S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0225.compete.htm

State needs to work on boosting competitiveness
By Andy Brack, Publisher

FEB. 25, 2007 -- In a race like the Daytona 500, it's pretty hard for the last-place car to zoom to a first-place finish. Every car is a high-performance machine. Every driver goes round and round the track at dizzying speeds. For the last-place car to get the checkered flag, it has to do significantly better to catch up to all of the other cars in the field.

So it is with bottom-ranking states like South Carolina that want to make big improvements in areas from education to business competitiveness. Other states don't just sit still while the laggards make improvements. Top-performing states continue to innovate, make changes and get better. For South Carolina to make significant gains, it has to do more than innovate at an average rate - - it has to do really big things to rocket forward.

That's why a new benchmarking report from the S.C. Chamber of Commerce should make everyone think a little. Boiled down, it says the state isn't doing enough now to make significant improvements in per capita income goals over the next 20 years.

"South Carolina's rankings exemplify the need for continued aggressive change to make the state more competitive," said S. Hunter Howard, president and CEO of the state Chamber.

The Chamber's report, which is available for free on the Internet at www.scchamber.net, measures how the state is doing in six areas.


When asked what five things that South Carolina could do to boost its competitiveness, state Chamber President Hunter Howard suggested:

1. Develop a skilled workforce by fully funding and implementing the Education and Economic Development Act, now called Personal Pathways to Success.

2. Create an adequate infrastructure, including expanding the Charleston port, developing a solution for a Jasper port, and funding road and bridge improvements.

3. Control business costs, including a predictable workers' comp system and a fair tax structure.

4. Build an entrepreneurial economy, including full funding of the endowed chairs program.

5. Raise per capita income for all South Carolinians through business competitiveness strategies.

The good news: We're doing average in terms of having governmental structures for a business climate that encourages an innovation economy. Similarly, we're doing about average for all states in providing the infrastructure needs of business - - we've got pretty good roads and digital connectivity, compared to other states. (Our bridge safety rating has slipped, but we're doing better in improving broadband access, the report says.).

The middling news: Surprisingly, our quality of life is rated 32 out of 50. With South Carolina's warm people, great natural settings and outstanding cultural offerings, you'd think we have "quality of life" down pat. But it's not a measure of solitude and contentedness. It relates to the state's ability to attract businesses and entrepreneurs by having a quality business environment that works hand-in-hand with lifestyle amenities. On another driver - business costs - the state ranks 36th, the Chamber says, due to slippages in workers' compensation premiums and health care premiums. But the business tax burden is less than other states.

The challenges: Education and innovation. As many would expect, South Carolina's education rating is low - 44th - but progress has been made. Howard points to progress made with the Education and Economic Development Act, which includes provisions to channel eighth graders into selecting a career cluster and developing an individual graduation plan. Additionally, there are more guidance counselors, which should lower the state's high dropout rate. He said the business community also needed to keep pushing on kindergarten for 4 year olds. "Too many of our students entering first grade can't read."


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The state also ranks in the bottom - 42nd - in "dynamism and entrepreneurialism," which can be translated into having a business environment of innovation. To make improvements, Howard said the state needed, among other things, to continue to support a program of endowed university chairs to bring smart people to the state to conduct research and help spin off projects to create jobs.

"Legislators need to realize that if things don't change, and change quickly, South Carolina will become one of those states where business will not locate due to noncompetitive tax rates, noncompetitive workers' compensation policy and a lack of a trained work force," Howard said. "Legislators need to take a holistic approach to creating better jobs and to improving the quality of life."

Jim Fields, executive director of the Palmetto Institute, agreed. He said South Carolina should take a two-prong approach - do more quickly to make improvements on the economic engines of the state (tourism, the state ports, resources at the Savannah River plant, the ICAR center in the Upstate) while continuing to make long-term investments in industry clusters, research and other things to strengthen our economic foundations.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of S.C. Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary

lighter side
No telling when the phone will ring

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

2/18: Don't rush to use state dollars for private schools

Proponents of vouchers and tax credits have seized on the Year to Year Progress Report as their newest reason that public funds should go to private schools.

While I agree that the Report looks bad on face value, let's break down some reasons why we should not rush into funding private schools.

First, I did not see the Year to Year Progress Report for any private schools listed in the report. Why? Because private schools do not have to test their students to show year to year progress. How do we know that their results would be any better than the public schools? We don't.

Second, private schools do not have to meet the requirements of “No Child Left Behind.” Why fund schools that have no accountability?

Third, private schools do not have to admit all students that apply, regardless of their physical or mental capacities, nor do they have to educate all students who are behavior problems or home-bound.

Comparing public schools to private schools is like comparing Apples to Oranges. Let’s not make a decision based on this unfair comparison. Public schools can be improved and must be improved for our state to progress, because without an educated workforce there will be little chance of attracting industry to our state. Students with the ability to read, follow instructions, and learn make up the backbone of the workforce, not college educated students. Both are needed for our state to compete in the global economy. So don’t abandon our public school system just to give a tax break to well-to-do families.

Make private schools meet all requirements for “No Child Left Behind” and submit to full accountability before we start funding them with public funds.

A good businessman would study a successful business before he invested time and money in a new business. If Private schools are so good, let’s study their business plan and model Public Schools on their good qualities.

-- Bill Harrison, Darlington, S.C.

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The $81 million deal
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

FEB. 23, 2007 -- A possible secretive deal from the governor's office may be the real story behind this year's budget battles, or at least the first salvo fired.

Last week, Rep. Dan Cooper (R-Anderson), the chair of the House's powerful Ways and Means committee, confirmed that "emissaries" from Gov. Mark Sanford's office had approached Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) with a state budget compromise that might prove too good to refuse...

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