By William L. Fleming, Jr.
Hurricane Irma has passed. South Carolina was initially in the direct path of the strongest weather event to threaten the Southeast in recorded history. It didn’t happen, and we are blessed by that. But Marlboro Electric Cooperative (“MEC”) took no chances with Irma. Our employees, Board and contractors spent the week and weekend leading up to the storm preparing for the worst – power outages, flooding, downed trees and, sadly, the possibility of loss of life.
In Marlboro and Dillon counties, thankfully none of this happened. Communities in other states, however, were not so fortunate.
To assist our neighbors affected by Hurricane Irma, MEC dispatched linemen with fully stocked bucket trucks to two South Carolina fellow cooperatives before heading to Georgia to help restore power to thousands in need. During this period, I took a moment to reflect on our cooperative, the community, its people and the special characteristics that make our neighborhoods so unique.
We have much to be thankful for, and much to thank each other for, too. For over 78 years our tradition has been for MEC to improve the quality of life for those we serve while offering economic opportunity for the succeeding generation, allowing them a better chance at greater growth and then, in turn, providing them the resources to pass it on to their children.
We cherish our way of life and we want to ensure that our children and grandchildren can also look to the place they grew up, went to school and rode their bikes, as home. They shouldn’t feel that it’s necessary to settle in Atlanta, Charlotte or Nashville if they want to earn a good wage, reside in a welcoming community or live an honest, productive and meaningful life.
We are passionate about expanding educational opportunities — whether at universities, technical colleges or vocational schools — to make a difference in the communities we serve. Job opportunities within our counties and neighboring communities must also continue to expand. Once they are adults, our children deserve the choice to live within the place they know so well.
Our community’s job market offers an array of opportunities for people with different skills and aptitudes. Professional opportunities exist in the fields of healthcare, education, farming, banking, manufacturing, transportation and all the trades. These sectors all offer good paying jobs as does work in finance, insurance, utilities, public administration and real estate. To maintain and enlarge these possibilities, our businesses and industries must continue to expand and grow.
At MEC, five years ago our Board created a subsidiary named Marlboro Development Team (“MDT”). MDT is a for-profit organization. It is structured in such a way as to pose no legal or financial risk to MEC, for the sole purpose of benefiting MEC’s members, but also designed as an economic development enterprise with special focus on attracting business to our region. MDT also provides development opportunities in various states to return profit back to MEC and our members – such as the rate reductions over the past three years in a row.
Through its economic development successes, MDT already has attracted many new businesses to the area, creating new jobs while generating revenue that helps MEC keep rates down. Two examples include the new Dillon Inland Port and the many expansions of retailer Harbor Freight Tools.
Some challenges still sit on our horizon. Our home county population for example has decreased from 28,933 in 2010 to 26,945 residents in 2016, even though the MEC-served homes have increased.
However, we are encouraged by some positive trends seen in our area. Marlboro County High School graduation rate continues to increase, while Dillon High School has achieved an impressive 91 percent according to data released by U.S. News & World Report – well above the state average. Both also have strong athletic programs and opportunities to be proud of with record setting results.
Job opportunities are expanding with the unemployment rate at 7 percent in July 2017 in our home county, down from a recent high of 21.2 percent in 2010. Another positive trend, although still above the state average of 3.9 percent. We are determined to see this continue to improve and the abilities now afforded to us by MDT will serve as a significant catalyst to accomplish this goal.
There will always be critics of growth and progress. I try and believe that these are well-intended folks whose grip on the past is simply stronger than their vision for our future. Our history and culture is rich. It should and will continue to be embraced. But so, too, must our efforts at promoting sustainable economic growth.
There may be an obstacle or two in our path as we move forward, yet my colleagues and I, and the membership we are so blessed to serve, remain very optimistic about our future. It is up to us to create the environment that produces opportunity that is attractive to the youth of today, the generation to follow. I’m excited to confidently say we have barely scratched the surface of the impact MEC and MDT will make for the communities we are blessed to touch.
Fleming is the President & CEO of Marlboro Electric Cooperative, Inc. and Marlboro Development Team, Inc.
Op-Ed: Irma Has Passed; Time To Refocus On Our Future
By William L. Fleming, Jr.