and a pretty good quality of life, despite some reminders of the Great Recession and, of course, traffic. Vivacity, however, is harder to spot in a swath of agricultural Georgia that stretches across the middle of the Peach State, a rural sash of poverty where economic opportunity is tougher to find. The busiest place around might be a convenience store, as is the case in Leary in Calhoun County. Across the street is a full city block that has been abandoned. A couple of empty houses along Depot Street have been painted green or rusted red just to make them look less dilapidated. Across the South, from Tidewater Virginia through the eastern Carolinas along I-95, through the middle of rural Georgia and Alabama and to the Mississippi Delta, about 4 million people live in economically distressed counties. On a map, the area is crescent-shaped. It has higher rates of poverty, unemployment, single-parent households, chlamydia, obesity and diabetes. It’s easy to see that these areas correlate with another map — that of where enslaved people lived in 1860. This “Southern Crescent” is a clear remnant of plantation life, a region that has been the soft underbelly of the Deep South for generations. Today, 150 years after the Civil War, it’s time for the Crescent to start receiving the same attention that Appalachia did in the 1960s War on Poverty. It’s not all doom and gloom in Crescent counties. Lots of people have good lives. Some forward-looking communities have taken extra steps to plan and innovate. In recent years, Vidalia in South Georgia has branded itself as the go-to place for sweet, delicious onions. Prosperity shows throughout the town, but even today, 25 percent of the people in Toombs County live in poverty. To focus attention on endemic poverty throughout the Crescent counties, the Center for a Better South offers a Web site — SouthernCrescent.org — to showcase life in the region. We hope to bring together nonprofits and foundations to fund research and studies on how to coordinate better...

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Better South data used for N.C. story

The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper of the University of North Carolina, used the recent Better South 2013 Briefing Book on the South as the foundation for an Oct. 16 story that looked at how the state could have high unemployment and poverty rates and more economic growth than many states. “According to the think tank’s report, North Carolina is ranked sixth in unemployment and 17th in highest state tax burden. The report also listed North Carolina as 11th for economic growth and the fourth for the best state for business. “Ferrel Guillory, UNC journalism professor and an expert in Southern politics, attributes the gap between the state’s roaring economy and unemployment increase to the change in the industries that drive the economy. The story went on to quote Andy Brack, the Center’s president: “Despite North Carolina’s high unemployment and a high state tax burden, Andy Brack, president of the Center for a Better South, said North Carolina still ranks better than other southern states including Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas. “’North Carolina has a lot of work to do to reduce unemployment,’ he said. ‘It’s doing pretty well in providing a good business climate.’” Read the full...

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