Spartanburg Chamber Introduces SURGE Leadership Pilot Program

SURGE organizes 12 community leaders to tackle key issues in Spartanburg

Thursday, May 23, 2019 9:30 am

by Zach Fox

At its Centennial Celebration, the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce introduced SURGE, a new leadership program designed to create high-impact change in Spartanburg.

The inaugural class of SURGE will kick off in August featuring 12 community leaders selected by the Chamber’s Executive Board. The group will study issues that aren’t unique to Spartanburg, but have historically been, are, and will be a challenge to the community and the success of its people: economics, education, equity, health, and civil discourse. SURGE participants will examine each subject before picking one to tackle collectively and spending several months working on that initiative.

“We needed to create a program that wasn’t necessarily for the individual but was absolutely necessary for Spartanburg,” said former Mary Black Foundation CEO Kathy Dunleavy. “SURGE partners will have the influence and resources necessary to drive dialogue, convene the right players and lead positive change in our community.”

Eleven of the 12 participants in the inaugural SURGE cohort have been confirmed, with the final participant pending. Participants include: USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly, Spartanburg School District 7 Superintendent Russell Booker, Spartanburg County Administrator Cole Alverson, Spartanburg City Manager Chris Story, Johnson Development Associates, Inc. CEO Geordy Johnson, The Palladian Group COO Katherine O’Neill, WJ Partners Managing Director Jamie Wall, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church Rev. Dr. Keith McDaniel, Chapman Cultural Center President and CEO Jennifer Evins, Inman Mayor Cornelius Huff, and Mary Black Foundation CEO Molly Talbot-Metz.

Community leaders will use their local expertise and the knowledge of experts and thought leaders from across the country to facilitate discussions during SURGE.

Economics discussions will be facilitated by former Mayor Bill Barnet. Education discussions will be facilitated by Spartanburg Academic Movement Executive Director John Stockwell. Equity discussions will be facilitated by Russell Booker. Health and Wellness discussions will be facilitated by former Mary Black Foundation CEO Kathy Dunleavy and former Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System Vice President of Community Health Policy and Strategy Renee Romberger. Civil Discourse discussions will be facilitated by Brendan Kelly.

After each session, partners will examine potential opportunities for action based on information shared. At the final session, the group will collectively set a single goal for measurable, high-impact change in Spartanburg. They will then organize the appropriate partners and leverage their influence to accomplish that goal.

“Communities either rise or fall on leadership, which is why we want to bring best-in-class, data-driven approaches to Spartanburg. The true crux of SURGE is driving positive community change, that’s the goal of this program,” said Spartanburg Chamber President and CEO Allen Smith. “While the experience will be like no other, the commitment required will be higher than no other. Provocative, bold, well-versed and honest dialogue is expected, which we believe will lead to a transformative community outcome.”

About the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce: The Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce is a private, non-profit organization supported through membership investment and strategic partnerships. Our mission is to enhance the economic vitality and lifestyle environment of Spartanburg County. For more information, visit

What Our Members are Saying