RACINE — City of Racine leaders are studying success stories around the United States as they prepare their own plans to capitalize on Foxconn Technology Group’s proposed manufacturing development in Mount Pleasant.
The complex is expected to create thousands of jobs, and a local development agreement requires half of the permanent jobs to be based in Racine County. But Foxconn’s impact is anticipated to reach beyond the workforce, and Racine leaders want the city to make the most of the opportunity. For that, they are looking at how other cities around the country responded to incoming developments.
Greenville’s downtown revitalization
City Administrator Jim Palenick said he wants to follow the example of Greenville, S.C. The city is located near Greer, the Spartanburg County community where auto manufacturer BMW built a plant in the 1990s.
Greenville was already in the midst of revitalizing its downtown at the time BMW announced it would build nearby, said Nancy Whitworth, Greenville’s deputy city manager and director of economic development. The effort began in earnest in the 1970s, but BMW’s announcement presented an opportunity, she said. Although the BMW development isn’t in Greenville, Whitworth said the community knew it could stimulate growth based on the new nearby plant.
“The impact of something that significant spreads way beyond its actual, physical location,” she said.
Similar to the supply chain boom anticipated locally because of Foxconn, Whitworth said Greenville knew BMW’s development also meant suppliers would move into the area. That drove investments in a variety of industries, including banking and financial, residential, retail and entertainment.
“Those were the areas that Greenville benefitted quite well from the location of BMW,” she said.
In another parallel, community leaders such as Racine Mayor Cory Mason have stressed the importance of working with partners such as Gateway Technical College to train and educate a workforce for Foxconn. A research school, Clemson University, is located near Greenville, which presented an additional opportunity build a local tie with BMW’s plans, Whitworth said.
BMW asked the community to focus on education and contributed financially to a public-private partnership with Clemson. The university located its International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville.
“What we needed and what we wanted to do was (find) what was an appropriate link with BMW that would fit for Greenville,” Whitworth said. “It was this educational component.”
The example highlights multiple themes Whitworth said contributed to Greenville’s success in reviving its downtown. She emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships, as well as selecting goals that fit both the community’s needs and the developer’s.
“Working at the community itself and figuring out what is it that would benefit the community, I think that is first and foremost,” she said. “If you can find a match with that with Foxconn — that, I think, would be the most successful.”
Palenick said he is studying Greenville’s work in a book called “Reimagining Greenville: Building the Best Downtown in America.” He also is encouraging Racine officials to read a case study called Save Our Gateways, which details how Greenville rebuilt its downtown “from abandoned warehouses and empty storefronts to having a thriving central business district,” the study states.
Whitworth wrote the study with Mary Douglas Hirsch, Greenville’s downtown development manager.
“Let’s imagine the Greenville model as we move forward with this,” Palenick said. “Let’s work together to make sure that our city can really thrive as a result of this happening.”
Mason researches Reno
Mason told The Journal Times’ Editorial Board last month that he also is studying how other communities reacted to developments.
At a training event for new mayors, for instance, Mason said he spoke with the mayor of Reno, Nev., near where Tesla broke ground in 2014 on its Gigafactory. They discussed strategic planning for quick and effective development to grow the middle class, he said.
Mason reiterated his goal of ensuring local residents are prepared for the jobs influx the community is expecting, as well as how it will affect the employment landscape.
“How do we prepare for that in a way that most advantages people who live here and want to come here, so that we’re rebuilding the middle class?” he told the Editorial Board. “That’s really the challenge.”