Welcome to the next match-up in the third annual Strongest Town Competition! In this round, 16 towns are facing off and 8 will advance to the next segment of the contest based on your votes.

We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about economic resilience, citizen involvement, land use and more, then vote for the strongest. Can't decide? Read commentaries by Strong Towns members to help inform you choice here.

Voting closes at 12pm CT on Friday, March 9.


 Source: Connie Baggett

Source: Connie Baggett

Brewton, Alabama

Entry submitted by: Mayor Yank Lovelace and Connie Baggett, Director of Program Management

How are residents in your town involved in the life of the community? Share a few examples of times when residents came together to work on a project or make decisions about the future of the town.

People in Brewton are famous for pitching in on everything from reacting to help downtown businesses in frequent floods to community events like the annual Blueberry Festival. The city is near the end of its second five year plan with hundreds of people participating online and in a series of meetings designed to put the will of the community into the city's development. There is nothing like watching motivated people invest time and energy to make a great town even better, and those are on display whether you watch the planning process unfold or witness the spectacle of 10,000 luminaries lining downtown streets during a magical holiday weekend with hundreds of volunteers taking part. Citizens in Brewton pick up litter as part of a citywide campaign, ban together to rescue neglected and abandoned pets, and join in community theater productions that rival any professional shows anywhere. Volunteering is a way of life here, and we are proud what we accomplish together.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for longterm prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that theyll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

Financial footing is very important for any city, and proudly, Brewton was among very few in Alabama that did not operate in a deficit during the Great Recession. When Mayor Yank Lovelace was elected in 2012, he soon realized that the city's reserves had been depleted, and in the next meeting of the council, raised sales tax by one cent. He also orchestrated refinancing of bond issues and eliminated unneeded expenditures to save the city millions. The sales tax revenue was then leveraged as matching funds for grants in excess of $10 million over four years. Each expenditure is considered with sustainability in mind, and with an eye toward the return on investment. Money invested in quality of life has resulted in landing new industry to our city meaning some 500 jobs and more than $18 million annually in local economic impact.

If we took a walking tour through your town what would we see? How does your community use its land to the fullest?

Walking through Brewton gives a glimpse into the past as historic buildings downtown retain their charm from a bygone era. Flowers, creative lighting and murals mark both the city's history as a lumber and rail town, but also its present and future as a place where the arts flourish. Public parks abound with everything from a wilderness campground named for favorite son E.O. Wilson to the "pocket-sized" Mildred Street Park where the city's namesake train master is memorialized in a mural. The city operates some ten public parks accessible by all neighborhoods on more than 200 acres of public land. Fountains add interest to the city's parks downtown. As you head north on Belleville Avenue, you will find antebellum homes built by the lumber barons and kept immaculately by present owners. At the north end of town, you will find Dogwood Hills Park, complete with a splashpad and modern playground alongside marvelous greenways and groves of longleaf pine trees. You will see retail centers along the way with growth regulated by a strict zoning board.

Flowers, creative lighting and murals mark both the city’s history as a lumber and rail town, but also its present and future as a place where the arts flourish.

At Strong Towns we believe transportation investments are a means to an end not an end in themselves. How is your city using transportation investments to make your community more successful?

In five years, the city has resurfaced roughly 60 percent of its streets and has a plan in place to completely repave the remaining streets over the next four years. An aggressive plan to add sidewalks and walking trails has resulted in an unbroken walking path from the the north city limits to the south. Crosswalks have been added to encourage foot traffic as well as improve recreation access and healthy living. Plans for the future include more emphasis on biking with bike racks and lanes a part of planned improvements.

