Allendale - Homegrown Tools

Allendale, SC

Updated: 2022

A small rural community in South Carolina creates a leadership institute to cultivate local leadership, generate grant funding, and to confront the racial divide.

Median Household Income2020$18,680
Poverty Rate 202037.7%
Proximity to Urban Center 62 miles to Augusta, Ga.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 35 miles
Case Study Time Frame 1997-2007
Municipal Budget FY20203.1 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
View Complete Case StudyUpdated: Allendale, 2022

After decades of high unemployment and crippling poverty, Allendale created a regional leadership institute to equip emerging leaders with the skills to reverse the communitys fortunes. Allendales post-war economy — built on pass-through tourism — was crushed in the 1960s when Interstate 95 was built 35 miles east of town. In 1997, the Chamber of Commerce, concerned with the deteriorating conditions in town, partnered with South Carolinas Downtown Development Association and state officials for a strategic planning exercise. A lack of leadership was identified as one of the regions most prominent issues. In response, public and private actors came together to create the Salkehatchie Leadership Institute in 1998. The institute has since trained nearly 2,000 leaders who have gone on to become elected officials or leaders in the field of community and economic development.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


        Leadership development is economic development. Allendales strategy — to cultivate local leadership — resulted in a cadre of new and well-connected leaders, many of whom became influential in initiating local community and economic development efforts. In fact, the institute estimates that more than $9 million in grant funding has been awarded to projects in Allendale because of the initiative of new local leaders. One former student alone raised more than $1 million to fund a new county health services building in nearby Barnwell County. In many rural communities where leaders are few and far between, a capacity building strategy such as leadership development can be a viable strategy for long-term economic development.
        Leadership development can be a tool for bridging social divides. Developing new leaders in small towns is one way to begin dealing with difficult issues that may be standing in the way of development. The Salkehatchie Leadership Institute was an incubator for a diverse community development organization called Allendale County ALIVE. ALIVE initiated a local process to openly address race and seek community-wide solutions to issues. Allendale is one of the few communities Ive seen that hasnt been afraid to address racial issues and move forward together, said Bill Molnar, associate program director of Clemson Universitys Institute for Economic and Community Development.

         Local colleges are assets for small town community and economic development. The Salkehatchie Leadership Institute was created through a partnership of Allendale, neighboring towns, the state and the University of South Carolina. Housing the institute on a local campus was helpful, both in terms of securing funding for the program and access to professional expertise in the field of leadership development. Local leaders can look to local or regional higher education institutions to support their towns efforts to develop local leaders or create new businesses.