Blog // Connect South Carolina

24th Annual Rural Summit Recap

By Jennifer Cobb

With: Leslie Callison

On March 3, the South Carolina Department of Commerce presented the 24th Annual Rural Summit in Sumter. The Rural Summit is an annual educational event for rural community leaders, economic developers, and state officials to share ideas, experiences, and practical knowledge to improve rural South Carolina. The agenda includes award presentations to honor those individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the economic development of South Carolina’s rural communities.

The summit was held at the beautifully restored Sumter Opera House in downtown Sumter, hosted by Jay Schwedler and the Sumter Economic Development Board. Connect South Carolina has recently begun working with Jay and his staff on engaging Sumter County with plans for a kick-off meeting later this month.

South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Robert M. Hitt III was the event’s keynote speaker. Del Boyette and Tracy Sharp of Boyette Strategic Advisors presented on “Community Competitiveness – Gain the Upper Hand,” speaking about their economic development strategic planning service, which involves a community assessment portal. Among the various attributes being assessed is a community’s infrastructure, including its broadband Internet access.

Also on hand to speak to attendees was Bonnie Ammons, executive director of the South Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority.

In addition to the above-mentioned speakers, Jim Reynolds, CEO of Total Comfort Solutions and Duane Parrish, director of South Carolina Parks, Recreation & Tourism, addressed the group of more than150 listed attendees. Jim Reynolds’ speech on workforce readiness and education cited the need for communities to have a qualified workforce in attracting new industry and businesses, including being educated in areas of technology. He indicated that there has been an increase in IT clusters of study in South Carolina high schools and that through WIA (Workforce Investment Act) funding, the Technical College System has been able to speed up the training of job seekers through the QuickJobs Carolina initiative.

In the area of education, Reynolds advocated shifting money for textbooks to devices, as well as ensuring broadband access in rural areas as the governor has stressed as a need.

We know that there are 1.2 million South Carolinians who are disconnected, that a 1% increase in broadband adoption would have a significant impact on the economy, high-school drop out rates are affected by digital literacy and access to broadband, and that workers who lack digital skills are less likely to find a job.  Connect South Carolina has proudly been an advocate for widespread access, adoption, and use of broadband around the state and in its educational institutions and will continue to help spread the word that connectivity to broadband and digital literacy skills are paramount to the future economic success of our state’s communities, residents, and businesses. 

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