Tell us about your communitys local economy. Who are the key players big and small and how do they help your town to be financially strong? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Brewton was built on lumber, and the forest resource still plays a big part in our economic success. T.R. Miller Mill Company is one of the longest continuously operating lumber mills in the country and still employs some 200 people. Georgia Pacific is the largest employer with 500 workers at its cardboard packaging paper mill. A recent investment in its plant here included a $388 million investment securing viability over the coming decades. Metal engine parts producer AAM employs 338 workers in the city. Several smaller support businesses like logging and trucking companies count on these major players to remain profitable here, and provide jobs for hundreds more in our city. Brewton has a wide variety of service and retail stores, as well as multiple eateries that all rely heavily on support from these companies. Our entire economy is interdependent on major employers. We are especially proud of two of the newest players on the scene: ProValus and Frontier Technologies. These two companies recently located to our city with big plans for the future. ProValus is an information technology company that provides full service outsourcing for major corporations utilizing small town populations in the U.S. rather than shipping the service overseas. Their business model projects more than 300 jobs here over the next three years. Frontier Technologies manufactures components for wind turbines and anticipates exponential growth in the coming years. With welders their primary workforce, training centers here are providing a steady flow of potential hires. We are especially proud of these companies who could have gone anywhere, but chose us.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Brewton has a wonderful mix of history alongside cutting edge technology, music in the air and wonderful places to play outdoors alongside creeks and forests-- but more than that, it is the people who make it great. People here are generous to a fault and creative in their thinking. Friendly, hard-working people who genuinely love each other and welcome anyone who wants to be a part of this great city. That's what makes us strong.


 Source: City of Greenville

Source: City of Greenville

Greenville, South Carolina

Entry submitted by: Chase Anderson, Planner & Landscape Architect, Chase Anderson Design; Russell Stall, City Council member, City of Greenville; John Catoe, Engineering Associate, Alta Planning and Design; Mary Douglas Hirsch, City Real Estate Development Manager, City of Greenville; Nicole McAden, City Transportation Marketing and Program Specialist, Greenlink Transit

How are residents in your town involved in the life of the community? Share a few examples of times when residents came together to work on a project or make decisions about the future of the town.

In 1968 the citizens and community leaders commissioned a downtown development plan to help direct efforts to revive the struggling downtown business district. The plan recommended making Main Street a pedestrian friendly environment. The 1968 Downtown Development Plan was the first step toward realizing the residents’ wishes and the revival of Greenville's downtown.

Implementation began on a new streetscape plan, which included narrowing Main Street from four lanes to two and creating angled parking. Trees and decorative light fixtures were added and sidewalks were widened to 18 feet, providing space for outdoor dining. The streetscape was extended from downtown into the West End and the improvements were completed in 1981. The implementation of the 1968 Downtown Development Plan over the course of 13 years was proof that citizen engagement with the City is meaningful and that the City has the patience and persistence to do take the bottom-up approach.

Eight years after the completion of the Main Street improvements, the 1989 Downtown Development Strategy was created with the City and a citizen group called the Greenville Central Area Partnership (GCAP) to strategically outline action items for continued downtown improvement. Subsequently, the 1997 Strategic Assessment-Downtown Greenville was produced to serve as a report card on the work and was designed to highlight progress, focus attention and recommend necessary corrections for moving forward.

After almost three decades of downtown growth, the City embarked on another Downtown Master Plan in 2008, which identified the need to better serve the diversity of a growing and dynamic downtown. The 2010 Downtown Streetscape Master Plan detailed the recommendations to better accommodate new development, transit, pedestrians, bicyclists, parking and landscape. Over the last 50 years, citizens have engaged and in some cases led the way on decisions to help mold the future of our city. Today, citizens can engage in some of the many socially and environmentally-oriented non-profits in the area and volunteer for public boards and commissions. After decades of experiencing positive results, citizen engagement is deeply embedded into Greenville politics.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for longterm prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that theyll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

Greenville's downtown languished in the 1960s and 1970s as shopping centers lured the major retailers to the suburbs. Downtown was left with countless vacant buildings and no people. The most successful tools used to revitalize the downtown have been establishing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts and pursuing public-private partnerships, realizing that partnerships based on mutual respect between both private and public sectors are often the best approach to achieve successful developments.

The City created the Central Business Tax Increment District and the West End Tax Increment District in 1987, and the Viola Street Tax Increment District in 1998. Revenue from all three TIF districts has progressively increased over their lifespans and has been used for significant capital improvements in their respective areas of downtown.

Greenville has a measured willingness to be creative, try new approaches, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from the successes and the failures for the sake of the cherished downtown.

