Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007
State needs to work on boosting competitiveness
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
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.
CAN S.C. DO?
asked what five things that South Carolina could do
to boost its competitiveness, state Chamber President
Hunter Howard suggested:
Develop a skilled workforce by fully funding
and implementing the Education and Economic Development
Act, now called Personal Pathways to Success.
Create an adequate infrastructure, including
expanding the Charleston port, developing a solution
for a Jasper port, and funding road and bridge improvements.
Control business costs, including a predictable
workers' comp system and a fair tax structure.
Build an entrepreneurial economy, including full
funding of the endowed chairs program.
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
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
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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
telling when the phone will ring
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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
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. Lets 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 dont
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, lets study their business plan and model
Public Schools on their good qualities.
-- Bill Harrison, Darlington, S.C.
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