Sandlapper Society

Greer Finds its Niche

by Donna Thorne

Greer is unlike any other town in South Carolina. Located in the foothills of the Upstate, one-third of the town is in Spartanburg County and two-thirds in Greenville County. Greer is equidistant from both of the larger cities and has the distinction of being the second largest city in both counties. But what is it that makes Greer one of the fastest growing towns in the state? Why are so many people making Greer their home?

Rick Danner can tell you. This Tennessee native and Clemson graduate married his college sweetheart, a Greer native. “She told me we were going to live in Greer because it was a great place,” says Danner who has lived in the town since 1978. “In fact, we live in downtown Greer, just two blocks from where she was raised.” So does he agree with his wife’s opinion of her hometown? You bet. He’s been Greer’s mayor since 2000 and has presided over much of the town’s rebirth.

“It’s never been our intent to be like Greenville or Spartanburg. We don’t want high-rise buildings. They’re not a fit for us. Our success has come from knowing what our niche is,” he explains.

The 2010 U.S. Census says that the City of Greer has just over 25,600 people living within its municipal borders. But that number is misleading. When you add in the people living in close proximity to this city of 21.7 square miles, the number grows to more than 77,000. All are considered part of the “Greer Community,” a term you’ll hear frequently if you talk to residents of this ever-expanding but still quaint Upstate town. From a mere stop along a railroad line, Greer has become one of the fastest growing, most successful cities in South Carolina.

Trains And Textiles

Established in 1873 as a stop along the Atlanta and Charlotte Air-Line Railway, Greer’s Station quickly grew due to a thriving cotton trade. Incorporated three years later as Greers, the town eventually dropped the “s” and became known as Greer. In the early 1900s, Greer’s economy exploded when four textile mills opened, leading to a surge of growth and building downtown as old wooden frame buildings were replaced by brick commercial structures, some two and three stories tall.

But like so many other Southern towns, Greer faced the prospect of becoming a ghost town in the 1990s when foreign imports derailed local textiles and urban sprawl along Highway 29 siphoned shoppers away from downtown in droves. The fellowship born in the mill villages stood Greer in good stead when local leaders rallied to attract new businesses and revitalize its urban core.

Partnership For Tomorrow

In 1998, the City of Greer, Greer Public Works, the Greer Development Corporation, the Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce and Greer Station, representing the downtown historic district, joined together to form the Partnership For Tomorrow (PFT). This group guided the revitalization of Greer’s downtown and continues to guide the city’s growth and tackle issues as a united front.

“With PFT, we’ve linked hands and moved forward in lock step,” says Mayor Danner. “We’ve gone from a small town to a mid-sized city and PFT has been key to our success,” he explains.

In addition to producing and implementing strategic five-year master plans to guide Greer’s growth, the group implemented a program to provide matching funds to businesses that restore and improve the façades in historic Greer Station and recently the city council voted to approve a tax rebate for historic rehabilitation as well. PFT also works to improve the appearance of Greer’s entryways and gateways, organizes cultural and other downtown events, oversees upgraded landscaping and supports economic development in the area. Its efforts have already yielded more than 700 new jobs and nearly $84 million in new capital investments in the Greer Community.

Downtown Renaissance

“We had a unique opportunity in that our historic downtown was intact,” says Mayor Danner. Indeed, Greer Station, as the area is called, has more than 40 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. And since its rebirth, Greer’s downtown has welcomed more than 40 new shops, professional services and other businesses.

In addition to the revitalization all along Greer Station’s main thoroughfare, Trade Street, Greer added a new City Hall, courthouse/police complex and a 12-acre park that includes colorful flower beds, fountains, a pond, children’s play area, picnic shelter, 650-seat amphitheater, walking and biking trails, and plenty of green space for fun and games. Just two blocks from Greer Station, the new additions have expanded the downtown core and offer a great venue for Greer’s many festivals such as Greer Family Fest, Oktoberfest, Wing Fling, Chilli Cookoff, the 4th of July Freedom Blast and, during the summer, Thursday night movies and Friday night concerts under the stars. Currently, the old Greer National Guard Armory, which is adjacent to Greer City Park, is undergoing an extensive renovation. The $1 million upfit will transform the old armory into a cultural arts center and meeting and events space.

