The purpose of Knight Soul of the Community is to provide communities a roadmap for understanding what attaches residents to their community and why it matters – not to be prescriptive on what communities should do with the information. However, the findings do point to some general implications and suggestions, some of which the community may be already undertaking, or provide new opportunities for consideration.
Like the other 25 communities studied in Soul of the Community, Myrtle Beach’s key attachment drivers are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. However, it is not as simple as identifying best practices in each of these areas and replicating them everywhere. Instead, as the name implies, Soul of the Community encourages a conversation about a community’s soul or essential essence as a place around these key drivers. Some possible questions to ask are: What is it about our aesthetics/social offerings/welcomeness that is unique to our community? Where do we excel or struggle in those areas? Using that information to optimize those drivers to encourage resident attachment—and potentially local economic growth – is what Soul of the Community seeks to accomplish.
Attachment to the Myrtle Beach area has fluctuated during the three years of the study. It was highest in 2008, when it was the most attached community studied, and has declined since then, placing it in the middle of all the 26 communities studied. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the general rating of these areas by residents declined between 2009 and 2010.
Despite losing this ground, Myrtle Beach is still in the enviable position of having two of the three top drivers viewed as community strengths. One strength of the Myrtle Beach area in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, particularly the natural beauty. Being a coastal community, this is perhaps not surprising, but it is a defining feature of the community that should be leveraged to drive attachment to the area. Additionally, residents see social offerings as a community strength, particularly the vibrant nightlife. Again, given its coastal location and attractiveness to tourists, this too may not be surprising, but it serves as an important feature to leverage.
The Myrtle Beach area also enjoys having high-income earners as the most attached of all income groups. Organizations with particular reach to this group, such as the community foundation and chamber of commerce, should continue to foster their attachment to the area. New residents are also the most attached to the Myrtle Beach area of all residential tenure groups. This says that residents move to this community on purpose, ready to love it. The initial promise of the community must live up to the expectation in order to sustain that important attachment of new residents that very few communities have.
However, both of strength areas lost ground during the past year. In aesthetics, ratings for parks, playgrounds and trails and the natural beauty are trending lower. All aspects of social offerings declined in 2010 except residents’ caring for one another which increased slightly in 2010, but it continues to be the lowest rated aspect of social offerings. Myrtle Beach’s losses in attachment correspond with lower ratings in these key areas that historically have been strengths of the community. This deserves attention to get things back to the way they were and reverse the decline in attachment.
Openness continues to be challenge area for the community. It is an area where the community lost ground in 2010, according to its residents. Again, this helps to explain the area’s declining attachment. Older residents continue to be perceived as the most welcome group by far with a large difference between this group and all others in the community. Young talent continues to be perceived as the least welcome group with more declines in 2010.
The Myrtle Beach area should optimize and market its strengths in aesthetics and social offerings as a particularly powerful and defining feature of that place. The community should focus on leveraging these important strengths to target perceptions of welcomeness in the community, especially to young talent. For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come to and stay in Myrtle Beach, all residents must feel welcomed there and cared for. This too must become part of the community culture. Provide events as well as businesses and services that are specifically designed for various groups in the community. Have the high-income earners work with the local chamber, community foundation or higher education institutions in order to provide opportunities to attract and/or retain young talent to the Myrtle Beach area through internships, apprenticeships, etc. that develop the skills of young talent while building their loyalty and attachment to Myrtle Beach.
Great schools, affordable health care and safe streets all help create strong communities. But is there something deeper that draws people to a city – that makes them want to put down roots and build a life?