Sunday, April 9, 2006
State on path
to rebuild Commerce muscle
SC Statehouse Report
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
"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
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,"
4/9: Checks and
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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a connection, Butch
Robbins, Hilton Head Island, SC
- 2/24: Block the
sale of national forest land, Elizabeth Bailey, Darlington
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
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.
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
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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