Greenville's first major public-private partnership was the Greenville Commons, which incorporated a Hyatt Regency Hotel, public plaza, convention center, office complex, and parking garage. The City purchased the land, built the convention center and parking garage and leased the air rights for the hotel and office building. The hotel atrium was considered a City park.

The success of the Commons created a spillover impact of the new office buildings which were constructed nearby resulting from the renewed interest in downtown development. It also began a new way of doing business for the city as the public and private sectors worked together to achieve the dream.

The subsequent public-private partnership utilized the TIF mechanism to account for the majority of the City funding. The Peace Center, a state-of-the-art 2,100 person performing arts center, was strategically located as the other anchor of Main Street. The Peace Family's primary gift of $10 million and a subsequent gift of $3 million led the significant private sector contributions. Public funding for the development included approximately $6.5 million from the City of Greenville, $6 million from a state bond issue and $1.5 million from Greenville County. Greenville has a measured willingness to be creative, try new approaches, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from the successes and the failures for the sake of the cherished downtown.

If we took a walking tour through your town what would we see? How does your community use its land to the fullest?

During the post-war development shift in manufacturing and economics, the once heart of the city's textile industry, the Reedy River, had become forgotten and hidden from view. Visions of reclaiming the banks of the river for a dramatic downtown public garden began in mid-1980s with the work done by the Carolina Foothills Garden Club. Building on a master plan created in 1999 by landscape architect Andrea Mains, Falls Park on the Reedy became the City's signature park, accentuated by the iconic Liberty Bridge. Designed by Miguel Rosales of Boston, the Liberty Bridge is a 355-foot curved suspension pedestrian bridge that provides a spectacular view of the falls and the gardens. This asset-based development involved removing a state-owned four lane bridge to once again highlight the heart of the city.

Falls Park proved to be a catalyst for private development on South Main Street and in the West End. The $13 million park helped spur over $100 million in private investments within two years. From Falls Park the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a multi-use greenway, provides walking and biking links between the Peace Center, Cleveland Park and the Greenville Zoo. Over the past 12 years, Falls Park has garnered a number of accolades, including being named a Silver Medalist for the 2015 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.

The walking tour continues down Main Street to our downtown minor league baseball stadium. The Greenville Drive, a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, opened Fluor Field on April 6, 2006. Designed as a replica of Fenway Park, the stadium features Greenville's own version of the Green Monster. The City made the land available to the team through a long-term lease, and installed new streetscaping and improved infrastructure, while the Drive funded the construction of the stadium and moved the team to Greenville. BaseballParks.com. named Fluor Field the Ballpark of the Year in 2006. On the off days, the stadium hosts numerous non-sporting events including festivals and fundraisers. Asset based development and infill projects make downtown Greenville a pleasure to experience on foot and bike.

At Strong Towns we believe transportation investments are a means to an end not an end in themselves. How is your city using transportation investments to make your community more successful?

The Greenville Transit Authority (GTA) contracted the City of Greenville to operate the public transportation system in 2008, under the branded name Greenlink. Greenlink currently operates with a budget of $5.4 million, providing fixed route and paratransit service, as well as a free downtown trolley service. In 2017, the City of Greenville provided approximately $160,000 to expand the downtown trolley service by adding two new routes and purchasing two additional vehicles. The City of Greenville remains committed to public transportation, as evidenced by its role in the operation and management of Greenlink.

The City of Greenville remains committed to public transportation, as evidenced by its role in the operation and management of Greenlink.

In 2017, Greenlink conducted an eight-month Comprehensive Operations Analysis of its fixed route system, which focused on revenue-neutral improvements to the system’s efficiency, including route redesigns. The study recommendations were presented at 16 public hearings throughout the fall of 2017. The recommendations were approved by the GTA board of directors in December 2017 and are expected to be implemented in July 2018. The purpose of the study was to help ensure that future increases in investment would be spent to further improve an already efficient system.

Phase two of this improvement process includes the creation of a five-year Transit Development Plan (TDP). The TDP is expected to be complete by April 2018 and will serve as a guidebook for transit expansions through 2024. The plan will propose possible expansions, outline the cost of each expansion, calculate the potential ridership benefits that each expansion could achieve, and identify possible funding sources. The first milestone presentation for the planning process outlines the following improvement options: improve the existing core network via extended hours, weekend service, and increases in frequency; and create new routes to unserved areas in the county.

