S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 9, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0409.jobs.htm

State on path to rebuild Commerce muscle
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 9, 2006 - - The state Department of Commerce, South Carolina's agency to bring new and better jobs to the state, has been stuck for the last few years.

But the department, once feared by job recruiters from other states, may be on its way back after budget cuts and management that left it a shell of its former self.

"The Department of Commerce, in my opinion, in the last several years has been about decimated. They have not been effective at all," said powerful Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. "I'm hopeful with Joe Taylor coming in as new Secretary of Commerce, he'll bring some life back to it. The General Assembly is going to give the Department of Commerce what we feel is needed."

In the current House-passed budget, the Department is slated to receive an infusion of an extra $17.2 million to bring its budget to $27.6 million. While some $10.6 million of the money is non-recurring, which means it won't be around the following year, it's clear there's a new focus on shoring up things at Commerce.

Many would say it's about time.

The state's per capita income is 82 percent of the national average. It has lost 83,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. The unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation.

"The South Carolina Department of Commerce is no longer the effective competitive force that it once was when it had greater resources and a better ability to sustain cutting-edge business services program," according to a January study commissioned by the state's business community.

The report criticized the department's inadequate research staff, overstretched business recruiters and brittle marketing arm.

"South Carolina has not sustained proactive economic development marketing to support prospect development and business expansion. The state has virtually eliminated program staff to work proactively with South Carolina businesses," said the report by Ticknor and Associates.


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In the 1990s under the leadership of the late Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr., Commerce was a shining light that aggressively recruited site selection teams looking for places to put new plants. From Campbell's term to that of Gov. Jim Hodges, state funding hovered in the $13 million to $15 million range annually (figures in 2004 dollars), although it shot to the equivalent of $40 million in the last year of Gov. David Beasley.

During the tenure of Gov. Mark Sanford, the state had three bad economic years, which led to big agency cuts almost across the board. Commerce's funding dropped from about $14.8 million in Hodges' last year to about $10 million this year - - a 33 percent cut.

While money may not solve all problems, common-sense business strategy will tell you that there has to be enough of a staff around to sell the state.

Industrial site selection teams "have not heard from our state in a period of two to three years. Recognize, that is an indicator of the aggressiveness or size of your team," said David Ginn, president and CEO of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

Economic development officials across the state are putting their faith in Taylor, a Columbia businessman with a solid record as a salesman. Taylor was not available for an interview for this column.

"We've got to aggressively and with passion, market, promote and sell South Carolina as a great place to do business," said Joe King, economic development director of Florence County. "I don't think we are as aggressive as we once were, but we are moving in the right direction."

Added Hal Johnson, who heads the Upstate Alliance and serves as president of the state's economic developers' association, "We have lost our edge and we are getting it back. Joe Taylor is the right person to make it happen."

But it is going to take time, Leatherman admits - - time to rebuild the team, time to renew relationships, time to undo damage that has been done.

In the meantime, "South Carolina will continue to suffer," he said

lighter side

4/9: Checks and balances missing

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

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

Thumbs up

Workers' comp. It's complicated, and it doesn't affect every South Carolinian (just every businessperson and every worker), but the decision-makers in the House seemed to have worked out reform of workers' compensation. They reached a compromise, something that Gov. Mark Sanford ought to learn a lesson from. Will the House compromise work? No one will know for two, three, four years, but many representatives want it to work. And so do the workers.

McGill. Hats off to Sen. Yancey McGill for his no-holds-barred criticism of political shenanigans involving the governor's office. See Megaphone below.

Rice, House leaders. Congratulations to House lawmakers for pushing forward two bills that will improve the state's health and quality of life. Rep. Rex Rice, R-Greenville, helped to push through a proposed 32-cent raise in cigarette taxes in a House subcommittee. And the House Judiciary Committee voted to ban smoking in restaurants and bars.

In the middle

Troopers. The director, James Schweitzer, of Public Safety, was absolutely right to tell his state troopers in no uncertain terms not to consider who the person is who driving, but what the driver is doing in regards to state moving vehicle laws. But it is also a shame that the widespread, even if untrue, feeling by residents that troopers don't ticket high officials came all too true when the 101-mph driver was Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. Next time, a full throttle ticket is all that counts.

Thumbs down

Hog bill. The argument was skewed as "right to farm," but when the Senate finally beat down a determined effort by Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, to oppose the bill, it turned into "no right to home rule." Leventis held the Senate at bay for four days as he insisted on what amounted to a little filibuster that gained support here and there. On Thursday, the Senate passed the bill that allows local governments only to rubber stamp state regulations on chicken and most other processing plants. That still leaves local zoning on all such plants and stricter local restrictions on hog farms, to be sure, but they weren't involved in the legislation. Maybe home rule will grow more quickly than some of the beans.

Money in politics. Perhaps Sen. Greg Ryberg felt he had to retaliate in kind by pumping $2 million of his own money into the state treasurer's race. Why? Because of the late entry of Charleston's Thomas Ravenel, who self-funded most of his $3.2 million US Senate campaign in 2004. Regardless, the amount of money being spent by individuals to try to "buy" elections is getting ridiculous.

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