S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, June 26, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0626.ruralideas.htm

COMMENTARY
More needs to be done for rural residents
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JUNE 26, 2005 - - About one in four South Carolinians live in rural areas of the state, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture records.

Compared to folks who live in urban areas, rural residents in South Carolina face an unemployment rate that's almost twice as high. Per capita annual income is $3,723 less ($23,345 compared to $27,068 in metro areas, according to 2003 figures). Poverty is higher. Educational attainment is lower. Access to quality health care is less available. Infant mortality rates are higher.

Across the South where 34 percent of residents live in rural areas, the story is much the same. A new report by the Southern Growth Policies Board (www.southern.org) says while progress is being made in rural areas, more needs to be done to close the gap. Otherwise, the split between the metropolitan haves and the rural have-nots will continue to worsen.

The report, called "The New Architecture for Rural Prosperity," essentially calls for rural areas to work together - - to collaborate - - to generate smart, economic development opportunities.

Instead of each county acting as a silo developer to try to woo an industry to that county, for example, counties in a region - - perhaps even across state borders - - should work collaboratively to manage economic development to grow business opportunities.

"If the rural South is to enjoy sustained prosperity, then its economic development architecture must be perceived whole and understood in all its diversity," the report says. "It must be designed and managed as an integrated enterprise."

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Fun for bureaucrats

FEEDBACK: State tax system needs to change

KEEPING TRACK: Right on Sanford election

SCORECARD: Thumbs up and down

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Working together seems like a no-brainer. But anyone who has gone to Friday night football games in the rural South knows about the fierce competition and sense of pride in the local home team. These rivalries compound local fears of losing identity to generate barriers for regional cooperation.

But the report, based on talks, forums and input from more than 2,500 people across the South, has some good ideas to help rural areas overcome barriers.

Regional prosperity alliances. The report suggests the formation of higher-level regional alliances of prominent leaders from across the public and private sectors to meet, talk about problems and offer solutions. Such alliances would make plans, coordinate economic development efforts and tackle a host of issues to make an area more competitive. Money can be pooled to deal with critical needs, such as the work of the Southwest Alabama Pulp and Paper Industrial Alliance, which was formed to provide rural students with college scholarships and better training opportunities.

More rural economic development funding. State economic development offices often steer potential industrial prospects to metro areas. But if the state really concentrated its financial power more to help rural areas, it can make a big difference. Just look to the example of the OneGeorgia project, which will pump $1.6 billion into rural economic development for Georgia over the next 25 years. It is using a share of tobacco settlement money to fund the program. In South Carolina, lawmakers used 73 percent of the $785 million it got in tobacco monies to shore up Medicaid health costs. Grants to local government for economic development totaled a paltry $15.7 million.

Educational facilitators. Regional colleges or technical colleges can act as facilitators of regional prosperity projects because they have the area respect and intellectual resources to push the initiatives forward, the report says. Another example from Georgia highlights how the state's Rural Development Council commissioned the University of Georgia to study workforce housing conditions. Researchers found a lot of Latinos who worked in a rural poultry operation didn't know how to buy or finance a home. That generated another project with a local bank to help educate workers about housing opportunities. The collaborative result? Lower turnover rates for the poultry operation, 70 new jobs, $3 million in new home construction and $3 million in new local business.

Bottom line: For the rural South to have more prosperity, it's going to have to take the bull by the horns and work together, pool resources and pool its strengths. State lawmakers can help by seeding worthy projects. In the long run, targeted state rural investments will pay off more than anyone can guess.


RECENT COMMENTARY


McLEMORE'S WORLD
6/26: Fun for bureaucrats

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


LEARN MORE DAILY

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.


FEEDBACK
6/21: State tax system needs to change

To the editor:

Your column "State tax system old" (Commentary, 6/19) was great and true. I live in Beaufort County. Property taxes in our county aren't consistent.

In Beaufort County,our taxes have doubled and tripled this year due to the influx of new people moving into our county and buying at unreal prices and raising the values. If the purchase price immediately would be put on the tax books for the next tax year, then our county could make a lot of money. As it is, if the property has already been appraised by the county in 1994, the taxes aren't changed for 5 years. This newcomer has a free ride until the next county appraisal. Is this fair?

The "fair market value" affects me who has lived in the same house for 30 years. I don't want to move, but the land values and taxes are a killer. I am getting older, and the taxes are a lot.

Everybody needs to pay taxes, but something has to change.

-- Hedy Williams, Beaufort, S.C.

Here's some other recent feedback to Statehouse Report:

KEEPING TRACK
Ahead on Sanford election

This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report with other media reports:

In Statehouse Report:

5/8/05: Sanford more vulnerable than you think: "Unless the Democrats do the work to make themselves competitive, it's a good bet that Sanford will win re-election in November 2006."

In The State:

6/12/05: Bandy: Sanford will be tough to beat. "Whoever wins the party’s nomination next June will face a difficult task trying to unseat Republican Gov. Mark Sanford."


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Harrell. Congratulations again to the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, who was sworn in this week.

Graham. Hats off to US Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for saying what more people are wondering -- how long is the Iraq war going to continue?

Thumbs down

Wilson. Thumbs down to the irresponsible political war-mongering rhetoric this week of US Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

Erwin. State Democratic Party Chair Joe Erwin this week blamed Gov. Mark Sanford for the state losing a new aircraft plant to Alabama. While we think Sanford is misguided and to blame for a lot of things, Erwin is a off base on this one.

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