The area is also home to lots of public art. Last year saw “Boxcars Around Town” with fiberglass boxcars representing the town’s historic roots. There’s also “Ta Tas on Trade.” And yes, it is what you think. Twelve artists created 12 uniquely decorated mannequins to raise money for and awareness of breast cancer. Then there are the “10 Toads on Trade.” You can follow the posters that give clues to the 10 toads’ whereabouts. Or if you’re more technically inclined, you can use Facebook to track them down. Over in City Park, there are “11 Lazy Lizards” waiting to be discovered.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

If the scavenger hunts, public art and shopping make you hungry, then you’re in luck. Greer Station is packed with eateries ranging from fine dining to café and pub fare. Brother and sister team Allison and Jason Clark looked far and wide for the perfect place to open a restaurant. Four years ago they chose historic Greer Station as the location for BIN112. “We’ve seen an enormous boom in nightlife down here. It used to be that at 10 p.m. on a Friday night you would see a few stragglers walking around looking in windows. Now it’s full of life. There are places for people to go before they eat and after they eat,” Allison explains. Located in a former bridal boutique, BIN112 evokes memories from those who shopped here in years past. “It’s nice to have customers tell us the story of when they would come here to get a bridal gown or cotillion dress. It’s a good feeling to be a part of growing history,” she says. In fact, the Clarks were so pleased with the area, they recently opened a steakhouse, The Strip Club 104, right down the street! “A lot of people in Greer are dedicated to keeping it local. Yes, we venture out to other towns, but most of us like the options we have here. Plus, you don’t have to worry about paying for parking or getting a ticket,” Allison says.

Greer Means Business

With easy access to I-85, a regional airport nearby and a supportive business environment, the Greer area is home to more than 4,000 businesses. Over the past six years, companies in the Greer Community have invested in excess of $1.6 billion and have created more than 4,900 new jobs. The surrounding Upstate area is home to more than 215 international companies representing 20 nations. Some of the area’s largest companies are Mitsubishi Polyester Film, Cryovac Sealed Air Corporation, Honeywell Engine Systems & Services, Michelin North America and Ashmore Brothers.

In 1994, BMW opened its first North American plant near Greer (pictured at left). The German maker of “the ultimate driving machine” employs 7,000 people at its state-of-the-art facility. Forty of BMW’s suppliers have opened operations in South Carolina. Add in all the people needed to supply and support BMW and you’ve got 23,000 jobs. The BMW campus is also a great place to visit. Check out the Zentrum, a museum filled with BMWs, take a tour of the factory or get behind the wheel with a certified BMW driving instructor.

Reno Deaton, executive director of the Greer Development Corporation, says, “Greer has a talented workforce with a good work ethic, great infrastructure and quality of life with great schools and a thriving downtown.” Two area sites, Gateway International Business Park and Caliber Ridge Business Park, are almost full and construction is just beginning on the new Velocity Park. “We have a solid pipeline of new industrial and commercial prospects,” Reno reports. “In terms of commercial growth, we were 115% ahead of last year during the first six months of 2011,” Mayor Danner says.

While Greer has much to offer the business community, companies in the area also give back to the town. “BMW is a strong believer in corporate citizenship and the company strives to be a catalyst for collaboration as well as a connector between organizations,” says Bunny Richardson, BMW’s assistant manager for internal communications. Bunny moved to the Upstate from Columbia in 1995; two years later she was elected to the Greer Chamber of Commerce board. She’s served on the board ever since, including a stint as chair in 2006. She’s also vice chair for communications on the Partnership For Tomorrow board. And she’s not alone in serving the Greer Community. Mayor Danner says the influx of new residents gives Greer an advantage. “Bringing people with new ideas and experiences to the table has benefitted our community. It’s always good to have a new set of eyes,” he explains.

Population Boom

Between 1990 and 2000, Greer’s population grew by 63%. Between 2000 and 2006 there was another 26% jump. Many residents came from around the globe with international companies in the area. Reno says, “Greer has an international flair and we’ve very proud of our diversity. “In Greer, you can have a South African living on one side of you and a German on the other,” says Mayor Danner. “Our diversity has helped us mature,” he adds.

Besides a thriving business climate and a diverse population, Greer also offers excellent quality of life. It boasts over 15 award-winning public schools and ample opportunities for higher education. Greer has its own campus for Greenville Technical College and is within a short drive of 16 other institutions of higher education in the Upstate.

For outdoor types, there are more than 17 parks and recreational facilities, including three lakes, in Greer. The Greer Cultural Arts Council keeps visual and theater arts thriving in the city. For a peek at the city’s past, there’s the Greer Heritage Museum. Greer also offers state-of-the-art healthcare. Both the Greenville Hospital System and Spartanburg Regional HealthCare have built new campuses in the town.

Greer’s population is projected to grow by another 11% over the next decade. And no wonder. With its face toward the future, Greer has also successfully honored its past, creating a unique and prosperous town that will continue to draw people for years to come. Greer has found its niche.

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This article is sponsored by Partnership for Tomorrow.


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