Polk to meet with communities on economic strategy

Published 9:37 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Plan includes creation of equine council

The Polk County Board of Commissioners has finished editing its draft economic development plan and strategy and is ready for input from boards and its towns. Commissioners met Monday, Feb. 10 and reviewed the final draft of the strategy and decided to make one of its priorities to create a equine council.

Commissioners also set tentative dates to get input on the strategy from its economic tourism development commission (ETDC), its farmland preservation board and the towns of Columbus and Tryon and City of Saluda.

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Commissioner chair Ted Owens suggested making the creation of an equine council one of the plan’s main goals, including how many members the county wants to serve on the council, its mission and with what boards the county wants the council to work.

Commissioners plan to structure its equine council similar to the South Carolina Upstate Equine Council, which is a 501(c)(3) created in late 2009 with leaders from Anderson, Pickens and Oconee, S.C. counties.

South Carolina Upstate Equine Council was created after leaders saw a need to expand and improve the facilities at Clemson’s T. Ed Garrison Arena and some of the adjoining property making Clemson and its surrounding area a premier destination for equine sports competitions. The counties of Anderson, Pickens and Oconee have more than 11,000 horses and an annual economic impact of over $63 million, according to the South Carolina Equine Council.

Polk commissioners said creating an equine council here would give the equine community a voice and an opportunity to grow the industry.

“I think we have an opportunity to leverage the equine community,” said Polk economic development strategy consultant Robert Williamson, with Strategic Work Systems Inc. “Here’s an opportunity to have a voice, just like agriculture.”

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he thinks the county should research the need for an equine committee.

“I haven’t seen any equine people say they need another committee to (serve) on,” Gasperson said.

Commissioner Tom Pack said at a meeting held at White Oak last year, he heard people talk about the

need for more trails.

Owens said the equine council could work with the county recreation department needs such as trails.

Williamson said part of the county’s Vision 20/20 plan on which the economic strategy is being based, was the need to grow within North Carolina such things as an equine commission. He said the state is saying now to not depend on the state to do things; that counties should start regionally.

Owens said personally he thinks an equine council would be a big advantage for both the equine community and for the county.

Commissioners unanimously agreed with the final draft, including the goal of starting an equine council.

Commissioners’ next steps are to get input from boards and towns prior to holding a public hearing on the draft policy.

The next meeting was scheduled for March 6 at 6 p.m. as a workshop with the ETDC and farmland preservation board.

Commissioners plan to ask the Town of Columbus to use its town hall meeting room for the workshop. Next, commissioners plan to meet with each of its towns individually. If the towns agree, commissioners want to meet either before or after each town/city council meeting in March.

Following input from the boards and towns, commissioners will review any recommendations made then set a public hearing.

Pack suggested once the county holds a public hearing to wait a couple of weeks until the plan is adopted so commissioners can digest what the public said.

“I think we have a really good thing going here and look forward to getting input,” said commissioner Michael Gage.

Commissioners decided last year to hire Williamson for $6,000 to help the county draft an economic development plan and strategy. After approving the plan the county plans to discuss how to fund some of its new economic strategies during upcoming budget discussions for fiscal year 2014-2015, which begins July 1.