There was a glimmer of hope for the unemployed at Monday's economic town hall meeting in Rock Hill.
The glimmer was the public and private programs people can take to improve their jobs skills, learn new jobs skills or learn the basics of starting a small business.
The optimism was tempered with the acknowledgment that no one can accurately forecast where new jobs will come from.
"We don't know what kinds of jobs are coming," said Stephen Turner, director of the city's Economic and Urban Development department.
The event at the Emmett Scott Center on Crawford Road was not billed as a jobs fair, but a chance to share information and ask questions. About 30 people attended, about half of them in an official capacity. Several people said they left with more information.
"It's good to see what they are doing," said Charles White Kiser, pastor of the Liberty Community Church on Little Street. "We would like to see more coming. But we have some optimism. The emphasis to better ourselves is there."
The event was sponsored by the Urban Rock Hill Weed & Seed's Community & Economic Development Subcommittee. The Weed & Seed program focuses on neighborhoods within a 1.5-mile radius of the downtown.
The city's unemployment rate is near 20 percent. The rate in York County is 15.7 percent. Chester County's is 17.9 percent and Lancaster's is 16.1 percent. The three counties are among the state leaders for joblessness.
Panel participants were Turner, Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols, Rock Hill City Manager Carey Smith, York County Manager Jim Baker, Annie Reid, director of the Rock Hill office of the state's Department of Employment & Workforce, Nicole Lawing, Workforce Investment Act administrator for the Catawba Regional Council of Governments, and Lauren Richardson, chair of the Small Business Council of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Questions to the panel were usually countywide in nature, but moderator Marvin Rogers sometimes focused the discussion on the needs of the center city residents, particularly those living along the Saluda Road corridor.
Turner and others acknowledged the unemployment rates in those neighborhoods are likely higher than the rates for the rest of the city.
He said city officials hear the needs of center city residents. "We are developing strategies to create jobs," he said. No details were provided to residents.
Echols said that $3.5 million in physical improvements in the Saluda Street corridor have been done. "We try to create curb appeal so the private sector can step up," he said. Cooperation among residents and local and state governments was stressed by all panelists.
"You need to step out of your comfort zone and you need to challenge us to step out of ours," said Richardson of the Small Business Council.
While there was talk of optimism, there was also frustration.
"They just don't get it," said Rock Hill resident Billy Plair as he departed. "There needs to be more incentives so that business can be run by hometown people."
An anonymous statement submitted by one resident during the meeting, and read by moderator Rogers, spoke of the frustration. "We don't need a crystal ball," the resident wrote. "We need leaders with vision."