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Economy: County joins initiative for sustainable development

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County will become a model for communities that want to grow the right way under a program sponsored by the United Nations and endorsed by local leaders. The county was named a U.N. Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development last month. It is the only one on the East Coast.

“It happens to be a U.N. initiative, but it is about local people taking on initiatives that mean something to them,” said Pam Martin, a professor of politics and international relations at Coastal Carolina University. She led the effort along with Michelle La Rocco, who coordinates the coastal training program at the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Estuarine Research Reserve at Hobcaw Barony.

Along with support from the university and the reserve, the sustainable development effort has support from Georgetown County officials, the town of Pawleys Island and the school district. They formed the Georgetown Sustainability Coalition to seek the U.N. designation.

“The county fully understands that the natural resources are the differentiator. That’s what makes us special,” said Brian Tucker, the county economic development director.

Martin made it clear at the start that sustainable development doesn’t mean no development. “It’s developing an economy that takes advantage of the natural resources that we have and promotes good quality of life for all,” she said. “It doesn’t deplete resources.”

The first of 17 sustainable development goals adopted by the U.N. is ending poverty. The first goal listed in the local coalition’s application as a regional center is the economy. “I’m always thinking about how the economy plays in,” Martin said. “It’s not about going back to the Stone Age.”

Other goals are protecting natural resources, building community partnerships and improving quality of life. A steering committee will be formed to refine those goals in a strategic plan.

An example of the process will be a forum on growth on the Waccamaw Neck scheduled for Feb. 9, 7 to 9 p.m. at the Waccamaw Library. It’s being organized by John Sands, a Murrells Inlet resident who worked on land conservation with the Donnelley Foundation. Growth issues are something that continued to concern him after retiring from the foundation. “I was surprised at our inability to have what I would call civil discourse,” he said. “We are reactive rather than proactive.”

After learning about the sustainability effort, Sands saw an opportunity for collaboration. “The sustainability center’s purpose is to provide a forum for shared understanding,” he said.

The forum will include Martin and LaRocco along with Boyd Johnson, the planning director for Georgetown County. The county has started work to update its comprehensive plan, which is required every 10 years under state law. It comes at a time when Horry and Charleston counties are growing at the rate of about 80 new residents each day, according to Tucker. Except on Waccamaw Neck, growth in Georgetown County has remained flat.

The forum will pose the question about how the area grows. “I don’t think anybody would suggest that we have the most current approach to zoning and planning,” Sands said. “How do we move beyond that?”

And he added, “let’s have the conversation when everybody’s not mad.”

Martin said she originally considered including Georgetown and Horry counties in the sustainable development effort, but decided they were too different. The center of expertise “is completely Georgetown-focused and shows the work how in Georgetown we’re going to develop those goals.”

The center is a designation rather than a brick-and-mortar facility. It will gather information and make it available online. And participation isn’t limited to government officials. “Anyone who’s interested,” Martin said. “It’s our opportunity to tell the rest of the world how we’re going to engage with sustainability.”

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