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Chaucey Aboutu

University leads Soul of Community project

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By President David A. DeCenzo

Coastal Carolina University is taking the leadership role in a new Horry County initiative to better connect residents and thus build a stronger local economy.

This project is based on the findings of groundbreaking research conducted by the national polling organization, Gallup. The research, presented at a community forum Sept. 15, gives us concrete evidence that residents' emotional attachment to their community has a direct impact on local economic success.

I told community leaders at the forum that the University will drive the initiative to build and enhance community pride, spirit and optimism, and challenged them and residents across the county to join with Coastal to use the research to its greatest potential. 

To coordinate the effort, I announced the establishment of a Community Engagement Center, serving the Soul of the Community initiative and Women in Philanthropy and Leadership. Beth Stedman has been hired and will work directly with me to promote our community engagement activities.

Gallup’s research, funded by the Knight Foundation for the 26 communities it serves, identifies key drivers that are consistent in virtually all the communities Gallup polled between 2008 and 2010 and points to the direct connection between community attachment and gross domestic product growth. They include primarily quality of life elements rather than what you might expect – jobs, the economy and public safety.

Gallup’s work tells us our strengths include the natural beauty of Horry County – our aesthetics, as the report calls it – and our social offerings that make this a desirable place to live for older residents and young adults without children. 

Unlike residents in most of the other 26 communities, the newest residents in Horry County are the most attached. But after about five years, their attachment seems to fade. Connections for young professionals and families with young children seem to be lacking as does openness to different types of people.

The research indicates that creating a sense of place and optimism will energize current residents and help attract young professionals and new businesses to the area. An increasing sense of optimism will mean people stay longer, invest time and money in the community and help attract newcomers to settle here.

The new center will take some early ideas collected by a small group over the summer and use them to start the university-community projects aimed at maximizing our strengths and deepening the attachment we all feel to this place we call home.  

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