Rock Hill: A Leader in Strategic Planning

If you ask local government leaders about expertise in strategic planning, you will likely hear about the City of Rock Hill, South Carolina. Rock Hill has earned a reputation as an exemplar of successful strategic planning; every three years, city leadership formulates a new strategic plan outlining goals and priorities, beginning each strategic plan with a citizen survey to hear the voice of the community.

The Rock Hill Strategic Plan focuses on city services, places in the city that residents and tourists frequent and community programs. “The plan serves as a practical reminder of why resources are being used in particular ways and serves as a roadmap that guides us from vision to reality,” Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun said. “The strategic plan enables the organization to measure and communicate progress to elected officials, the community, and other stakeholders in the community.”

Additionally, the plan encourages continuous program evaluation to track progress and effectiveness of city programs. Few local governments have such a living document. Between strategic plan revisions, Rock Hill uses in-depth progress reports to demonstrate progress towards meeting city targets. “Accountability and transparency are greatly increased though the inclusion of defined targets. The strategic plan clearly states how success is defined,” Vehaun said. “Whether the goal is to add 125 new jobs in three years or reduce violent crime in downtown by two percent annually, the standards by which the city is judged are explicitly outlined in the plan.”

Quality places stoplight

As in the past, Rock Hill commissioned a special workshop in which NRC staff spent two days with Rock Hill officials to review the findings of The National Citizen Survey (The NCS) and help shape the next three-year plan. “The City utilizes data in order to make informed decisions about our priorities. The National Citizen Survey, citizen focus groups, employee survey, and business survey give us raw data that is used to define perceptions, develop correlations and focus our planning efforts,” Brown said.

In the 2014 administration of The NCS, by and large, Rock Hill received high scores from its residents. In fact, Rock Hill’s scores were higher than one would expect given the economic challenges of many of its residents. Survey results identified streets, access to public information and citizen engagement as top focus areas. Discussions with the city council and staff along with additional analyses of the survey data showed that the new growth in the city may have some relationship to these ratings.

Past versions of Rock Hill’s strategic plan have identified growth as a priority. Rock Hill has made some significant progress in the area of economic development and downtown revitalization in the past decade. As part of this development, the city has entered into a number of public-private partnerships to create new sports venues and recreational opportunities that not only has increased the quality of the community for residents but also has increased tourism and the attention given to the city.


Knowledge Park
Knowledge Park, Rock Hill

Rock Hill has grown by 39 percent since 2000 and 66 percent since 1990, becoming a magnet for those working in the area or commuting to nearby Charlotte. Rock Hill is also a favorite for families, with about 30 percent of households having children under 18.

Although growth was precisely what the City of Rock Hill was hoping for, growth often has costs: an analysis of NCS data showed that residents who were newer to the community were giving services and amenities lower ratings than residents who had lived in the city for longer periods of time. Growth can take away from the “small-town feel” that is part of Rock Hill’s attraction. Also with new residents, more information is required to keep folks involved in the community.

Roads and infrastructure are becoming an issue for Rock Hill, as well. Although the City of Rock Hill is not responsible for the maintenance of many of its roads (which are mostly owned by the State of South Carolina), the increased use of roads and resulting maintenance needs present challenges for the city government as residents are not necessarily aware of whose responsibility it is to maintain roads. Residents’ complaints of potholes are common to staff and council, even though road maintenance is largely outside of jurisdictional control.

Using The National Citizen Survey as a foundation for the Rock Hill Strategic Plan allows city officials to take a data-driven approach to tackling community goals. This approach will ensure the resources and activities of the city align with resident value and expectations. At the workshops, city council and city staff decided to give both of these areas higher priority by elevating goals, adding action steps and setting new performance metrics.


The focus on resident data helped focus city staff and the council on community strengths and needs.  “Prior to strategic planning, communication between elected officials and the staff was challenging partly due to a lack of mutual agreement on priorities within the organization,” Vehaun said. “The strategic plan offered an opportunity to improve collaboration and communication between City Council and the Management Team by identifying and agreeing on priorities across all City departments. Elected officials are not just involved in the development of the plan, but stay actively involved throughout the course of the plan.”


Related Articles