Greenlink and the City of Greenville recognize the importance of establishing a public transportation system that will improve the quality of life for Greenville residents. Investment in administrative staff has been a top priority, and with new leadership at the helm, Greenlink is ready to make the changes outlined in the studies and advocate for a dedicated revenue source to implement prioritized improvements.

Tell us about your communitys local economy. Who are the key players big and small and how do they help your town to be financially strong? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Greenville is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, midway between Atlanta and Charlotte. The region is home to Michelin North America, General Electric, and BMW, which bring great jobs to the region and great people to the city. The region also has a long agricultural history. In close proximity to bountiful farmland and blessed with a long growing season, fresh, local meat and vegetables are sold at multiple farmers markets and to local restaurateurs and grocers in the city.

Although the region’s manufacturing resumé is impressive, Greenville takes the most pride in its food culture. Greenville has over 100 restaurants within a half-mile radius of downtown. With the mission to support a local, sustainable food system, the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery opened in 2011 with 72 farms represented; in 2015, that number had jumped to 248.

Farm Fresh Fast is a restaurant serving 80% locally sourced food and offering a meal prep plan. Patrons can visit the restaurant for lunch and/or buy pre-made healthy, affordable meals in bulk to supply their families for weeks. Recently, the restaurant expanded with the first farm-to-table children’s restaurant in the US, Seedlings at the The Children’s Museum of the Upstate. Not only are they feeding hundreds (sometimes over 1k) grade school kids farm-to-table food every week, but they are also facilitating interactive classes to educate and empower children.

The businesses of Greenville’s food culture foster intense community pride by creating jobs, renovating historic buildings, educating children, increasing tourism and honoring the agrarian traditions of the region.

On the coattails of the local food movement have come multiple artisan restaurants, tasting rooms and craft breweries. The brewery Birds Fly South found a home in Hampton Station, a cotton warehouse built in 1919 in Greenville’s historic Water Tower District. The Anchorage restaurant is in a renovated building in Greenville’s West End and showcases simple ingredients sourced both locally and from around the region. The Community Tap neighborhood gathering spot is a fun place to sip and learn about local breweries. The businesses of Greenville’s food culture foster intense community pride by creating jobs, renovating historic buildings, educating children, increasing tourism and honoring the agrarian traditions of the region.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

It has been said that gardening is the sign of an evolved society. Greenville is a town that understands by planting a tree today it is providing shade for generations to come. My favorite thing about Greenville is the understanding that greatness is built incrementally over time and although the road is long, the vision is clear. 50 years after that 1968 Downtown Master Plan, Greenville has evolved into a gem of the south….and likes to celebrate it.

The 14th Annual Artisphere event is held downtown on Main Street in May. It is consistently one of the top rated fine art shows in the country, receiving a record high 1,163 artist applications for the 2018 event - a 2% increase over 2017 and a 312% increase since the show’s inception in 2005. With 135 exhibitor spaces available, artists that apply can expect about a 1 in 8 chance of being accepted making Artisphere one of the most selective in the country. Of the 1,163 applicants, 133 are South Carolinians of which 82 are from the local region.

In September of each year since 2006, Main Street is home to the Euphoria festival. Euphoria shines a spotlight on Greenville’s thriving Culinary and Arts Communities. Euphoria is a four-day festival that educates, entices, enlightens and entertains. The festival includes exclusive tasting events, intimate musical experiences, cooking demonstrations and wine seminars, as well as multi-course dinners and live music concerts. The proceeds from Euphoria fund Local Boys Do Good, a 501 (c)(3) created to provide funding for local charities in the region related to sustenance (food, hunger & health), education (through music, performing arts or otherwise) and children support.

By valuing the arts and culture, Greenville has cultivated a maker economy with an entrepreneurial spirit. Localism has taken root in Greenville. Restaurateurs, farmers, artists, musicians and small business owners happily call Greenville home because their work is valued and supported. Thanks to the persistence and vision of the people before us, Greenville was nurtured by residents over time into a one-of-a-kind place.


Voting is now closed.