2019 All-America City Finalist – Sumter, SC

Application Summary for the All-America City Awards:

This town of 40,000+ has championed an economic revival after losing much of its manufacturing base.

The city works collaboratively with over 200 nonprofit, governmental, and business organizations to tackle key issues, one of which is the “Penny for Progress” capital improvements tax, which has raised millions of dollars through tax measures in 2008 and 2016 to fund projects identified by the collaborative partners mentioned above. They also partner with Shaw Air Force Base to serve veterans and ensure that the base is a vital part of the local economy and social infrastructure.

Three project examples showing how this community leverages civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues:


1.) Increasing Talent Pipeline

Sumter was hit particularly hard by the 2008 recession, with unemployment rates that were among the highest in the nation and a local workforce that lacked the skills and education needed by new employers. A focus on economic development lured Continental Tire to the area and helped revitalize downtown. Most importantly, a partnership with Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC) transformed an abandoned commercial facility and brownfield that blighted an entire block of the city’s historic downtown into a state-of-the-art Allied Health Center that provides education and training in the health sciences.

Sumter works with a wide variety of community partners to improve high school graduation rates and technical skills. Business and nonprofit partners provide internships, mentoring, and other assistance to help residents enter the workforce. Scholarships, career opportunity fairs, volunteer tutoring, recognition programs, and school events bring community members into the schools to help support students and connect them to jobs.

As a result of these efforts, new jobs have been created, downtown has been revitalized and the unemployment rate and per capita incomes in Sumter are near the national average.


2.) Educate Your Mind-Empower Your Learning-Enrich Your Future

Employers in Sumter or those considering re-locating to Sumter often need employees with more skills, both technical and soft. In response, the city has worked with the school district and technical college to provide classes in interviewing skills, conflict resolution, and other skills at an early age, including by having industry professionals come to the classroom.

The city has also partnered with a technical college, school district, and business community on an extensive Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program that included transforming an empty Walmart building into a “state-of-the art” Advanced Manufacturing Technology Training Center. The Center has classrooms, training programs in high-tech industries, a library, and other flexible space, with a plan to locate a vocational high school next to the facility in the future.

Local businesses work with the STEM program to provide customized training to future workers, including basic safety training, construction, mechatronics, machining and other programs. Students can enroll in the program as early as the tenth grade to complete two years of training simultaneously with their final two years of high school. Another program, eSTEAM Sumter, adds arts and design components in family-friendly programs aimed at kids as young as preschool.


3.) Support of Shaw

Sumter is home to over 16,000 veterans, many of whom served at Shaw Air Force Base, which is located within the town’s borders and has been in the area for over 75 years. Residents of the community are proud of this affiliation and often show their allegiance and patriotism.

The city takes a team approach to working with retiring military service members and their families to make sure they have access to services, job training and placement, and housing that would allow them to stay in the area. Training and licensing programs help these individuals get local certification to help them find good jobs. A tuition assistance program offers scholarships at local colleges, even providing the few dollars that service members normally would have to pay themselves.

The city also works with the air force base to help it avoid funding cuts and accommodate future growth by joining national lobbying efforts and reserving land around the base for possible expansion. In addition, the community supports over a dozen service clubs and associations involving service members and their families.

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